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.

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.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


By now, a lot of you will know that the NCW Dahlia Society has recently suffered the loss of one of our pillars. Ray Brain, a founding member of the club, passed away on October 15, a few days after suffering a massive stroke. He is survived by his wife, Bev and children Eric and Shelly. Ray was one of those consummate dahlia guys, with a love of dahlias coursing deep through his veins and within his fragile heart. I had the good fortune to meet Ray years before I started growing dahlias, through my dad, Tony DeRooy. I'm afraid that Dad was the one who got Ray "hooked" on dahlias, and for years, they were a duo to be both feared and respected when it came to growing the "big boys!" They totally enabled each other's addiction, and had the greatest respect for each other. They knew they were cut from the same piece of cloth.

As long as I have known Ray, I doubt that a day ever passed that he didn't think about how his garden was growing, or what he could do to improve on things at the club garden or for our club. If every dahlia grower had the type of commitment that Ray had, along with the luxury of time, no club would ever suffer for lack of involvement. Although Ray struggled with a number of physical challenges as he aged (he was only 79 years young!), he didn't let anything stop him from giving 110 percent of what he had to give. He always shared everything he had, and he always answered up whenever he could help in any way. People in our club will miss having such a stalwart member as part of our body. After all, Ray always brought the donuts to our tuber sales! Other dahlias growers across the state and the Pacific Northwest will remember Ray for his enthusiasm, and his hunger for learning more about how to grow even bigger, better flowers  Members of our community will remember Ray for his frequent presence at our club garden adjacent to Numerica Credit Union, and also for his "Ray Tags" and indelible, weather-resistant Sharpie Markers, that he always had for sale at our Tuber Sales. Last spring, there was a lady who had so appreciated the time that Ray spent, answering her questions and giving her advice the PRIOR YEAR,  that she brought him a gift, wrapped in paper and a bow, to thank him for everything. He made this kind of impact on so many people, and I'm sure when we show up with tubers next spring, many people will wonder, and ask, "Where is Ray?" He will leave a huge hole.

There are many things we all remember and love about Ray, not the least of which will be some of his "colorful" language. I learned from Ray how frustrating it can be when one of those big beauties turns out to be a "crotch-hugger" (large flower with short stem, between two vertical "v" shaped shoots). I'm sure this is a technical term somewhere, right? He also was well known among club members for his admonition against saving any tubers that we weren't sure of the varietal name - "When in doubt, THROW IT OUT!" He was not a huge fan of our "grab bags" of "UKs" (unknown varieties) that were popular among Wenatchee Valley bargain hunters! His little blue 4x4 was filled with garden tools, colored wire, sprinkler fittings, bungee cords, plastic buckets and rope/twine. When he finished a day's work, he loved to have a cold one, and he tried very hard to make sure he didn't break Bev's limit of "just one.!"

I have long held on to the belief that dahlia people often die AFTER show season has ended, and often, they even wait until the tubers are dug and stored. This was true of my dad, who died on November 9, 2006. Ray had his stroke exactly one week after our club sponsored our best show ever. Ray spent much of Sunday at our show, talking and visiting with growers, exhibitors and show visitors. He was in his element, and he told several of us that he was feeling better than he had felt in months. He had a wonderful day, as did everyone who had the opportunity to spend some time with him that day or the evening before, at our potluck dinner. He was so happy to be a part of things, and  to bask in the glow of the passion that emanates from so many dahlia people. We will be remembering him with love, and will celebrate his life on Friday, October 25, at 11:00 AM at the Eastmont Presbyterian Church on Kentucky Street, in East Wenatchee. We are planning to be there with as many dahlias as we still have so late in the season - somehow, I trust that the frost will hold off until after we cut, and he will be surrounded with a family of flowers and those he loved best in his life. Godspeed, Ray Brain - so blessed to have had a chance to know you. Say hi to Dad, OK?

Friday, September 20, 2013


Some of  you may know that Dahlias are not my only interest. Although dahlias eclipse the passion I have for other things in my life, I also really enjoy a great game of baseball. Our local MLB team is the Seattle Mariners, and although the Ms have had many great players occupy roster spots in the past 20 years, they have yet to go to the "Big Dance."In recent years, the poor old M's have regularly occupied the MLB basement. I still tell myself, "There's Always Next Year" and I continue to love the game. Maybe some day, some day....we will do it right!  

