I remember the first time Southwest Washington struck me as a jungle: It was 45 years ago in May, returning home from a 15,000-mile adventure that included a fair share of subtropical and tropical environments.
The image came back to me Saturday, Cinco de Mayo, as we returned from Parkland and a visit to K Connell Dahlias where we bought a dozen reinforcement tubers for our two dahlia rows in the garden at Horsefeathers Farm in East Olympia.
In early and mid-May, the Pacific Northwest busts out in foliage, flowers and leaves so dense and complex that the lingering memories of winter’s bare boned deciduous trees and dormant shrubs seems pleasantly out of focus.
The common call name for our neck of the woods is temperate rain forest, but it’s a close cousin to a tropical rain forest. And along a stretch of prairie land Saturday between Spanaway and McKenna lush with purple camas flowers, flowering dogwood, burgeoning maples and the ever-present backdrop of Douglas-fir, I thought: this is my favorite time of year.
On Sunday, after planting 24 dahlia tubers in the garden and setting down slug bait to protect the emerging peas, beans and other vulnerable vegetable crops, I paused to count the number of perennial plants, shrubs and trees that were in full bloom. I tallied 15 varieties, including purple and white-flowered lilac bushes more colorful than I can recall in my 15 years of living here.
This spring also marks the most concentrated pollen drop I’ve experienced at Horsefeathers Farm, which, on the pollen front, is dominated by big-leafed maples. My SUV, which is old and left outside at night, is coated. So is the deck. So is the driveway. I think the big dump is over, which means the pressure washer will be pressed into service this week.
Driving home Saturday, we stopped at Walt’s Place in McKenna to watch the Kentucky Derby, dominated by the Bob Baffert-trained Justify with 52-year-old jockey Mike Smith on board for what looked like a picture perfect ride. At Walt’s, we were strangers in a rural neighborhood bar, but welcomed by the boisterous patrons. The place grew quiet for the race, which was shown on three televisions, then the sounds returned to their pre-race, noisy banter.
Soon we were back on the road for Tenino and our dinner reservation at Don Juan’s Mexican Kitchen in Tenino. We included me, my fiancée Barb Digman, our dear friends Steve and Sandy Wall and their faithful, 13-year-old black lab, Samantha.”When did you get interested in growing dahlias?” Sandy asked.
“You know, I can’t remember, but I know I’ve been growing them for at least 30 years,” I said. Not to be outdone, Kerry Connell of K Connell Dahlias, has been supplying dahlia tubers and cut flowers for 35 years. I think my fascination with dahlias was cultivated in part many years ago by a visit to the Connells Dahlia display at the Western Washington Fair in Puyallup. I asked Connell Saturday if he still shows at the September fair and he said not for several years.
It was a lot of work, he recalled, especially having to replace one-quarter to one-third of the flower display every night during the fair’s two-week run. The metal exhibit building would get so hot during the day, the flowers would just wither, he said.
Getting the dahlias in the ground is always a spring milestone. But there are many more to come in the wondrous spring days ahead.
John Dodge used to write columns like this for The Olympian. Now he just does them for free because he misses his readers