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Pronounce Puyallup? I couldn't even see Puyallup, never mind trying to say it.

This was the first day of spring, but the weather was in a snit. Rain began to fall in sheets a nanosecond after I left the Seattle airport, bound for this town about 25 miles south.

I came to the Puyallup Valley, known for its daffodil fields, on a quest for spring, for something beautiful and orderly and life-affirming in contrast to world chaos. If I didn't find it, at least I'd learn how to say Puyallup (PEW-al-up).

Washington state takes its flowers seriously, especially daffodils. In 1997, the most recent year for which statistics are available, growers produced almost 44 million stems of the yellow-trumpeted beauties, worth $3.6 million -- the most, by far, of any state.

As I got close to town, a splash of yellow glistened through the trees. It was a daffodil field, but the "no trespassing" signs made it clear I wouldn't be getting close enough to revel in them, and the rain dripping down the back of my neck made it clear I didn't really want to.

I wasn't giving up, but there was no use being a fool about it, so I checked into my room in DeVoe Mansion, a bed-and-breakfast in south Tacoma, just 10 minutes away.

Cheryl Teifke showed me through the 1911 home that she and her husband, Dave, have run as a B&B for eight years. Each of the four upstairs rooms is named for someone connected with the DeVoes, who were active in the women's suffrage movement. Emma's room honors Emma Smith DeVoe; Susan's room is named for Susan B. Anthony; Carrie's room commemorates Carrie Chapman Catt, another suffragist; and Henry's room was inspired by Henry DeVoe, Emma's spouse and ardent supporter. Each of the rooms has a private bath, although the bath with Henry's room, the least expensive at $105 a night, is down the hall.

The common areas were anything but. Done in rich, dark colors and furnished with period pieces, they beckoned guests with comfortable couches, a square grand piano made of rosewood and a dining room where the buffet always tempted with a homemade treat.

I was ready for more than a snack, so Cheryl directed me to Gateway Cottage restaurant and lounge, about a mile from the mansion. It was warm and welcoming -- the fireplace glowed in the main dining area -- but from where I was sitting, I could see the ongoing war coverage on the TV in the bar. Even the baked halibut, so fresh it practically said hello, accompanied by salad, wild rice and broccoli, didn't dispel my funk. I finished, turned my collar up against the storm and went back to the mansion. By 8 p.m., snuggled under a down comforter in a room that was as blue as my mood, I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Fueled for the flower hunt

Amazing what 11 hours of rest will do for a body -- and for the weather. The sun was doing its best to shine the next morning, and I was so excited I couldn't imagine sitting still for breakfast, a meal I tend to ignore.

That was before Cheryl and Dave brought out fresh orange juice, a monster sweet roll, seedless grapes, two crustless Southwest mini-quiches, smoked chicken and apple sausage and, of course, near the caffeine capital of the country, delicious, aromatic coffee.

If I tarried, I risked losing the sunlight, so I tore myself away from the table and pointed the car toward Puyallup, home of Van Lierop Bulb Farm, one of two large growers (Knutson is the other) in the valley.

Daffodils, pale yellow at first, glimmered in the distance and as I turned off Pioneer Avenue. Row upon row of bright, butter-yellow jonquils nodded at the morning breeze. The flowers were at their peak.

Van Lierop's shop is surrounded by a garden, where daffodils, hyacinths and tulips bloomed along the brick walkway. Inside the shop, you can buy bulbs, order cut flowers (the company ships 3 million tulips and 4 million cut daffodils in a season), buy a bunch to go and browse the home décor. I bought some daffodils, still tightly closed, for $2 and thought perhaps I had found heaven.

I was certain I had when I discovered the antiques shops in the center of town. I lingered in 3rd Street Antiques longer than I meant to, managing to escape without buying anything -- a near miracle where antiques and I are concerned. As I whipped through the center of Puyallup, I practically foamed at the mouth seeing the other shops on my way to Meeker Mansion, the onetime home of the man credited with helping preserve the Oregon Trail. I was sure it hadn't yet opened for the season, but I wanted to drive by.

My luck was changing. Ezra Meeker's house, an 1890 Italianate mansion, opened March 1. The $4 fee admitted me to the home of the so-called Hop King (he made a fortune in hops when the European crop failed), and it was an unexpected treasure. It's hard to believe that it spent part of its life as a nursing home, although the linoleum laid over the fir floors helped preserve them. I fairly quivered at the fine oak pieces and had to restrain myself from cranking up the Victrola or tinkling the keys of the 1869 Steinway square grand piano in the drawing room.

The house fanned my antiques fever, but the sunshine fueled my flower frenzy, so I detoured to Windmill Gardens, a nursery, garden, day spa, gallery and home décor collection in Sumner, just north of Puyallup.

Again I fell under the floral spell, reminded by the faux windmill of the gardens of Keukenhof in the Netherlands, although these are a fraction of the size. I wandered the gardens and the nursery, which held me in their thrall until showers threatened again.

On a tip, I took Washington 410 east and exited at 166th Avenue. Stretching before me were acres and acres of ramrod-straight golden daffodils.

The rain swept in again, but this time the sun was hot on its heels, bathing everything in a blurry platinum light. The downpour stopped as suddenly as it had begun, and there appeared, arching across the acres, a double rainbow.

I had found my pot of gold.

I stood along the roads of those fields and soaked in the scene until the sun began to fade, then headed for Place Pigalle in Seattle, a New York-style bistro in Pike Place Market.

I joined friends David and Val for a meal that turned into a celebration of good food and great dinner companions. We shared an appetizer of calamari Dijonnaise, and David and I segued into a warm asparagus salad while Val dipped into French onion soup. David pronounced his salmon entree excellent, Val was happy with her chicken penne and I was fairly certain I had never tasted scallops as tender or as flavorful as these. We toasted with an Eyrie Pinot Gris and ended with coffee. Then I high-tailed it back to Tacoma, where the rain had finally stopped.

I was up early to make a final field trip before catching my flight. First, though, I fortified myself with Cheryl's breakfast: fresh fruit compote, croissants, aebleskiver (Danish apple mini pancakes) and sausage, fresh orange juice and coffee. Just as I was starting to get the hang of this breakfast thing, it was time to check out.

I headed immediately to the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory, a Victorian structure in Tacoma's Wright Park. The sky looked threatening and the wind was cold, so the warmth of the conservatory was welcome indeed. The smell of citrus hung in the air, and tropicals bloomed in profusion. A black-and-white cat named Malacoides played among the plants, taking a break from her duty as chief rodent catcher.

After a detour through downtown Tacoma, where nearly a billion dollars' worth of construction is going on, I was ready for a taste of the traditional Northwest, and I found it in Point Defiance, home to a zoo and aquarium and a five-mile loop drive that leads through evergreens and ferns and allows occasional views across the water.

By then it was time to go to the airport, but I found the car veering off Interstate 5 at the exit that promised Weyerhaeuser's bonsai and rhododendron gardens in Federal Way. The bonsai collection (free admission) was fascinating, especially the bougainvillea from Miami that had been coaxed into a gracefully twisting form, but it was the rhododendron gardens ($3.50), where rich reds and fairy-tale pinks stood out against the backdrop of deep green, that captivated me.

As I wandered, rain began to fall again, but this time it didn't matter.

Catharine Hamm is deputy editor of the Travel section.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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