Brewster's garden shows passion for dahlias

Explosion of color
2009-09-27T09:00:00Z Brewster's garden shows passion for dahliasBy Lynn Welp, gardens writer Corvallis Gazette Times
September 27, 2009 9:00 am  • 

Until the days shorten, the temperatures cool and the rains come, an explosion of color can still be found at the home of Bill and Carol Brewster in Corvallis.

These avid gardeners have 70 rose bushes, many impatiens, 60 hostas, 15 fuchsia baskets, 5 trailing begonia baskets in the old apple tree, 17 clematis, stunning planters and window boxes, small vegetable garden and 7 spectacular water features - all on a quarter-acre lot.

In addition to maintaining their own yard, the Brewsters plant and water (from their own water supply) nearly 450 dahlias on the neighbor's adjoining corner lot and 7-foot parking strip as well!


The impatiens were the biggest surprise in this yard - planted not only in complete or partial shade where they usually do best, but in full sun as well!

"With misting, impatiens will take full sun," Carol says, who enjoys summers off from work for the Corvallis School District to devote to her garden.

While hostas are Carol's favorite plant, impatiens are definitely her favorite flower.

"They don't require any deadheading," she says.

Carol puts in 6 flats every year (that's 72 plants per flat or 432 impatiens!) Her amazing display surrounds every tree and flowerbed in most of the front and back yard, as well as hanging baskets surrounding the patio.

To provide the humidity these plants require, Bill added a mister system as part of the drip irrigation system he installed for the whole yard. Two timers cover 18 zones, including lines to all the hanging baskets and window boxes. Each zone runs for 2 hours a day.

What I wouldn't give for a sprinkler system like that! When asked how much they spend on water, Bill wistfully replied, "You don't want to know."


It's a good thing Bill is retired from the weed science department at OSU, although he still does research for them, as he spends about 4 hours a day out in the garden during the active growing season. His gardening tasks are watering the dahlias and mowing the lawn, not to mention irrigation system installation and maintenance. (The science of watering dahlias comes down to watering every other day when it is 100, a couple times a week when it is in the 90s, and once a week or so when it is in the 80s.)

The Brewsters actually have 60 varieties of dahlias, but by dividing and replanting, they have accumulated 450 of the little beauties.

Bill's favorite dahlia is the silver-tipped magenta variety called "Dark Magic," while Carol's is the "Lambada," a pincushion form whose flowers change as they grow.

Blooms have a dark eye when they open, then take on a fluffy appearance as the center pompon expands. Carol is also partial to two developed by her brother in Heppner.

"Big Orange" is a 7-foot formal decorative with 6-inch pumpkin-colored blooms - great for fall arrangements. He also developed the "Vanilla Crème," a creamy yellow miniature with 3-inch blooms. The love of dahlias obviously runs in the family as her dad was always developing new varieties as a hobbyist too.

To keep dahlias from falling over as they get tall and heavy laden with blooms, Bill has devised a system of using PVC pipe (painted green) as stakes. He plants 4 dahlias around a center stake and ties these 4 plants to the center stake, thus eliminating the need to have a stake for each dahlia plant.

Calming beauty of water

A water feature is a great way to add calming beauty to any garden. Four basic types of water features include birdbaths, waterfalls, ponds and fountains. In this yard these are all interwoven into the landscaping, creating several areas for relaxing.

The sound of flowing water from the various water features - four in the front yard and three in the back - is Carol's favorite part of her garden. Features include a whimsical dumping bucket made of concrete and copper, to the concrete frog fountain and bird bath bubbler, plus a fiberglass rock waterfall spilling into a pond, a sandstone waterfall behind three children on a log and a layered concrete basin fountain on the patio.

However, the pièce de résistance is a concrete-tiered corner fountain with old world appeal nestled into a brick wall that Bill created to hide the garbage cans.

All these water features appear to have been in this garden for years aging along with the flora and fauna - the ambition of any gardening connoisseur.

Sitting on the back patio on a cushioned Adirondack bench, while listening to the peaceful water sounds, made me not want to leave!

Maintenance, Carol says, is fairly simple. It takes a 'muck sucker' to pull water out of the pond once a year to clean it and an application of water algaecide once a week (more when it is hot) to keep them looking fresh. Bill has also devised a hot wire to keep the raccoons out of the pond.

Other necessary maintenance of the garden this couple do not overlook, is the necessary application of slug bait both in spring and in winter to keep the plants living in this moist environment looking great.

Carol's secret to hanging baskets and window boxes are to use:

  • coconut fiber basket and planter boxes that are deep and wide for a good root zone
  • bagged potting soil
  • time-released systemic fertilizer every month (during the active growing season)

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