Oct. 2, 2006

It's coming up dahlias in Montrose

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Being invited to see the dahlia gardens of Jerry and John Hass in Montrose was like taking a mini-vacation, away from traffic, phones, and schedules. You could hear the quiet.

The Hass brothers stumbled onto gardening by doing a good deed to help out their parents, and it turned into a hobby they not only both enjoy, but to their surprise, it has become an addiction.

“If someone would have told me 20 years ago I would be doing this, I never would have believed them,” John Hass said.

Their hobby began in 1994, when their father got sick. Up until that time, their father was the only gardener in their family.

“He always gardened. He planted everything. We weren’t that involved while we were growing up, but we always had a vegetable garden at home. We had a strawberry patch that was 110 feet by 20 feet,” Jerry said.

Home for the Hass brothers was a 77-acre dairy farm, where they lived with their parents, Joseph and Vera, who raised five children: Richard, Michael, Jerome, Rosemary, and John.

In addition to farming, Joseph also worked at the Delano Granite Works until he retired in the early eighties. “Someone had given him a few dahlias and right after his retirement, that is when the gardening really started to excel,” John said.

“Dad did not have a weed in the garden,” Jerry added.

While Joseph was sick, he and Vera, decided to visit one of their sons, Michael, in San Francisco.

“As they were leaving, Mom told me to dig out the bulbs, so I dug them up and I stored them in the basement,” Jerry said.

Their father passed away in the spring of 1995, and Vera decided to stay on the farm in Montrose, where they had lived their entire married lives.

Many things changed that year, but Vera continued as the organist at the Presbyterian Church in Waverly, where she played for more than 45 years.

Along with providing music, she loved to bring beautiful bouquets of flowers to the church for birthdays, anniversaries, and other occasions, and so Jerry decided to replant the garden for her.

Jerry is currently employed at West Thomson Publishing Company in Eagan, and was lucky to have some of his co-workers come out to help.

“It was an event when we replanted for Mom. It’s that farm thing. You plant and your mom feeds you,” Jerry said.

Other than digging up the bulbs the previous fall, Jerry had never had anything to do with the garden before, but the directions were easy,

“Mom said, ‘dig a hole and toss them in.’ At that time, we had about 125 plants and 175 glad bulbs,” Jerry said.

Their mother passed away in 1997. Jerry decided to replant the garden, but thought he would really scale back on the size.

Once again his co-workers volunteered to help and instead of the garden getting smaller, it got bigger.

That was about the time that John got involved.

“I tried to figure out how to make more of the dahlias,” John said. The first year, he bought seed and they got a couple hundred new plants, but dahlias from seed are not true to their kind.

“They are cross-pollinated and turn a little freakish. They are just strange-shaped. I wanted to find a way to make them true to their kind,” John said.

In 2001, the Hass brothers added another garden where the barn and cow yard had been. They planted 500 plants, with 60 different kinds of dahlias. John began research on dahlias and learned about propagating them.

To propagate a dahlia, the bulb is placed in dirt, leaving the crown, which is the stem, out. It is given light, and water, and when shoots come out and are about 4 inches tall, they are cut off at the bulb and put in a grit hormone, and then replanted. Most will turn into a complete plant.

“What is neat about it is some of them generate multiple sprouts, and what is really, really neat is after you cut them off, some of them will generate multiple sprouts at the point and you get even more plants,” John said.

With one bulb, they were able to get 30 plants and a whole row of dahlias. In one year, they propagated 1,500 different plants, and had 100 different varieties.

They both laugh when Jerry adds, “Every year, we keep saying we are not going to buy any new bulbs. I only bought six new ones this year,” Jerry said. John admitted to buying four new kinds.

John works as a mechanic at Luther West Side in St. Louis Park. He brings in bouquets of flowers to work almost every week during the summer, and people ask where the plants come from and no one can believe it is from John and his dahlia garden.

Both John and Jerry disagree about who spends more time on the garden.

John manages to make it out to the garden about five days a week, thinking he probably spends a total of 24 hours there a week.

He has recruited his wife, two children, and some of his friends and co-workers at Luther to come out and help with the garden, too.

Jerry figures that he, too, spends 24 hours a week working the garden, but does not make it out as many days as John.

For everyone that helps, their payment is simple, but very rewarding – a bouquet of flowers.

“Mom always said that a bouquet is at least five flowers,” Jerry said.

“This next year, we will have to do something different; something positive like sell bulbs on the Internet. Either that or we will just have to cut back,” John said.

Jerry agrees. “We are big at giving stuff away. We should be selling them. That is our next step. That is what we would like to do,” he said.

Because of the hot and dry summer this year, most of the dahlias are just really starting to bloom now. Jerry and John are weeding and still tying plants that are falling over, not thinking of the amount of work left once the frost hits in just a few weeks.

“It’s sad when there is a big frost. It looks like a big fire went through and burned them all,” John said.

When the frost hits the dahlias, the stakes need to be removed, the tops of the plants cut off, and more than 2,000 bulbs removed from the ground. They need to be cleaned off and put away in storage for the winter.

That effort doesn’t seem to bother the Hass brothers. They’re enjoying every minute that they can with their blooming fields of flowers.

John said it best, “We are our father’s sons.”

For questions or more information on the Jerry and John Hass dahlias, call (763) 658-4575.

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