Richard and Danielle Parshall of Clearview used to grow asparagus and raspberries. Not anymore.
At least a half-acre of their property is devoted solely to dahlias, many of which they hybridized.
All dahlias are hybrids of tubers that produce daisy-shaped blooms in the mountains of Mexico.
The kaleidoscopic range in color, shape and size of modern dahlias is addicting to some gardeners.
The Parshalls and other members of the Snohomish County Dahlia Society plan to show off nearly 2,000 blooms at the group's dahlia show and competition Saturday and Sunday at Everett's Forest Park.
The society is 105 years old and the group's show is the longest continuously running dahlia show in North America. It's also one of the top dahlia competitions in the region.
The Snohomish County Dahlia Society began as a garden club for the wealthy women of Everett. Now it's a group of men and women who represent a cross-section of the county. What these growers share is a creative and competitive nature.
Richard Parshall, a former basketball coach at Lynnwood High School, said growing dahlias has been a labor of love for nearly 30 years, but serious participation in competition began in about 1994.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It's competitive and it's a lot of work.”
At first growing dahlias was just part of the fun of having a big garden, said Danielle Parshall, who taught math at Mountlake Terrace High School.
“Then we went to a dahlia show in Lake Forest Park. Big mistake,” Danielle said. “Here we were scribbling down all the names of the blooms. It was the beginning of the end.”
Richard likens dahlia competition to dog shows.
At the Everett show, all the different types of dahlias will be judged against each other and one bloom from each group will be picked to enter best of show.
The Parshalls compete in about seven shows each summer and often serve as judges at others. They plan to submit about 30 stems for judging on Saturday.
Among them will be some of the 32 dahlias they have introduced from their own cross-breeding work. The couple now sells their hybrid tubers to other dahlia collectors and growers at www.clearviewdahlias.com.
Two of their dahlias are named for their sons. Look for Clearview David and especially Clearview Daniel, which is yellow ball of delicate petals that looks as if it can't possibly be created by nature. Clearview Daniel was a notable prize-winner at a dahlia show in England last year.
The delicate nature of dahlias requires a mild growing climate. They like sun, but not heat. The most successful growers in the world are in Great Britain and the Pacific Northwest, Richard said.
About 15 societies are active between Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia. The Northwest societies are hosting this year's American Dahlia Society National Show during Labor Day weekend in Tacoma. The Parshalls plan to host a tour of their dahlia gardens during the national show.
Of all the thousands of registered dahlias in the world, none of them are blue. It may be genetically impossible, Richard said.
Still, a few of the amazing, gigantic red and purple dahlias grown by the Parshalls seem to carry a hint of blue. Earlier this week they were protected by umbrellas to keep the sun from fading that intense color
Rarely do the Parshalls cut flowers for bouquets.
The gardens are their outdoor vases, Danielle said, and each day in August and September the Parshalls are treated to a new exploding display.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; email@example.com. Twitter: @galefiege.
Caring for dahlias
- Remove old or spent flowers.
- Water deeply every four or five days during the summer heat.
- As the blooms develop, fertilize with a low or no nitrogen fertilizer, such as one labeled 0-20-20, to encourage flower and tuber development.
- Control for slugs, snails and other pests.
- Remove two side buds at each budding tip to encourage better blooms.
Digging dahlias in the fall
- Enjoy the flowers until the first frost kills the foliage.
- If you have good drainage, leave the tubers in the ground, cut off any dead foliage, and cover with 3 to 4 inches of mulch. Clumps should be divided every third year for bigger, better flowers and stronger stems.
- If you choose to dig the tubers, cut off the stalks to 3 or 4 inches above the ground and leave in the ground for a week or two to allow eyes to set before digging. Begin cutting down and digging by November even if no killing frost has taken place.
- Dig around each tuber clump with a shovel or garden fork and lift gently. Hose off the dirt from the tuber, clip off the feeder roots with garden scissors and let dry overnight.
Dividing and storing
- Divide clumps in half by splitting with pruning shears.
- Cut off tubers using hand pruners, garden scissors and a sharp knife. Wear protective gloves. Each tuber should have an eye you can see. The tuber eyes are located at the swell of the crown near the stem.
- Soak tubers in a solution of 1 cup of bleach and 3 gallons of water for 15 or 20 minutes to kill bacteria. Allow tubers to dry several days on newspaper in a cool, dark place.
- Label the tubers before storing with a permanent marker or no-blot pencil.
- Store cut tubers in plastic bags with a few handfuls of vermiculite, wood shavings or potting soil. Another method is rolling tubers in a long strip of plastic wrap, making sure each tuber isn't touching the others.
- Keep tubers in a dark, cool place that does not freeze, such as the crawl space under your house.
Source: The Snohomish County Dahlia Society
Snohomish County Dahlia Show
The show is free; 1 to 6 p.m. Aug. 16 and 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 17; Floral Hall at Forest Park, 802 E. Mukilteo Blvd., Everett. More information at www.scdahlias.org.
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