Everything Grows

In 1964, our family moved to the Wenatchee Valley. My dad, Tony DeRooy, had just been hired as the first Landcape Supervisor at Rocky Reach Dam. Prior to that, he had worked for the Great Northern Railroad as the third of only three (ever) Superintendents of Parks. He had followed in the footsteps of my grandfather, Arie DeRooy, who had the position from 1934 until his death at Many Glacier Lodge on August 8, 1951. Growing plants, flowers and children was their life work. Anyone who knew these men, as well as the women who have stood faithfully by (thanks, Mom!) recognized their passion. This blog will be concerned mainly with dahlia and garden thoughts, but will also discuss things that are happening in the beautiful valleys, plains and mountains that we know as North Central Washington.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

An Autumn Lullaby

            As I waited for the light to change on the corner of 19th and Sunset Highway, I couldn’t help but be reminded that harvest is upon us. Tractor-trailer rigs laden with square boxes filled with Honeycrisp, Gala, Grannies, Jonagold, Ambrosias, Auroras, Goldens and Reds lumber past, destined for packing sheds and ultimately, markets throughout Washington, the US, and other parts of the world. This is the time of year that so many of us spend the rest of the year preparing for – we are now rewarded for our careful and precise husbandry that we’ve applied in each of our growing venues.
            As a dahlia grower, this is my favorite time for a number of reasons. First of all, it marks our annual dahlia show, which this year was filled with over 1000 blooms of every size, color and description. The sheer brilliance and grace of this gathering of horticultural angels served to inspire and touch the hearts of people as only miracles can - you could almost cut the endorphins with a knife. Secondly, it is during late September and early October that many of us can afford to be generous with our cut flowers. There is no longer a need to save the best for the fairs or dahlia shows across the state. The crisp mornings, warm afternoons and cool evenings and overnights produce some of the best blooms of the season. You might just see dahlia growers walking around with arms full of bouquets, gifting family, friends and neighbors. Or maybe you’ve seen the vases full of dahlias on front counters at offices, shops and other public places around town. As so many of you have discovered, giving dahlias away is just plain fun – I can highly recommend it!
            There is an irony for dahlia growers, in that autumn represents both an ending and a beginning. With or without the killing frost, you will find us cutting down our plants as we say “goodbye” to the gardens and yards filled with the luscious nobility represented in our dahlias. However, with the digging of the tubers clumps and the collecting of seed pods, we officially say “hello” to the future that resides in the possibilities of next year’s crop. What was planted as a single tuber in the spring is now a clump of 4-12 or more. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – it is really like Christmas for us, and the bountiful yield is one of the things that we look forward to. Rather than dreading the digging, lifting, cleaning, cutting and dividing, we welcome the process that allows us to tuck these babies into their winter beds of pine-shavings and crawlspaces.

            A huge “thank you” goes out to our NCW community for all the support, gratitude and encouragement that we receive so frequently – whether in our demonstration garden on Emerson Street, the dahlia forms garden at Pybus, the teaching garden at 5th and Western, or in our home gardens. The interest in dahlias has grown tremendously in the past few years, as evidenced by the presence of dahlias in so many yards across the valley, and because of that, NCW Dahlia Society will be hosting a Pybus University session called “Putting Your Dahlias to Bed.”  Scheduled for November 4, at 7:00 pm at Pybus Public Market, this class will provide hands-on experience with dividing and storing dahlia tubers. You can pre-register at www.pybuspublicmarket.org/sign-up/pybus-university.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


The phrase, 'Dollars to donuts' is a pseudo-betting term, which indicates short odds - in other words, something is a certainty to win.  I spent last weekend on the beautiful Kitsap Peninsula, enjoying all the things that a dahlia show weekend can bring. On Saturday morning, I was greeted warmly upon arriving at he Kitsap County Pavilion - not just by the gorgeous dahlias and the old dahlia friends, but also by DONUTS. If there is one thing other than dahlia-culture that I have learned through my involvement, it is that every dahlia event is accompanied by donuts. These deep-fried, guilt-ridden and usually forbidden sweet treats show up at  Federation of NW Dahlia Growers (FNWDG) activities - including board meetings, workshops, local club shows, and even at the trial gardens.  My conclusion is that, if you show up to participate at any FNWDG event, you are certain to find maple bars, bear claws, glazed, chocolate and sprinkled, and sometimes even buttermilk and crullers.

