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Tip-Toe Through the Tulips in Preston

Imagine planting 600,000 pick-your-own-tulips with the expectation that a couple hunded thousand will never be harvested.

That's the thinking at Wicked Tulips' Preston operation, where tulip farmer Jeroen Koeman wants a palette of vibrant colors in his field when visitors come to pick their blooms.

"Our goal is to have the wonderful experience of picking flowers in the blooming tulip field," he said. "We don't want more than 60 percent picked."

If you do the math, that meas about 240,000 will be tilled over along with the bulbs of all the tulips that have been picked when the growing season ends. But not before Wicked Tulips gifts bouquets to deserving recipients.

Last year, they handed out 10,000 stems and estimate that in recent years they have gifted more than 30,000 tulips to health care workers, convalescent home residents, veterans and other deservng people.

“We have always believed in being a business that helps the community,” said the Dutch-born Koeman, who hails from a large family of tulip growers. “We want to provide happiness in the community. We don’t just want to be a prosperous business; we also want to be a blooming success in the community.”

Last fall, Koeman and his tulip team planted more than 1 million tulip bulbs—about 600,000 at the Preston farm and another 500,000 at their second location in Exeter, R.I. If Mother Nature cooperates, both farms should be a full riot of color this month.

Koeman timed the Exeter farm to bloom first in late April-early May, and the Preston one soon after. Those who want to visit must pre-purchase tickets for a specified time and date. All the information is on the Wicked Tulips website (wickedtulips.com), including “Bloom Reports” and “Visitor 101.”

There you can find tips on the best footwear for tulip picking—muck boots are better suited for navigating the fields than high heels—and the proper technique for picking blooms—grasp the stem as close to the ground as possible and pull straight up. No need for scissors.

There is also information about “#GivingBack,” where visitors can nominate community servants such as health care workers or veterans who may be chosen for a free bouquet of tulips.

Along with daffodils, tulips are among the first flowers of spring, and they are the most colorful. Leah Hill, a manager at Wicked Tulips, said nearly every color imaginable will be available for picking this year.

They’ve planted Flaming Parrots—a tropical-looking tulip with ruffly edges and red stripes, and Queen of the Night, a more traditional bloom that is so deep purple it appears to be black. Pretty Princess is a gorgeous rose-pink tulip with deeper pink flames. Big Smile lives up to its name—with enormous golden yellow blooms.

Each variety has its own name and characteristics: Miranda, City of Vancouver, Apricot Parrot, Blushing Lady, and Orange Princess. They are all as pretty as they sound; some even mimic lilies or peonies.

Blushing Lady is a favorite—with lily-shaped petals that are a soft-blush pink that flush into an even softer yellow, and Beauty of Spring sprouts extra-large blossoms of pale yellow with feathered edges of crimson. It’s the Finola, with pink and white double blooms that makes you think it’s a peony.

“People gasp,” said Hill, when asked about the initial reaction when visitors arrive at Wicked Tulips and the field is in full bloom.

“I do that myself a lot of times,” she added. “You just get that rush of a whole field in bloom. We take a lot of time to think how it will look when we lay it out. We have a color plan and we come up with mixes that we think will look cool.”

Hill emphasized the importance of pre-buying tickets and wearing the right shoes.

“Leave the cute shoes at home,” she said. “Wear your mud boots, not stilettoes.”

Wicked Tulips opened in Rhode Island in 2015, and last year expanded to leased space in Preston at the Chuck Hill Farm off Route 164. The Preston operation went so well, that this season, Koeman has doubled the number of bulbs planted there.

In early March, he said he saw his first tulip sprout poking through the cold earth, and explained that the weather, especially in April, determines when his tulips will erupt and be ready for picking.

Tickets go on sale just a few days in advance, and the number of visitors is limited every hour to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. If you sign up for email alerts from the Wicked Tulips website, you will get a notice when it’s time to buy tickets.

In addition to pick-your-own, there are opportunities for Yoga in the Tulips (check the website) and if you are so inclined, you may volunteer with benefits like a Tulip Team t-shirt and 10 pick-your-own stems.

This season, Koeman is also planning an event that will feature his cousin, Linda Koeman, who hails from Holland and is a practitioner of the Wim Hof Method, which involves a dunk in an ice-filled pool, or in this case, a tub in the middle of the tulip field.

“It’s a bathtub full of ice and there are breathing exercises,” Koeman said. “There are health benefits to it.”

These events are tentatively scheduled for early Sunday morning May 8 and May 15 in Preston, but could change dependent on the growing season. Check the website for updates. Tickets will be required.

“Wim Hof’s breathing, mindset and cold exposure techniques have been credited with great breakthroughs in physical health and well-being,” said an email message from Wicked Tulips. “Wim Hof is a folk hero to many, and led a 48-hour world-record breaking climb of Kilimanjaro, that included Linda (Koeman) and some of Jeroen’s relatives.”

It will be another adventure in the tulip field, at the height of the growing season. Once the tulips bloom, they last about 18 to 20 days, Koeman said.

Tickets are $20 for adults and include 10 steams. You can pick more, as many as you want, for $1 for each additional flower. Tickets for children aged 5 to 17 are $5, and do not include any tulips. Kids under 4 may enter for free.

In 2020, the pick-your-own farm only sold already picked bouquets, with COVID keeping visitors out of the field. Last season, people could pick their own, but staff wrapped the bouquets. This year, visitors will pick and wrap their flowers, the way it used to be before the pandemic.

Both Koeman and Hill cautioned visitors not to be scared off by a little rain, and said without bright sun overhead, the tulips are even prettier. If you want to pack a lunch, there are picnic tables, although you’re asked to take your trash home with you.

Koeman and his wife, Keriann, have been in the tulip business since 2009. They started in Virginia selling tulip bulbs, and added a small pick-your-own farm with their extra bulbs. In 2015, they relocated to Rhode Island and renamed their business Wicked Tulips. Since then, they welcomed a son, young Kees, and expanded their business to two locations and more than a million tulips.

“People are crazy about tulips,” said Koeman. “They just have this magical attraction. They are the first colorful blast in spring after the winter.” 

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