What does it take to fill Union Square with 100,000 tulips?

What does it take to fill Union Square with 100,000 tulips?Photos: iBulb/Courtesy of Flower Bulb Day
Lisa Martin
Published on March 06, 2020

For the third year in a row, Union Square will be transformed into a temporary “garden” of more than 100,000 tulips and other flowers — with huge crowds expected to tour the space and take home a few flowers of their own. 

Tomorrow’s Flower Bulb Day is organized by Royal Anthos, a trade organization based in the Netherlands that represents and promotes the interests of the global flower bulb trade. All of the flowers on display will come from bulbs originating in the Netherlands, then cultivated at Sun Valley Floral Farms in Arcata, CA. 

“The idea behind it [is that] it’s a locally produced cut tulip from a Dutch flower bulb,” said Henk Westerhof, president of Royal Anthos.

For the event’s first two years, it was known as American Tulip Day, but this year, it’s changed its name to Flower Bulb Day to justify the inclusion of other bulb-grown flowers, like daffodils and hyacinths. Visitors will be able to take home up to 15 flowers.

Given the flowers’ roots in Holland, San Francisco’s Dutch consulate is co-sponsoring the event, supporting it with advice, city contacts and volunteer staff. 

“Tulips are like magic,” said Gerbert Kunst, Consul General of the Netherlands in San Francisco, via email. “They make people smile and make them happy. I’m very proud the Netherlands is able to contribute to that.”

The event has been months in the making. Royal Anthos requested permits from the city of San Francisco last fall, and received them in the last week of February.

10 to 12 trucks will be needed to transport the 100,000 cut tulips from Arcata to Union Square, Westerhof said, with drivers bringing in the flowers overnight. Because of the square’s limited space, the event permit doesn’t allow multiple trucks to arrive at once. So they’ll be staggered — one truck arriving, being unloaded, and leaving to make room for the next — beginning around 7 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Approximately 40 people will then have four hours to turn the crates of flowers into a display. They’ll include growers and exporters from the Netherlands, volunteers organized by the Dutch Consulate, and some employees from Sun Valley Floral Farms.

At 1 p.m., the gates will open to thousands of flower fans. Despite heavy rain and cold, last year’s event drew an estimated 7,000 people, with some waiting in line for as long as 90 minutes to pick their flowers. Within three hours, every last tulip had been snapped up.

“It was raining cats and dogs,” said Westerhof. “Honestly speaking, people really didn’t know where the line started, because it was all around Union Square.”

The event will address those concerns with more staff focused on crowd management, Westerhof said. There will also be two entrances to the tulip garden, instead of one.

There are currently no plans to postpone the event over coronavirus concerns.

“There’s nothing in the Netherlands, but in Italy, China and some other countries there are [events] cancelled,” Westerhof noted. “I am hoping that that will not happen in San Francisco.”

In the meantime, everything is prepared to move forward with the event — including the possibility of a few surprises, like the marriage proposal that occurred in its first year.

“The people are ready. The people are very optimistic and very energetic,” said Westerhof. “We really do hope that we will have [visitors] again this year, and better weather conditions.”

The Union Square flower bulb garden will be open to the public from 1-4:30 p.m. tomorrow, March 6.