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Linda Holmes-Cook | Growing a legacy is a labor of love

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Provided photo A seedling bud.

Someone once told me that nothing worth having is easy — if it is worth having, it is worth working for. In my work as a school counselor, children often told me that something they were struggling with was “hard.” I would agree, but would remind them that they CAN do hard things. This is true as well for dahlia growers, especially in North Central Washington.

The odyssey on which dahlia gardeners embark each year is filled with work and wonder.

Each year, the climatic conditions vary enough to create growth patterns different from former years, making each day’s labors a stimulus-response process. Whether to water, fertilize, amend, pinch back, disbud or protect will be dictated by conditions of nature and what you do, as a gardener, depends on what your plants need. Seedlings are even more unpredictable, because they are hybrids of hybrids. When you plant a tuber, your baby plant is a clone of the parent. However, when you plant a seed, you get the product of a pollination process that can produce very different looking flowers. You can grow established varieties from tubers, or you can harvest seed to originate your own cultivars, or both. Either way, the process rarely fails to fascinate, ensuring hours of entertainment for the gardener.

Most dahlia growers have your tubers planted by now, and are seeing quite a bit of growth. Our early spring allowed many of us to plant in late April or early May. With three gardens this year, my planting season began in mid-April and didn’t end until the end of May. If you have tubers that you haven’t yet planted, get them into the ground soon. Dahlias take from six to eight weeks after planting to produce the first buds, with blooms beginning two to three weeks after that and continuing until mid-to-late October. Your work will be amply rewarded, once you get started.

After so many years working indoors, my daily walk through my gardens literally renews me. Never in a million years did I think I would ever find myself doing what my dad always did — going outside each day, digging and raking, getting covered in soil and sweat, rounding up manure and earthworms, shoveling truckloads of compost and three-way mixes. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but dad’s passion was taking root in me and after a lifetime of dormancy, it emerged with a vengeance about 10 years ago. I now recognize this as his legacy. Here in the Wenatchee Valley, we see examples of legacy all around us, rich gifts that have been bestowed on us by those who are committed to making our world a better place. Every one of us has the capacity to be part of something that will outlive us, something positive for future generations to enjoy and nurture. In spite of my ongoing tangle with shadecloth, purslane, morning glory and earwigs, my work in my garden serves to extend the legacy of my father and maybe someday, I can pass it on to others.

Linda Holmes-Cook blogs regularly at