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Linda Holmes-Cook | Why I have a passion for dahlias

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World file photo/Mike Bonnicksen Linda Holmes-Cook debuds her dahlias last September in the Tony DeRooy Memorial Garden of the North Central Washington Dahlia Society off Emerson Avenue in Wenatchee.

As one of eight children growing up in Snohomish County, I often felt like there was never enough of anything to go around. We dressed in homemade clothes or hand-me-downs, our shoes were mended with half-soles made out of old tires, and all eight of us were bathed every Saturday in the same tub of rapidly cooling, graying water.

Mom stayed home with us until the youngest child started school, so we all lived on Dad’s modest, bimonthly paycheck. We bought milk by five-gallon cans from a local dairy, we raised our own beef, chicken and vegetables, and both my parents hunted and fished in order to provide food for the family table. Mom would can fruits and vegetables from our large garden, filling the shelves in the basement with Mason, Kerr and Ball canning jars of varied sizes. Our food was always “dished up” for us at dinner time, with my brother and Dad always receiving a double-helping of potatoes. As long as nobody ate more than their share, we grew up healthy and well fed.

However, there was one thing we always had in abundance, and that was the dahlia. There were always hundreds of dahlias in our home garden, and each variety had a name, making it seem like a member of the family. My Dutch immigrant father and grandfather were avid dahlia growers, creating and maintaining stunning gardens as part of their jobs with the Great Northern railroad. They served sequentially in the position of “Supervisor of Parks” for the Great Northern until railroad mergers in the early ’60s closed the greenhouses in which they worked. In 1964, Dad started working as landscape supervisor for Chelan County Public Utility District. Included on Dad’s “to-do list” was the creation of a dahlia garden at Rocky Reach. His mission was to share the joy of dahlias, and his love of this flower was contagious.

I suppose it was inevitable that one day, I’d wake up to find that I’d been bitten by the bug.

Woven inextricably into the tapestry of my life, every aspect of dahlias gave me joy and became my passion. The dahlia’s generosity and diversity are gifts that I never finish opening, and the challenge of growing dahlias in the semi-arid desert conditions of North Central Washington is enticing and irresistible. It will be fun sharing the experience with you — but I give you fair warning when I say you may end up with dahlia fever. Be on the lookout for early symptoms, including the purchase of humble, brown roots known as tubers, and drooling over the lush photos found on the Internet or in flower catalogs. There is no inoculation, no known cure and “the fever” appears to be a congenital condition. Full garden immersion during dahlia season has been found to have palliative effects, and is highly recommended. I’ll be here to help with that!

Linda DeRooy Holmes-Cook has been a music educator and an elementary school counselor for the Wenatchee School District. During dahlia season, she blogs regularly at ncwdahliasociety.blogspot.com. This spring, she plans to create a dahlia garden on the grounds of the Pybus Public Market.