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Delightful Dahlias:

Aug 3rd, 2016 | Category: Community

by Carol Frey

Delightful Dahlias began with a single flower. Linda Jonasson was a high school student visiting the Lynden fair when a dahlia society’s display caught her eye. She liked the flowers so much that she decided to try growing them. She only bought a single tuber because it was all a high-school kid with pocket money could afford. “I had to pay for the flower and I had to pay to have it shipped,” she said. It was a small beginning to a great passion.

Sisters Nadine and Linda operate Delightful Dahlias. PHOTO BY CAROL FREY

Sisters Nadine and Linda operate Delightful Dahlias. PHOTO BY CAROL FREY

After retirement Linda started dahlia gardening in earnest. Not just a flower farmer, Linda and her husband raise Suffolk and Border Leicester sheep and Linda dyes and sells wool for hand spinning and wet felting. Now she also had a large flower field that required lots of deadheading in order to keep the plants blooming. Her husband remarked that if she was going to spend so much time cutting flowers, she may as well sell them. With that, her flower stand was born.

When I visited her farm in mid-July, the flower stand on Peterson Road hadn’t opened yet, but customers were eagerly waiting for blooms. In the short time we stood talking in her garden, quite a few cars slowed down, the drivers peering intently at the stand before speeding up and going on their way.

Linda’s sister, Nadine De Golier, also raised dahlias and helped supply blooms when Linda ran short or had a failure, so they joined forces to create Delightful Dahlias. The sisters grow more than 500 varieties between their two farms, selling flowers from July to October at Linda’s roadside stand and at the Stanwood, Everett and Mount Vernon farmers markets. For those who want to grow their own blooms, they sell tubers online from January to early June, as well as at the Whatcom Dahlia Society’s annual sale and at their own tuber sale, held in late March at the Burlington Senior Center.

But Linda and Nadine particularly enjoy supplying flowers for weddings and other special events. They aren’t floral designers, but brides or designers can visit the farm in advance, pick out the color schemes or blooms they like, and supply buckets. The sisters follow along in the field, taking notes as the selections are made. When the time comes they cut the flowers and prepare them for pickup. It’s an economical way for brides to have masses of lovely flowers in almost any color.

Any color, that is, except for blue or true green. Roughly 57,000 registered varieties exist in every other color: white, red, yellow, orange, pink, purple, chocolate, bronze, and every shade and value between, but not blue, green or black. In 1846, a Scottish horticultural society offered a princely cash prize to anyone who could produce a blue dahlia. A century and a half later, the prize is still unclaimed, although not for lack of trying.  And color isn’t the only way to add variety; there are 14 named shapes, from frizzled anemones to elegant, formal balls to delicate stars and pointy cactus shapes.

I asked where such diversity comes from, and was surprised to learn that hobbyist hybridizers are responsible for much of it and that there are more dahlia breeders around than you might think. Off the top of her head, Nadine mentioned several in the town of Snohomish, some on Camano Island and several in Bellingham. The Delightful Dahlias farms trial 50 – 70 new varieties every year, and they get many of those new varieties from local hybridizers.

Successful varieties aren’t always predictable. Some criteria for success are obvious – like cultivars that are productive and hardy. Others have a versatility that works well in arrangements, like “Keith H,” a yellow bloom tipped with deep red that compliments many other colors. Some are classics whose success is measured in decades, like “Chilson’s Pride,” a favorite of both Nadine and Linda with pure pink blooms and a creamy white center. Some just have a uniqueness or attractiveness that’s hard to put into words, like “Just Married,” a showy pink and yellow dahlia Linda enjoys so much that she said,  “The first year I grew it, I just left it. I didn’t sell it.”

Sometimes a person will pull up to the roadside stand and stay for 20 minutes or more. The sisters used to wonder what someone could be doing for so long, but now they know – the customer is working out their ideal bouquet.Standing in the dahlia fields, enjoying the flowers and the warm company, it is easy to see that the Delightful Dahlia sisters make their own perfect arrangement.

Published in the August 2016 issue of Grow Northwest

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