Dazzling days with dahlias

Published 7:29 pm Friday, July 28, 2023

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Dr. David Dye, retired Troy University professor, dons his wide-brim straw hat and goes out to tend his garden. His wife, Judy, shakes her head and smiles. “It’s too hot, David…”

But, the hot summer sun and scorching heat do not deter David Dye from tending his garden.

Both Dye’s backyard vegetable garden and flower garden have been well-tended. The vegetables are Grade A and the flowers would rival any botanical garden. Obviously, David Dye is the product of generations of farmers.

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No, the Mississippi native said. He didn’t come from a longline of sod-busters. His grandparents were the source of his rather limited knowledge of tilling the soil. However, Dye said he has always admired and appreciated flowers, those that grow wild and those that are the result of knowing and loving care.

Dye said his interest in growing flowers grew from his appreciation of the beauty of flowers. Later, his interest in growing daylilies and zinnias spurred his desire to grow dahlias and other ornamental flowers.

However, it was not until 2018, when Dye was diagnosed with cancer that his interest in the “fruits” of the soil took on new and vital importance in his life.

In was then, that Dye was introduced to “Harvest for Health” a program for cancer survivors.

The program was led by the University of Alabama Birmingham and Auburn University in an effort to encourage cancer survivors to eat healthier and grow heathier.

“Cancer survivors who qualified for the ‘Harvest for Health’ program received money to assist with the purchase of and the preparation for the growing of the produce,” Dye said.

“The program also paired each cancer survivor with a Master Gardner to assist with the carrying out of the program.  I was paired with Nell Haigh. We had known each other for a long time and she was a fountain of knowledge for me.”

Dye said the Harvest for Health program, coupled with Haigh’s leadership and his backyard gardening experience, provided a firm foundation for his desire and dedication to become a Master Gardener.

Haigh said Dye was dedicated to the Harvest for Health program and successfully completed the program and attained his goal of Master Gardener.

Today, Dye’s garden is validation of his Master Gardner status.

His vegetable garden is teeming with bush butterbeans, speckled butterbeans, okra and rattlesnake string beans and the muscadines are tempting. Already, it’s time to be thinking ahead to the fall garden but there is still plenty of time to enjoy Dr. Dye’s flower garden that features his pride and joy flower– the dazzling dahlia.

The dahlia is a perennial plant that is native to Mexico and Central America. Some of the flower heads can be as small as two inches while other heads can be the size of a dinner plate.

“The dahlia’s relatives include the sunflower, daisy, chrysanthemum and zinnia,” Dye said. “Dahlias come in different colors, peach, red, lavender, white yellow, orange, pink and bi-color.

“It’s hard to have a favorite color or even two or three favorite colors,” Dye said. “What is interesting about the dahlia is that it is a hearty perennial and will come back year after year.”

To make sure his dahlias have the opportunity to come back each year, Dye has encased the plant roots in mesh baskets to prevent the voles from getting to and eating the roots.

Another “beauty” of the dahlia is that the flowers can be picked to grow “right” back so their beauty never “fades” so to speak.

The flower requires much of the plants “energy” so, when a flower is removed, that energy can be used to grow another flower.

“So, you can enjoy beautiful dahlias throughout the summer season,” Dye said. “But, then, I enjoy all flowers in bloom and watching the vegetables and fruits grow and mature.”

Dr. David Dye may not be a sod buster but he is, definitely, a Master Gardener.