Donuts are only one of the certainties you encounter during show season. During my visit to the Kitsap peninsula, I was sure that I would be greeted warmly with hugs and smiles; that I would have a chance to bend the ear of some of the best growers and hybridizers in the country; that I would have many opportunities to discuss issues local challenges (heat, wind, drought) to successful dahlia-growing. I knew I would spend some time at the Tacoma Trial Gardens, the dahlia show, and Wendy and Drew Brant's home for the Saturday night barbecue. What I didn't realize was that I would have an opportunity to visit and photograph two other gardens - the Kitsap County Dahlia Society's garden at the Port Gamble Post Office, and the gardens of Eric and Janet Anderson, just a few miles from the Silverdale Fairgrounds. Although record-setting heat has affected dahlia growth all over the state, the flowers I saw in those gardens were sensational. The commitment and enthusiasm of the growers I spent time with last weekend was exactly what I needed to renew my own energy and focus on my own dahlias. I will admit that the three weeks of temperatures in excess of 100 degrees fahrenheit had caused me a high level of anxiety and discouragement, and I needed a boost to get back on track. Kind of like having a donut when you feel your energy flagging........
 Kelsey Annie Joy  (with two friends) at Eric Anderson's Garden 
A shot of the garden at the Port Gamble Post Office

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


I thought I'd planned out my Dahlia Forms Garden at Pybus Public Market pretty well. I tried to dot all my "i's" and cross all my "t's", so that things would go really well.....but.....the result? Not so much......

In designing and planting this garden, I selected 3-6 varieties from each of the 20 different dahlia forms, in order to teach people about the diversity of type in the dahlia family. My proposal to plant this garden on the Pybus property was considered and accepted by the Pybus team, and I went to work. First, I selected a spot, with the advice and guidance of those familiar with the master landscaping plan. The northeast corner of the market property, adjacent to the back parking lot, was chosen as the ideal spot - having good sun exposure, great drainage, good visibility for Market visitors, and nothing else planned for that area. I hired people to till the spot, and then I brought in topsoil/compost mix, as well as additional compost and soil building materials. I organized the layout of the space, and eventually planted about 118 tubers/plants in mid-April.

I watched as my garden grew, and I had a little bit of concern about the most northern part of the bed getting enough water. This was dealt with by increasing the automatic watering times, and by frequent hand watering that I did 3-4 times a week. I was thrilled and excited to watch my plants come up, and I have tended this little space with much anticipation. However, a few weeks into the growing season, I thought I started noticing some irregular foliage growth, a growth pattern that looked eerily familiar to me, and which I tried not to believe was happening. At some point during this time, I vaguely rememberd that I had seen one of those little flags that the lawn care companies put on your property when they treat your yard, but it wasn't exactly in the spot where I had the garden. So I kind of forgot about it. Denial worked for a while, until I finally couldn't ignore the nubby buds, the curled and leathery leaves, the distorted flowers that appeared on Kathy's Choice and Badger Twinkle - I finally had to admit that most of the plants in the garden were suffering from "herbicide carryover." Dahlias are particularly vulnerable to this condition. My first experience with it had been during the 2012 growing season, when I and my friend Mike used some manure from a local farmer to help enrich our soil. We didn't know that it contained remainders and residues of herbicides that had likely been used to kill grasses along the country highway where it originated. Our dahlias struggled mightily to grow out of it, but the result was a much reduced yield and lower quality blooms and plants for about half the season. Eventually, it seemed to be leached out of the soil by heavy watering and time, but it is not the kind of thing dahlia gardeners want to have to deal with.

I visited with several local garden/farm supply people yesterday, trying to brainstorm a solution for the problem, and they had a few ideas. After talking with them, I think I will try a combination of drenching/draining the soil and adding some compost tea that may help neutralize the soil through the growth of healthy microbes. The conditions don't seem as severe as they did in 2012, but there is no doubt that the early flower and foliage on my dahlias is anything but normal. The good news is that I only have this problem at Pybus, probably due to treatment of the area by herbicides, prior to the decision to plant the garden. I don't anticipate that it will happen again, if I continue to grow in that spot. Fortunately, it is early enough in the season that the chances of getting back to normal are pretty good - wish me luck!
 Leathery, thickened and curly foliage is characteristic of herbicide carryover.
Nubby deformed buds are also common symptoms.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


