Last weekend, I went to the Puyallup [Washington] Fair. I’d never been before, but believing the hype was convinced it was going to be fantastic. It wasn’t. Marketed as “one of the biggest fairs in the world, and the largest in the Pacific Northwest,” it fell short in several areas.

I’m old fashioned. Relishing cavernous buildings jam-packed with animals and agricultural products. I want to see tables overflowing with fruits and vegetables, pies, cakes, breads, canned goods, stalks of wheat, jars of seeds, and giant sunflowers with blue ribbons by the best. Show me rows of quilts, hand-sewn clothes, stuffed animals, macramé, knitting, tatting, weaving, crocheting, painting, and everything in-between. Let me walk in awe through buildings full of floral bouquets, cut flowers, potted plants, and landscape displays. I want to cheer for the winners and hope the losers do better the next years.

The Puyallup Fair dabbles on the edge of what I would consider a state fair. It has 4-H exhibits, but primarily what’s exhibited is cats (I’m not making this up) and artwork by local students. They have enormous pumpkins and elaborate displays by local granges, but only a few tables of vegetables. For the most part, they have booths for agriculture groups, gardening clubs, local and government agencies, commercial exhibits (i.e. magic pots, knives, cleaning products, pain relief remedies, rain gutters and roofing, freeze dried mixes, and of course, snake oil disguised as health remedies), carnival rides, petting zoo, entertainment, and ghastly food, including deep fried butter.

One section of the flower display was notable; it featured cut dahlias along with a jaw-dropping, identical bouquets of dahlias, grown by a Dan’s Dahlias in Oakville, Washington.

When I lived in Oregon, a part of my yard was dedicated to growing dahlias.

You have the option, when growing dahlias, to leave them in the soil and wait to see if they pop up in the spring. Or, like me, around Thanksgiving, you spend half a day digging them up the plants, cutting off the stems, and then laying the tubers (usually covered with mud) on newspapers in a cool, dry spot like the garage. Every week or so, I would shake off the dirt. Around the New Year, I would divide up the tubers, and choosing the healthiest ones, which were then packed in straw.

In the springtime, when the tubers began to sprout, I’d plant them in the ground. As they grew, I’d tie the stems to bamboo stakes so they won’t tip over.

Was it worth the effort? Absolutely. I loved picking huge bouquets of dahlias and being able to give away my excess tubers to other flower-lovers.

In a sense, dahlias are like employees. You can leave them alone, hoping they continue to producing at a high level. Or you can nurture them. Help them strengthen their skills, keep them engaged by providing challenging projects, and when necessary, encourage them to expand into other areas to augment their experiences.

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