There is an expression in baseball that describes the ideal position player (non-pitcher); "The Five-Tool Player." This is an athlete who excels at 1) hitting for average, 2) hitting for power, 3) base-running (skill and speed), 
4) throwing, and 5) fielding. These five tools continue to be the things professional scouts consider when evaluating young players' potential. As I've been working in my gardens over this summer, I have identified five tools that I love for this work. I thought I'd share them with you here:

1) Combination kneeler and bench. As a person with very bad knees, I am thrilled to have this cute little "flipper" that can be used in this position for sitting, or when turned over, gives me a soft spot to kneel, as well as sturdy metal side posts that I can use to push against when I return to a standing position. The kneeler (the bench flopped over) looks like this:
Cool, huh? I LOVE THIS! It came from Lowes, and you should be able to find one at your local hardware store.

2) Hand Cultivator/Weeder. This particular tool was one I bought at an estate sale for about fifty cents. It has a very thin blade, is very light weight, but surprisingly sturdy. I'd had one that a friend made for me, where the blade looped all around, rather than half-way, as this one does. However, it broke when I was working on some particularly stubborn weeds. So glad I found this one - it gets close to the stalk, under the leaves of the plants, and precisely removes that nasty morning glory, spotted spurge and purslane. The tools that show up in estate sales are often older but tried and true, so I heartily recommend garage-stalking for tools like this:

3) Stirrup Hoe. I think this might have a more official name, but this is what I call it. The stirrup shape is able to loop around bunches of weeds, carefully cutting down to the root, and removing the whole weed clump. If you don't have one, I can't imagine how frustrated you might get with the traditional hoes that many people use.
4) Mini-Rake. After you have removed those pesky weeds with your stirrup hoe, a mini-rake such as this one is just perfect for gathering them up. A larger rake is too big, and unwieldy. One like this is just the right size:
5) Golf Umbrellas. Take a stroll through your neighborhood Goodwill or St. Vinnie's to find umbrellas for dirt cheap. If you go on Senior Discount day (55+ usually is the eligibility point!), you can get 10 - 20% off - I think I paid $1.50 before the discount for these brand new golf umbrellas, which do a great job of 1) shading dark colors against harsh sunlight and 2) Cooling the temperature on our triple-digit days. Regular rain umbrellas work fine, too, but I like the span of the golf umbrella, and they stand up well in the winds that we have here. I usually duct-tape them to my dahlia stake, and in order to stabilize, will sometimes secure the umbrella by running twine from 4 points at the center of the umbrella to landscape staples, pushed firmly into the ground.
During this entire summer, I have not had a single one of these umbrellas blow away, and only once did this blue/white one in the front blow backwards. It was an easy fix, just pulling it back into the right position. My colors are so much better since I added these!

There are many other gadgets and devices that we all use in our gardens......Everyone needs to find out what works for them, and use it. Sharing your ideas often helps novice gardeners like me and others in our club. Do you have some favorite tools that you use? Let us know!

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Most of you know that I attended the ADS National Show in Grand Rapids, Michigan over the weekend. I actually arrived a few days before the show, and ended up being in Michigan for a week. During the time that I was away, my dahlias didn't seem to understand that, since I won't be there to tend them, they should just enter a period of dormancy and self-sufficiency until I return. They should not respond to wind by falling down or snapping off, they should not continue to produce buds, and of course, they should not pop their centers open, or dry up. Those umbrellas I put up in the demonstration garden should not blow backwards in the storm, and the lean-to shade-cloth I had on the southwestern side of my raised beds should not twist and skew in blustery conditions.  I should just be able to come home, look out the window and see a perfect garden, full of blooms that will be ready just in time for this weekend's show in Whatcom County, right?

WRONG! I came home, as many of the other attendees did, to a couple days worth of  rehabilitation and rescue attempts. I finally finished my home garden this morning, and will go over to the 4 rows at the demonstration garden a bit later. No matter what we do, we all know that time waits for no man, (or woman) and the promise of the dahlia garden is that we will never run out of opportunities to commune with nature, due to the tenacious and persistent nature of informal dec, semi cacs, mignon singles and the other 15 forms represented by the dahlia.