I have been writing an irregular column for the Wenatchee World,  and recently found myself really struggling to get the time to do it. The reasons are many, but mostly it was due to the 'busyness' of dahlia season - tuber work parties, tuber sales, garden preparation, planting, cleaning up the club garden, committee work for the ADS show and our local show - it seemed like there just wasn't the right combination of time and energy to get my column written. Maybe this was because I didn't really want to write about dahlia growing - I wanted to write about the concept of "legacy." In March of this year, I went to the Wenatchee Valley Chamber's annual banquet,  where  the third annual Legacy Award was presented to Kathy and Wilfred Woods. Wilf and his family are the founders, publishers, editors and managers of our local daily newspaper for over a hundred years. Besides the obvious legacy that one can create through the power of the press, Wilf and especially his wife Kathy, have been greatly influential in establishing infrastructures and opportunities for the performing arts in the Wenatchee Valley. Their work and their presence in our community cried out to be recognized with this very prestigious award. I have the greatest respect for Wilf and I truly love Kathy, who is one of the dearest people I have ever met.  Being there when they received this well-earned Legacy Award was a great honor for me.

This wasn't the first time that the concept of legacy had woven through my brain like an earworm - I really first started thinking about it in September of 2012, when I took my first walk through the developing Pybus Market site. Mike Walker was leading the tour through the building and he shared his dream and vision for Pybus. He and his wife JoAnn had been talking for some time about how best to express their gratitude and love for the Wenatchee Valley. Decades ago, they had relocated to Wenatchee to establish their businesses, and immediately knew that they were HOME. When the concept of establishing a permanent home for the Wenatchee Valley Farmer's Market as well as a business hub on the Columbia Riverfront gained momentum, the Walkers realized that they could make it happen by contributing the resources necessary to make the project happen.  Seeing this as a public/private enterprise, the Port of Chelan County and the City of Wenatchee had successfully advanced the conversation, but found that the project  but was still almost $3,000,000 short of reality.  The Walkers made a decision to make this financial contribution, and to take a hands-on approach in the development work.  They saw this as  the perfect avenue for them to leave a permanent gift to the community they loved. The Pybus Public Market would become their legacy.

Since that day almost two years ago, I have seen examples of legacy all around me. and have thought a lot about what I might leave for future generations. That line of inquiry led me directly to my father and his father before him. I couldn't help expanding their work and their passion to others who create beauty in their worlds, often in public spaces such as parks and businesses. As my workload at the gardens lightened, I was finally able to pull my thoughts together and get them down on paper. The column wasn't quite as I had imagined, but I finished it and sent it in. Today, Father's Day, it appeared in the Sunday edition,. As I read it, I was surprised to recognize it as a tribute to my father. He established a legacy that lives on in gardens and growers all over the state of Washington, and especially in North Central Washington. I realize that I am embracing his legacy every time I do the things he did in his gardens. I think he would be very happy to see that the column that accidentally became a Father's Day tribute has resulted from his labor of love throughout his lifetime. Thanks, Pop, and Happy Father's Day with all my love!!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


In typical fashion, true to the generous character of the flower itself, the Snohomish County Dahlia Society has once again taken us under their wing. Following their own tuber sales earlier this month, they found themselves with over 400 leftover dahlia tubers. Just as they did last year, they offered them to our club to add to our tuber sale inventory. Since we have two more sale dates, we have a great opportunity to find new homes for these outstanding babies. I was happy to drive over to beautiful Snohomish County to pick them up from Ken Greenway, owner of Accent Dahlias, in Machias. Besides picking up the SnoHoCo donation, I also had the opportunity to see Ken's garden and get some idea of the sheer volume of dahlias he deals with. He usually grows about 5000 plants, representing new AC seedlings, as well as established varieties of his and other hybridizers. He just started planting yesterday, with hours (days?) of work ahead of him. After I left Ken's, I decided to drive to Everett to drop off a tuber order that I received from one of my Facebook friends. She lives in Tennesee, so I'd mailed her tubers to her a couple weeks ago, and she wanted to buy a few for her daughter. I had the flat-rate box all packed with tubers, and intended to stop at a post office to mail it, but since I was there, and I had the time, I entered the address in my Google maps app on my smartphone, and drove on over there. After that, I still had a little time before I was supposed to meet with Bernie Wilson in Snohomish, so I took the opportunity to stop at Steuber's, a favorite stop for Snohomish County growers. My little heart just went pitter-pat when I saw the large bags of earthworm castings that could be had for only $9.95 a bag! Lucky me - I bought two! I'm hoping that if I add these to the dirt that I plant in at the Tony DeRooy Memorial Garden on Emerson Street, the green earthworms that I have there every season will give into the peer pressure and change their color to a healthy pink - I'll keep you posted on that! I also was able to get some very cool 3-inch peat pots to use for my seedlings, some wire ties for tying up, and some nylon trellis stuff that I am going to experiment with, in place of stakes. Training young plants through the squares of the trellis can help the plants to remain straight as they grow up.

