WOODBURN - According to flower lore, red tulips are a declaration of love and tulips with black centers symbolize a heart burned by love.

Then there are the yellow tulips, which mean hopeless love. And the variegated ones, which say to the recipient, "I love your beautiful eyes."

As for the 30 acres of tulips and daffodils currently abloom at the Wooden Shoe Bulb Company, viewing the row upon row of blooming flowers is as if you're seeing the artwork of a giant color loving preschooler, with dabs of red, orange and yellow in long, long lines. Through April, the fields will be abloom as the bulb farm hosts its annual Spring Tulip Festival.

It's the 20th year that the Iverson family has owned the farm, which draws thousands of people each year. The festival features food booths, children's activities and local craftspeople selling their wares. Then there are the flowers - millions of them. Part of the farm is devoted to producing cut flowers, while the other acreage is used for growing flower bulbs for sale. A helpful display garden might be a good place to start if you want to imagine some of these flowers in your own garden - it can be a little overwhelming to try to extrapolate the effect that, say, a certain yellow tulip called "West Point," - might have in your garden when you've only seen it in a grouping of 1,000. Does the landscapers' rule of odd numbers apply here? Should you plant 1,001?

Just kidding.

The Wooden Shoe Bulb Company is populated by dozens of friendly people working in the fields, cutting flowers for bouquets and snipping off unruly foliage. We watched one nice worker leap through a staging of yellow and red tulips to get out of the way of one of the many camera-wielding visitors at the farm that day. From what I could glean in my high school Spanish from the farm staff, flowers are dug up in rotation and replanted in different areas so as to avoid disease.

I learned from the farm's literature that they dig the tulip fields every June and plant the tulips in a different field every October. Lucky for the home gardener, the Wooden Shoe Bulb folks recommend digging tulips every three years to keep the bulbs from crowding out their holes. Once the foliage on the plant has turned brown and dried, the bulbs can be dug with a garden fork. Clean off the old roots and separate them from the cluster of bulbs. Separate the bulbs and keep the largest - store them in mesh bags, for plenty of air circulation, hung up in a cool place. Small bulbs produce only leaves, so you'll have a better bloom with big bulbs.

Remember that the bulbs are alive, even when they are in storage. Keep them safe from rot and rodents.

Here are some more tips and tricks from the Wooden Shoe growers:

• Bulbs planted in pots are susceptible to cold damage. Protect pots from freezing by moving them to a protected spot.

• Sprinkle seeds for wallflowers or Forget-Me-Nots over your bulb planting in the fall. The fast growing flowering plants will cover the bulb leaves once the flower is gone in spring.

• Rodents don't like daffodil, allium or fritillaria bulbs. They do like tulips, unfortunately, but you can place your bulbs more than four inches deep and then cover the bulbs with chicken wire. I read somewhere that you can put your bulbs in those plastic berry baskets from the grocery store and plant them that way for the same protection.

• Water is critical for spring flowering bulbs. Water your bulbs after planting unless it has already started to rain and the soil is moist. Water is needed in late winter and early spring when the plants emerge. At this time most bulbs require about 17 inches of water a week. This is critical for potted bulbs where missing a watering can result in an aborted flower or yellowing foliage. After flowering, however, it is natural for the foliage to yellow and dry out. When this starts to happen, discontinue watering.

• Avoid planting bulbs in wet areas with poor drainage. The bulbs can rot in standing water.

• When you buy cut flowers, re-cut the ends of the stems and place them in clean, cold water, to revive the blooms. Use a clean vase, and keep the arrangement out of the sun. Tulips drink copious amount of water so add fresh cold water every day. Change the water completely every couple of days. This will prevent harmful levels of bacteria from developing in the water, reducing the life of the flower. On the other hand, avoid adding gin, vodka or pennies to the tulip water, brushing the blooms with egg whites or piercing the stems just under the bloom. None of these "home remedies" have ever proved to have any real benefits.

Unlike most cut flowers, tulips keep growing in the vase, sometimes up to 6 inches or more! Fresh cut tulips are geotropic and phototropic, meaning that their growth is affected by gravity and light, respectively. Blooms will always curve upwards and bend towards sources of light.

• Each garden contains its own micro climate. Bulbs planted against the southern side of your house may bloom up to a week earlier than the same ones planted on the north side. Bulbs planted in dense shade may be twice as tall as those planted in full sun. Bulbs planted by a warm sidewalk may push out of the ground earlier due to the warmth absorbed by the concrete.

• If you dig your bulbs, separate the bulbs and take off the old roots. It is important that the bulbs are completely dry before storing or they will rot. To dry bulbs, put on a mesh tray in the shade outside for a day or two before storing them. Good air circulation in storage is also important and never ever store in an airtight container.

• To best care for your bulbs, the leaves must be left alone until they are yellow. This is because the foliage manufactures the food that is being stored in the bulb for next year's flower. Bulbs are actually a storage organ that helps the plant inside survive dormant periods. When dividing bulbs, dig the clumps once the leaves have dried down. You can replant right away or store in a well ventilated location away from heat until fall.

You can reach the Wooden Shoe Bulb Company fields by taking Interstate 5 to Woodburn, Exit 271, then traveling east seven miles, toward Molalla, to the flashing yellow light at Meridian Road. Turn right on Meridian Road and travel about two miles. The street address is 33814 S. Meridian Road. The entrance to the field is on the left.The fields are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. There is a fee of $4 per carload during the weekends. To get an update on the flower bloom status, call (800) 711-2006.

Cathy Peterson belongs to the Clatsop County Master Gardener Association. "In the Garden" runs weekly in Coast Weekend. Please send comments and gardening news to "In the Garden," The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or online to peterson@pacifier.com

Schools can enter rose bush giveawayIn honor of National Garden Month, the National Gardening Association and Star Roses will give 20 school garden programs five rose bushes apiece to plant on school grounds.

The deadline for the application is Sunday, April 6 by mail and Thursday, April 10 by fax. This is the first time the NGA and Star Roses have paired up to offer the "Learning with Roses Awards."

You must download an application from the NGA's children's gardening Web page, www.kidsgarden.com

The application asks for the project coordinator, the number of children who actively participate in your garden project, and other specific information. Applicants should demonstrate a child-centered process in which young people plan, learn and work in an outdoor garden. Applicants will receive notification of awards by April 15.

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