Day Trip

Commune with the Blooms at Willamette Valley Flower Farms

Stately tulips, monster peonies, and Anvil of Darkness irises await thee.

By Jennifer Krazit April 23, 2019 Published in the May 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Woodburn's Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm

Portlanders are savvy about connecting with nearby farms for their fruits and veggies—and, whether it’s cruising the Hood River Fruit Loop or sitting down to a hyperlocally sourced farm dinner on Sauvie Island, they’ll drive as far as they need to eat them. When it comes to stocking up for their flower gardens, though, the farthest most people trek is to Portland Nursery. But those who venture to the Willamette Valley for their bulbs and blooms are well rewarded.

Suited to the grapes that turn into world-class pinot noir and chardonnay, the region’s mild climate and rich soils also make prime growing conditions for ornamental flowers. If you know where (and when) to look, you can find acres upon acres of lavender, irises, dahlias, and more—all bursting with surreal color and open to the public for strolling throughout spring and summer.

A visit to the farm lets you peruse hundreds of unique flower varieties—peonies the size of dinner plates, stately tulips prized since World War II, never-before-seen dahlia hybrids—while they’re in full bloom, then order those bulbs for your own garden. You can often score cut flowers at a fraction of the cost you’d pay at any florist in town. And as more farms embrace the agritourism trend, there’s lots to do. (Think barbecues among the irises and fun runs through dahlia fields.)

“We’re creating an experience for people to come out and enjoy the flowers in the field,” says Barb Iverson of Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm & Vineyard, about 30 miles south of Portland. “People can come to the farm and [get] something they can’t anywhere else.”

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm & Vineyard (Woodburn)

Acres of tulips: 40
Tulip varieties: 100+, including regal purple Queen of Night and watercolor pastel Prinses Irene
When to visit: Late March through the end of April
The Iverson clan’s flower farm dates back to 1950 and today is the largest tulip producer in Oregon. It’s also one of the most dialed-in family-friendly experiences around. With field train rides, campy photo cut-out boards, wooden shoe-making demos, and meet-and-greets with Tulip the Cow—all set against a drop-dead gorgeous view of Mount Hood—pack the kids in the car for the ultimate Instagrammable day trip. Bonus: Wine tasting (see family time, previous sentence). The Iversons run an adjacent vineyard, so you can sample estate-grown wines in a new tasting room or take a glass of sparkling blush moscato with you as you wander the fields. 

Adelman Peony Gardens (Salem)

Acres on display: 25
Peony varieties: 578, including the massive Bartzella and crinkly Black Panther
When to visit: Fields are open Apr 27–June 16 (peak bloom is Mother’s Day to Memorial Day)
You won’t find hay rides or craft spirit tastings at this no-frills operation. The focus here is on the fleurs—and they are spectacular. Adelman blooms have won Best in Show at the American Peony Society’s annual flower show nine times in the past 16 years. Buy dirt-cheap cut peonies ($2–4/stem), potted plants, and order roots of your favorite varieties direct from the farm. Bonus: At the farm’s annual “Bring Grandma Weekend” (yes, an actual event that takes place June 8–9), your nana will receive a free peony bouquet. 

Schreiner's Iris Gardens

Schreiner’s Iris Gardens (Salem)

Acres on display: 10
Iris varieties: 500+, including ruffly Pretty Kitty and jet-black Anvil of Darkness
When to visit: Fields are open in May, with special events most weekends
Just down the road from Adelman, the Schreiner family has been breeding new iris varieties and selling them (originally via a black-and-white catalog) since 1925. Today, their fields are home to hundreds of varieties in every color imaginable—from the palest of pinks to the deepest of blacks. Good luck picking a favorite. Throughout the season, they host special events, including tea tastings, craft spirit tastings, barbecues, and visiting arts and crafts vendors, so there’s always something fun to do after you’ve walked the fields. Bonus: Inspiration abounds in a beautifully curated display garden that shows off some of the farm’s most interesting iris varieties, planted alongside a spectacular mix of companion plants. 

Swan Island Dahlias in Canby

Swan Island Dahlias (Canby)

Acres on display: 35
Dahlia varieties: 360+, including kaleidoscopic Junkyard Dog and luminous golden Candlelight
When to visit: Fields are open Aug 1–Sept 30, festival is Aug 24–26 and Aug 31–Sept 2
The country’s largest dahlia grower was once located on the Willamette River’s Swan Island, with a farmstand in Sellwood. Now in Canby, the family farm’s open during bloom season for people to walk the fields, bring a picnic, or set up an easel for plein air painting sessions. For two weekends around Labor Day, it hosts the largest dahlia festival in the US, showcasing 15,000 dahlias all arranged by pro florists—and with live music, food, and demos on tuber dividing. The Gitts family hybridizes its own varieties, so expect to see something different every time you visit. Bonus: A cut-flower stand is stocked 24 hours a day, so you can pick up fresh blooms even when the farm is closed. Drop $7 in the lockbox and pick out your faves. 

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