One grandma's true labor of love

Marva Stark figures it is in the family to grow things. She has her flower garden, and husband Glenn tends to 150 black walnut trees on property about 1/4 mile away.   -Ogden Reporter photo by Kathy Pierce (lower photo provided)

Dahlias - that’s a story you may be interested in I was told.

“She saw I always had flowers at my place. Zinnias I knew how to grow, they are easy . . .  but Dahlias?” The flower garden in the back yard of this quaint Boxholm home was once tended by Madelaine Miller’s great-grandmother and as of recently consisted mostly of zinnias and wildflowers.

But how was Marva Stark to turn down such a sweet, albeit labor-intensive, request from her granddaughter? She just couldn’t.

Madelaine and her new fiance were getting married in July and the bride-to-be thought a home-grown bouquet of dahlias (the trending flower, according to Pinterest, a website loaded with inspirational wedding ideas) would be the perfect touch. Of course how special that they would be grown by her grandmother’s loving hands.

There were a few problems: her grandmother knew nothing about growing these full-blossoming fall flowers. Remember, the wedding was in July, so that was another hurdle.

Marva and daughter Joni dove into some serious research. The mother of the bride purchased an inch and a half thick “Cut Flower Garden Book” that contained a full chapter on dahlias. The pair even took a class in Winterset. 

Madelaine ordered eight dahlia tubers (bulbs) and some seeds online from a flower farm in Washington State. Her grandmother purchased tubers just about everywhere she shopped in February and March - Lowe’s, Fareway, Wal-Mart and Earl May.

Dahlias they learned, take four months from planting to blooming so in late March Marva loaded up on light potting soil and planted 50-plus tubers that would take over her inside front porch. She provided daily doses of heavy mists. Temperatures had warmed and on May 6 the plants were put into her garden. Her 21 varieties planted barely scratched the surface of the 22,000 varieties of dahlias out in the world.  

Marva likes the Sweet Natalie. “But they are all pretty in their own way,” she says. “Having a favorite would be like picking  a favorite child. You just can’t.” She does admit having an aversion for the “Platinum Blondes.” “They have droopy heads,” she noted.

She fertilized, watered twice daily and even built a fence to keep out the chickens and rabbits. A little divine intervention wouldn’t hurt either she thought.

“I prayed in the morning when I was out there working, and I prayed in the evening, that they would bloom in time. And we were truly blessed.”

All but about four of the plants survived. Marva said that although a few of the varieties didn’t bloom in time, there were plenty for the wedding day.

Read more in the Oct. 3 issue of The Ogden Reporter.