But don't think that I am complaining....in the past, I have written about the joy I feel when I put my arms around my dahlias in order to tie them up. Yesterday and today, I had the opportunity to do this time and again, as I snugged them up to the stakes, securing them against the hailstorm that is promised for later today. Gathering the many stalks and flowers into an armload of  sweet-smelling green was nothing short of an embrace.  Gently but firmly tying them to each stabilizing mast was my way of reassuring them that I am still here to make sure they have what they need to continue to grow and bring joy.

If you ever have the chance to attend a National Show, I highly recommend it. In spite of the fact that you will have a boatload of work to do when you get home, and even though you may even lose a stalk or two to the four winds, the experience is worth it. The flowers were phenomenal, and the people were amazing. The opportunity to interface and interact with dahlia growers and exhibitors from the US and beyond is of immeasurable value to anyone interested in learning more about dahlia culture. The first National Show I ever attended was in my hometown of Everett, Washington, back in 2009. That weekend, I had the honor of clerking for a great team of judges in the Stellar class. At that time, I wasn't sure I really liked the stellar form much (although now it is one of my favorites!) but having the experience of listening to the judges taught me so much - the perspective they bring to this task is rich with expertise and vision, and working alongside them is the best possible way for me to benefit from the spill-over of this knowledge.

How many times in your life do you get to collide with the stars and embrace the earth all in the same week? Next year's show will be in Tacoma, Washington, the home of the Point Defiance Trial Gardens. I guarantee that you will have the opportunity to interact with some of the greatest dahlia visionaries on the planet, and while doing so, will also discover some darn nice people. When you meet them at the beginning of the show, you will shake hands and talk dahlias. If you work with them on a judging team, you will have the chance to discuss the finer points of dahlia ideals. And you say goodbye at the end of the show, chances are that you will find yourself hugged. You will go home with a bucket full of embraces, which you will then pass on to the babies in your garden, as you collect the maverick stalks to tie back to the stake. And it will be very good.....

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Friday afternoon'sADS show attendees had an opportunity to visit Dahlia Hill, in Midland, Michigan. Dahlia Hill is more than a garden - it is a tribute to the pursuit of balance and collaboration that exists between humans and our environment. It is free to the public and maintained completely by volunteers, under the leadership of artist and teacher Charles Breed, a Midland, Michigan treasure. The garden was founded in 1992 by Charles, but it was in 1966 that he first fell in love with the miracle known as the dahlia after planting some tubers that his wife had received for Mother's Day from their daughter. There was no looking back after that, and today Dahlia Hill consists of 8 terraces of around 3000 plants. representing more than 400 varieties of all forms of the dahlia. The story is a fascinating one, and Charles is even more so. I encourage you to find out more about Dahlia Hill by visiting their website at www.dahliahill.org
 Charles Breed, Artist, Teacher and Founder of Dahlia Hill

Looking up at Dahlia Hill

Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful in Grand Rapids, with almost 2000 blooms in place. Judging teams fanned out across the hall at Fredrik Meijer Gardens as they evaluated the work of their peers. I was not appointed to a team, although I had volunteered to clerk, but fortunately, the clerk for a team led by Marilyn Walton was unable to attend, so I jumped in to fill that spot. The clerk sheets and the sections were quite different than the ones I was familiar with, and the horticultural sections were not divided by novice, amateur and open categories. We judged the mini-balls, and all growers showed against each other, regardless of their experience level. I was pleased to be asked for my input on several blooms - even though I was clerking at this show, I am now a candidate judge, and really enjoy having an opportunity to practice what I have learned. This is the third national show that I have participated in, and it is always a great experience to be on such teams.

Following the judging and the "box lunch social" that judges and attendees enjoyed, I went on a great tour of Meijer Gardens by tram, enjoying the creative landscape designs, the floral arrays and the sculptures that define the gardens. This garden was a gift to the community by Fredrik Meijer, philanthropist and grocery store magnate from Michigan. It is a wonderful tribute to the human spirit and the innate human drive to express themselves by the production of art and the manipulation of natural resources. If you have never been there, I highly recommend it!
One side of the multi-faceted waterfall in the middle of Meijer Gardens. Although the garden abuts one of the main freeways in Michigan, the sounds of water flowing over the many falls in this feature completely mask the noise of the interstate.

