WAXAHACHIE

A garden of "a million and one" tulips will soon serve as another reason for Waxahachie to be a destination city. The mission behind the flowers will also undoubtedly tug at the heartstrings of its visitors.

Through the tulip endeavor, Poston Gardens will aim to provide a life-changing opportunity for up to 10 residents of Daymark Living, said its founder John Poston.

Daymark Living is a resort-style residential community specifically built and staffed for people with Intellectual and Developmental Delays that opens this fall in Waxahachie.

Poston explained the tulip garden would also serve as an opportunity for residents to gain financial independence.

“It’s a rarity if they get hired and, if they do, they get minimum wage at best. So, I started thinking, 'how could Michael Poston make a living?'’ So this will be a profit-sharing venture,” he said.

Michael is Poston’s son who lives with IDD and was the sole inspiration behind the creation of Daymark. It was one of his classmates at the Rise School in Dallas that planted the seed of the potential financial benefits that could be offered by Poston Gardens.

“She came up to me a year and a half ago. Her dream is to live at Daymark Living, but she can’t afford to live here. That is kind of the motivation behind the tulip-picking garden,” Poston said.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

The idea of providing residents with an opportunity to live where they work grew after a visit to Texas Tulips in Pilot Point.

Poston explained that Texas Tulips, held in a town with a population of under 5,000, typically brings about 80,000 people a year to its annual tulip festival.

Texas Tulips is held on about six acres of land, whereas Waxahachie's festival is expected to be on over 40 acres to accommodate visitors and tulips, Poston disclosed at a Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Poston has also visited two other tulip festivals in the United States. The first was among over 250,000 other visitors in Mt. Vernon, Washington, while the second was in Holland, Michigan, which draws over 800,000 visitors during a nine-day period.

"I think Waxahachie can do a lot better," said Poston during his presentation to the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce members. He also estimated the economic impact to be about $250 per visitor during the festival.

He later stated, “I want the town to take advantage of what I’m doing and take that tulip theme to create business [opportunities] out of it.”

Laurie Mosley, the director of Waxahachie Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a destination event like this would provide substantial economic impact. She then referred to the bluebonnet festival in Ennis, which is the official Bluebonnet City of Texas, that receives over 100,000 visitors throughout April.

“Even though the tulip is not the official state flower like the bluebonnet, we anticipate that thousands of people will converge upon Waxahachie and the surrounding area for ‘tulip month’ because we know that anything to do with wildflowers and beauty will draw from all around the state, the nation and internationally,” Mosley elaborated.

She added, “The positive bump in sales tax revenues should be pretty noticeable because March is one of the few months that we do not already have significant events driving visitors to town.”

According to an economic impact study conducted in 2015, the Holland, Michigan tulip festival estimated to have about 500,000 people in attendance. Fifty-six percent of visitors were first timers and 66 percent planned to return. The study also reported for every dollar invested in sponsorship, Tulip Time generated $9.20 in local economic impact.

That’s $12.9 million in local revenue generated thanks to new economic activity that took place during Tulip Time in 2015.

The report concluded that the festival benefited the west region as a whole with increased awareness of attractions.

SPEAKING OF HOLLAND

After his visits stateside, Poston traveled solo to Holland, a region in the Netherlands, to hear from the expert tulip growers themselves. Holland is one of the largest, if not the largest, tulip producing countries in the world. Also in Holland is FloraHolland, the world’s most prominent flower auction location in Aalsmeer, a quick 30-minute car ride from Amsterdam — the capital of the Netherlands.

In his travels, Poston met a cab driver who, after hearing Poston's story and plans, introduced home to a family of third-generation tulip farmers. The dream of the festival, as well as the logistics, quickly manifested from there.

Poston first met a family who sells tulip bulbs directly to the auction and was then introduced to their 25-year-old son. The young tulip farmer even agreed to travel to Waxahachie to spend six weeks assisting in the planting and early growth stages of the tulips.

Poston later returned to Holland and met Aad Batenburg, a purchasing agent employed by ABBOTT-IPCO, located in Dallas. Currently, Batenburg is purchasing and collecting a variety of bulbs for several Dutch producers. Batenburg organizes the orders and then exports the bulbs back to the U.S. to be cooled at a Dallas location.

Bill Van Houten, a Dallas resident, co-owned ABBOTT-IPCO for 45 years before he retired. He and his partner, Harry Hollander, established the company in 1972 and specialized in importing and exporting bulbs exclusively from Holland. For over 25 years, the company has supplied tulips to the Dallas Arboretum for its tulip festival.

Van Houten shared that when a variety of bulbs are purchased in Holland, it’s from a variety of growers. “Growers have to specialize in a limited number to make money because the margins are razor thin,” Van Houten said.

So far, the wish list of a variety of tulips is comprised of 26 types. These range from Big Smile, Apricot Delight, Friendship, American Dream, Sky High Scarlet and Purple Dream — just to name a few. The list will grow as more varieties come available to Batenburg.

COOLING PROCESS

“The tulips really won’t grow until they’ve had six-plus weeks of cooling," Van Houten explained. "And the reason is, if you were to plant a tulip in December in the ground in Texas, the ground is simply still too warm and therefore, that bulb would think it’s spring already."

Unless a person has "tricked" the bulbs by artificial cooling, of course. Those bulbs, once planted, will not emerge until February or March.

“If it emerges right away that bulb doesn’t have enough of a root system to perform for a guy like John in the spring,” Van Houten added.

The bulbs will be chilled at 46 degrees for six to eight weeks around early October. The bulbs are then expected to be planted in early to mid-December, and hopefully, natural cooling will occur.

Van Houten iterated Texas is not an ideal climate for bulbs, so the cooling system is critical. Once planted, a robust roots system will develop and allow the bulb to grow a stem where a flower will emerge.

Poston will receive bulbs from the early, mid and late seasons to lengthen the blooming time.

“You don’t want all of them to come up at the same time, and all be bloomed out in two weeks,” Van Houten pointed out.

Due to the warmer summer in Holland— much like what is experienced in Texas — growers had to wait until the end of the season to determine if they could sell bulbs. The wait has the bulbs now arriving in waves.

“Holland did not make them available at the same time even though they were harvested. Many of the growers did not know what their total results were going to be at their farm,” Van Houten iterated.

Van Houten has a special treat planned for Poston in the years to come. He also wants to put Poston in touch with a famous tulip hybridizer in Holland — Jan Ligthardt. This individual sells new, unnamed varieties to organizations for fundraising purposes.

“He invented the variety called Laura Bush, and he came up with a variety called Dallas Blooms for the Dallas Arboretum. These are all registered, new varieties — the real thing. And soon, there will be hundreds of thousands available of those,” Van Houten said.

Poston plans to receive a variety from the same hybridizer, called Strong Gold.

Van Houten disclosed he wants to have tulips created and named after the facility, or even Poston himself, or, perhaps, even the City of Waxahachie.

“I think this will blow John and his project really away if we could come up with something like that,” Van Houten said.

For more information on Daymark Living and the ideals of the facility, log onto daymarkliving.com.

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Travis M. Smith/Daily Light contributed to this article.

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450