By noon, I was heading for Bernie's place in Snohomish. Lakeview Gardens are always an inspiration for me, and Bernie is always a source of information and ideas. He has been a true mentor to me for many years, and this year is not different. He shared some pretty nice cuttings and a couple tubers with me - some things I've never grown before, or have been unable to find. We also talked about seedlings, since I am asking him to grow a few of mine this year. It will be interesting to see if the seedlings I developed in NCW will grow the same in Snohomish County. He has three or four of mine, and also three that came from Dad. The support we get as a club, and that I get, as an individual, is so very important to my journey on the dahlia-road - I find that words fail to express the gratitude I feel to those who continue to lift us up in this way.

Bernie Wilson at Pybus Public Market, judging with Mike Alexander 
and NCWDS clerk Vic Bosche'

I ended my day with coffee in Redmond, with my dear dahlia-sister, Rosemary Freeman. There is nothing like spending time with strong, smart people like Rosemary, but the best part is just spending time with a friend who understands and shares my passion. We talked about all kinds of things, and the time for me to leave came much too soon. I hit the road about 4:30, heading east through Woodinville, Duvall and Monroe. You'd think that after a lifetime in Washington state, that I would get to the point where I take the natual beauty around us for granted - but the views never fail to take my breath away. A warm clear afternoon revealed The Mountain, highly visible on the southern horizon as I neared Monroe. No matter what direction I was heading, I saw mountains - the Olympics to the west, the Cascades to the east, and lush green forests of both evergreen and broadleaf trees, as well as rich river valleys where the Holstein dairy cows contentedly graze. They say that success is not getting to where you are going, but rather, the quality of the journey. The truth of this statement was evident in my 12 hours on the road yesterday - I returned home refreshed with my spirit refilled. I'm so grateful to SnoHoCo, Bernie and Rosemary for all they have done to encourage our efforts - Driving for Dahlias is a great way to spend a spring day!

Monday, April 7, 2014


Welcome to a new dahlia season - regular blogging begins today!!

 Bench starting a lot of my tubers this year
I have a new light table this year, a legacy from our dear friend Ray Brain, 
who passed away at the close of last year's dahlia season.

The fact that I haven't written my blog since November caused me a bit of difficulty this morning when I tried to post this morning. Like the tubers in my crawlspace, you might conclude that I have also been lying dormant for the past 6 months - so NOT true! During the winter, I agreed to become one of the Wenatchee World's (our local daily paper) Community Connections columnists. This venue gives me the opportunity to promote dahlias and dahlia growing throughout the North Central Washington area. Also, for the second year in a row, wrote an article for the PSDA annual publication, Dahlias of Today. If you haven't picked up your copy yet, you can order one from the ADS store (www.dahlia.org), or talk to me - our club ordered a few extras that can be had for the low low price of $12+ postage if I have to mail it to you.

I've been very busy with my dahlias, not having been able to "wait patiently" for spring to appear before digging into those beautiful brown paper boxes stuffed with pine chips and possibilities. I also started my seedlings long before I was supposed to and therefore have a couple flats full of babies that are already about 7-8 inches tall. Oh, the joy of not knowing what blooms will emerge from these seemingly similar green stems and leaves!

