Dahlias and blue skies: Docent “Tattler” Volume I, Issue 2

Docents meet dahlias on a lovely Spring field trip.

With forest fire smoke dissipated and blue skies back in the picture, Dunn Garden docents enjoyed many photo ops, some great gardening tips and even stories of an immigrant’s youth when we visited the home garden of Walt Jacenko, president of the Snohomish County Dahlia Society.

Born in Germany of Ukranian parents who met in Stalin’s work camps, Walt’s early years were spent in Brazil, the only country that would accept the family as immigrants at the time. At 14 he and his family came to this country, eventually to the Northwest.  He is a lifelong gardener because, he said, of growing up in a day when “if you didn’t garden you didn’t eat.” In addition to the profusion of dahlias, his garden contains a wide range of veggies – everything from beans and tomatoes at the end of dahlia rows to beds of broccoli near the front door and homemade greenhouses where he can ripen eggplant and peppers. Here and there are touches of the exotic. There’s a passionflower, which last year bore fruit. And there are clematis and snapdragons. Every inch of soil is producing either food or beauty.

There’s an element of history in the Woodinville garden, too. The bricks he used to build raised beds for his floral “crop” came from original Seattle streets, taken up when brick alleys and streets recieved moderrn asphalt paving. In a career of construction, largely in public works, Jacenko saved thousands of used bricks from the landfill. Much of the soil filling his raised beds also came from a construction job. Now retired, he keeps improving the soil with homemade compost topped off with coffee grounds he gathers from Starbucks stores. The nitrogen level is 4%, ideal he says for adding fertility without harming the plants. His greenhouses are made from salvaged windows and treated lumber.

Dahlias have been his passion for nearly 20 years – since an acquaintance gave him a very large clump of the tubers and he planted them. He joined a club, kept learning about the varied and brilliant flowers and now shares his enthusiasm with visitors to his garden and at the nearby Brightwater Education and Community Center, associated with the King County wastewater treatment facility near his home. Jacenko maintains a dahlia garden there and teaches free classes in dividing tubers (fall) and propagating by cuttings (spring.)

If you’re interested in his classes, check out the Brightwater events page this fall. Here’ is a link: http://www.kingcounty.gov/services/environment/brightwater-center/events.aspx

Photos of the docents’ visit are available here: https://goo.gl/photos/L3i5q8vFSUUodveT7


  1. Christine Hill on August 18, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    love the bue sky and colorful dahlias!

    love the bue sky and colorful dahlias!

  2. Bonnie Chester on September 7, 2017 at 12:28 am

    Blue skies and dahlias

    I went right out and got some Starbucks coffee grounds for my dahlias!  Now I need to get out there and spread it around.  Walt is an inspiration.