At 3:00 Saturday afternoon, I was fascinated as I listened to John Menzel, dahlia grower and exhibitor from Winkie, in the great outback of Australia. John, hybridizer of such varieties as Winkie Colonel, has learned the hard way to grow dahlias in a parched and blisteringly hot environment. During their 5-month growing season, temperatures exceed 100 degrees fahrenheit for around 45 days, with some of those temps going into the 110s. When the temperature doesn't break the century mark, they are still in the 90s and high eighties. Last year they only had 7 inches of precipitation all year! His solution to this has resulted in champion blooms at shows in more temperate zones across the dahlia growing world. He is quick to say that he is not an expert, but that he only knows what has worked for them. He uses shade cloth and misting systems, but the biggest difference between what most of us in the dahlia world do is how he irrigated. He has developed a strategy that he calls "pulse watering", where he used a principle of frequent but shallow watering, that actually results in a more thorough watering along the shallow horizontal plane of our underground tuber clumps. He waters 6 times each day for just a few minutes, using a drip system. I am not going to go into detail here, but I am getting a copy of his powerpoint presentation to share with my own club, and I know that John is happy to share his experience with any dahlia growers who request it. He can be reached through the Australian Dahlia Society website. His over-riding belief says that "We must remember - dahlias are only human - when they are thirsty, they need a drink! If I am thirsty, I drink - my dahlias have the same needs - we must never allow them to get stressed due to lack of water. They are happier and healthier if they are taken care of on an ongoing basis." He is a remarkable man, and was honored by ADS at the Awards Banquet last night, for his continuing commitment to the improvement of dahlia growing.

All in all, I found myself inspired again and again, by the presenters, my colleagues, the Western Michigan Dahlia Society members and the beauty surrounding me everywhere I looked. ADS Annual Meeting later this morning - hopefully it will rise to the level of inspiring

John Menzel, Australian Dahlia Society, experienced in growing dahlias in extreme heat.

Friday, August 30, 2013


It's about 5:00 am back home today, August 30, 2013. Here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, home of this year's American Dahlia Society (ADS) National Show, it's after 8:00 am, and I am having a leisurely cup, brewed in my in-room single serving coffee maker. I so rarely have the time to just sit and catch up on things - I hardly know what to do with myself! This respite will not last long, however. A little later this morning, I will be going up to Meijer Gardens to pick up my show materials, and I suspect that once I do that, the pace of my life will definitely increase.

When I was a little kid, the dahlia world was full of people who always seemed happy to see my family and me. When we would walk into any show or meeting, we would always be swarmed by folks, often with a load of dahlias in one arm, and a welcoming hug in the other! It was nearly 50 years before I joined my own dahlia club, jumping into the fray as a grower and exhibitor. After joining the Federation of Northwest Dahlia Growers (FNWDG), I discovered that things had changed very little in the 5 decades since I first showed up at dahlia shows with Dad and Mom. From my first meeting on, I have regularly been embraced and welcomed whenever I have shown up in my local dahlia world, whether at meetings, workshops or shows. If there is anything more addictive than always feeling at home anywhere, I haven't found it. Many of us have said "You come for the flowers, but you stay for the people." This is more true now than ever, especially in light of an experience I had a couple weeks ago in my hometown of Everett, Washington. I had my purse and all its contents stolen, torn right off my shoulder as I was walking into the dahlia show at a park that was as familiar to me as my own home. It happened in broad daylight, in a full parking lot that happened to be totally deserted, except for me and the thief. Not one to be easily shaken, I was quite shocked and upset when arrived in the building. Fortunately I was not hurt, except for an abrasion/bruise on the back of my arm, but I was stunned, and couldn't get my brain about me enough to figure out what to do next. Enter my dahlia brothers and sisters! I could go on and on about how wonderful these people were, offering me help of whatever kind I might need in a situation like this. But suffice to say that if I had to have something bad happen to me, there was no group I would rather be around than these people. I can never thank them enough for all the support I received from them, both tangible and intangible. Not only can they flat-out grow gorgeous dahlias, they can provide comfort and hope as well as anyone in the world.

With that experience behind me, and my vigilance sharpened, I have arrived in Grand Rapids, ready to spend s few days in the heaven known as a dahlia show, with angels known as dahlia folks. They are the eagles who have taken me under their wings, and have made it possible for me to soar right along with them! I will try to keep everyone up-to-date as to the happenings each day, and will be posting pictures along the way. Talk to you later.....
Bernie Wilson's new seedling, Lakeview Blush, as shown at the 2013
Puget Sound Dahlia Association show in Shoreline, Washington