Dalliance with dahlias leads to national honor for Linda DeRooy Holmes-Cook
There is something magical about dahlias, those otherworldly-looking flowers, that causes ordinary people to develop a cult-like obsession with them — an obsession that knits together people from all walks of life. Linda DeRooy Holmes-Cook of East Wenatchee is one of those individuals who has been lured by the siren song of dahlias.
Her devotion to these flowers and the people who love them led to her being honored with the prestigious gold medal award from the American Dahlia Society at their national show in Ohio in September. The award goes to individuals who have made significant, enduring or extraordinary contributions to the organization.
Planting the “ugly little brown tubers” in the spring and nurturing these unique flowers results in a gift that keeps on giving all summer long. In Holmes-Cook’s mind, dahlias represent generosity — a generosity that perhaps is the source of people’s obsession with the flower. It’s a plant that fosters community. When I interviewed Holmes-Cook last week about her award, she said her late father Tony DeRooy deserved the award more than she did.
Tony, a Dutch immigrant, worked as a gardener for the Great Northern Railway, cultivating flowers for the railroad’s hotels and depots. After the railroad merger with Burlington Northern ended that job, he was hired by Chelan County PUD and developed the grounds and gardens at Rocky Reach Dam. Tony was a founder of the Pacific Northwest Dahlia Conference and the North Central Washington Dahlia Society.
Holmes-Cook caught the dahlia bug when her father was having health issues in the early 2000s and she began helping him with his garden. As her obsession with these flowers grew, she began writing about dahlias in a personal blog and she also wrote a series of columns, “Joy In Bloom”, for The Wenatchee World. Her mission was to share the generosity of dahlias with others who might also be compelled to join this community.
As a result of writing about dahlias, Linda was asked to volunteer as the website coordinator for the society and later established the social media presence for the organization. In 2017, she took on the job as editor for their national publication, The Bulletin of the American Dahlia Society.
The gold medal award reflects Linda’s profound impact as a volunteer more than as a grower of dahlias, although she does grow her share of dahlias and has propagated a seedling that she hopes to introduce within the next couple years. With a working name of “Saddlerock Tiny Giant,” this purple miniature formal decorative dahlia promises to be a contender.
The North Central Washington Dahlia Society (NCWDS) is the local affiliate of the national organization, consisting of more than 60 dahlia enthusiasts. The group is very active, regularly presenting classes through Pybus University, judging flowers at local fairs and presenting one of the top dahlia shows in the state every September. The dahlia show, as well as their tuber sale in the spring, are both held at Pybus Public Market, drawing huge crowds.
NCWDS continues to partner with Chelan County PUD at their Rocky Reach facility and also tends other local public dahlia gardens — one at Confluence Health, another at the corner of Russell and Fuller streets across from Pioneer Park, and a third at Pybus Market.
The generosity Linda finds in dahlias is matched by the generosity of spirit that infuses those who grow and appreciate them. Community is built in innumerable ways, thanks to the shared passion of individuals who see an opportunity to add to the beauty of the world or to make it a kinder, gentler place. The generosity of dahlias and the people who nurture them offer us a wonderful example of how we can choose to contribute to life in our communities.