On my way to Fernie's this morning to do our first tuber sorting, in preparation for our April 26 tuber sale. I have 13 boxes of tubers in my Forester, ready to hit the road in about an hour....I have a few other errands to do before ending up at the Springwater headquarters for our tube sale work, so it will be full day, to be sure.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Here in North Central Washington, we have four distinct seasons. That means that during the winter, it freezes and it snows. Not like it does in St. Paul, Minnesota, or Buffalo, NY, or even parts of the extreme Northeastern corner of the US, or down in Denver, Colorado, where my cousins Ginnie and John frequently recount Rocky Mountain winters where they get snowed in by Thanksgiving, with only occasional relief, until Memorial Day! But we have winter - make no mistake about it.....

Our temps generally fall below zero degrees F. many times during the winter, and we get a bit of snow now and then, as well as ice and sleet on really nasty days. From November through February, temps below freezing are more the rule than the exception. This means that, if we decide to leave our tubers in the ground at the end of dahlia season, they will most likely freeze, and be "lost," requiring us all to buy new tubers for our gardens next spring. As a dahlia society, this is not really much of a choice, since most of us are not made of money. We like to be able to afford to continue to grow some of the best varieties of dahlias that can be pretty pricey in the first few years after introduction. Also, the viability of our club treasury is dependent on the proceeds of our annual tuber sales, where we sell tubers  to the public at a fraction of the price they might pay to a commercial dahlia supplier. We need to dig and donate in order for this project to succeed. In addition, we have an annual show. Sponsoring this show requires a significant financial outlay, which is made possible through the proceeds of our tuber sales. It is one of the most effective ways of sharing the beauty and wonder of the dahlia with our local population and lovers of dahlias from all over the state of Washington.

What this means is.......YES, we have to dig the tubers each year. This is the answer to what is probably the most commonly asked question. In NCW,  not only do we have to DIG the tubers, we have to DIVIDE the tubers, LABEL and then we need to effectively STORE the tubers over the winter. For some people, this reality is enough to keep them from launching their own journey through dahlia-land. As a general rule, those of us who've accepted the challenge of "DDL&S-ing" our tubers have discovered how much fun it can be. Yes....I said Fun - like Christmas-fun! Read on...

First of all, you dig. I know - this sounds like work - but it's really not all that bad. Last spring, you put ONE tuber or one small cutting into the ground. If things went according to plan, you had blooms that lasted throughout the summer, and well into fall. You were rewarded, and maybe you thought that was fun, but I'm here to tell you that the real fun - the BEST thing - is to find out that that puny little tuber that you put down in May has propagated, and now, you might have 3, or 5 or in some cases, 10 or more tubers that you dig up in a humble "clump" on an October or November day. A wonderful return on a small investment, that has already provided great Summer blooms. These tubers are a true BONUS, if you choose to dig them. Storing is really not that complicated if you have a dry cool spot that stays between 38 and 44 degrees throughout the winter....and if you don't, maybe you know someone who does (even a local dahlia society member is often willing to help out with this!). The next best outcome of this late fall pursuit happens when you open the boxes of stored tubers in the spring time. Many of these eager tubers have started to sprout, virtually begging to be planted so they can start to give you the thrill of the bloom! You can hardly wait for your soil to warm up to 60 degrees (usually early to mid-May), so you can start the cycle of life all over again. Only this time, you have an exponential increase in the number of favorites that you can put down in your well-prepared soil, and it didn't cost you ANYTHING, except for a few long days of digging and dividing in November - in retrospect, it is always a small price to pay for such a priceless reward!

As you might guess, I have been spending a "bit" of time digging, dividing, labeling and storing lately, and today, I joined my club-mates to dig our club garden at Emerson Street. Over the course of the day, 7 of our members came down and worked together to get things "to bed" before the weather damages them. We still have a bunch of work to do, but as I was saying to Fernie, the hours that I sit in my work room, or my kitchen, or with a bunch of club members, cleaning and preparing these dear little promises for their winter's sleep, is exciting and comforting at the same time. It is such a gift to be able to be a part of the cycle of such a beautiful life.....So if you wonder if you need to dig these tubers, the answer is "You can if you choose to, if you want to share the power of the continuation of the life cycle at this level....Or, if you don't want to dig, we have great bargains for you to start  your garden over again in the Spring...." Either way, it is some kind of wonderful....Can you dig it?
 I can't ever dig at the garden without my dad's old grey sweater, or his little blue truck to haul tubers home.
John Ruud fixes Fernie's digging fork, while Sherry checks labels on tuber clumps.