Ralph is a great neighbor. “They’re not what they usually are” he sighs, as he reaches out a callused, weathered hand to break off a wilted bloom. It’s been a rough summer for most flowers, and dahlias are no exception. To us they are fabulous, amazing, a feast for the eyes. But we have not been watching them, caring for them, digging them up every winter for decades. He knows his babies from birth (but not by name - only the really special varieties). When I ask how long the garden has graced the wild, grass and blackberry covered hill over the Clackamas river he laughs a little (probably at my youth and inexperience) and tells me how his father had started growing dahlias years and years ago, and after his death Ralph just continued the work.
About three-quarters of the way down the row we come to a section of tomatoes, faced on opposite side of the road by the neighbor’s bleating goats. It feels peaceful and slow. We stop to breathe in the late summer scents, and watch as the sun comes out for it’s last few minutes on our horizon - and the Portland skyline. The skyline seems so out of place viewed from this garden - but that’s one of the things we love about Portland, right? It’s bustling city life with farms within view? The natural diversity of this area is such a gift.
As are these dahlias.
Ralph won’t accept any payment from the bride. “I’m just happy someone gets to enjoy them besides me” he says gruffly as he waves off her question of how to properly thank him. Her mother lives next door, but not all neighbors are willing to share such wealth! We notice the plumb, shiny blackberries as we start to head down the drive. The bride turns and calls out, “How about wine? I make a great blackberry wine if you’d like a few bottles!” He says he’d never turn down a bottle and it’s settled: she’ll come back later for blackberries and come Christmastime she’ll have a few thank-you bottles ready.
Sounds like a great bargain to me. He is more than pleased to have me snap some photos, pick any blooms I can carry, and we head out snatching a few perfectly ripe berries as we go.