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Saturday, July 11, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: National dahlia judge receives September Garden of the Month award

What a difference 20 years makes. Just ask Claudia Biggs.

Twenty years ago, she was missing the dahlias her late husband had always planted. Not much of a gardener at that time, she didn’t follow her husband’s methods. So, to get her fix for the year, she headed for the dahlia displays at that year’s Spokane County Interstate Fair.

“I was hooked,” she said, laughing. “Now I’m a senior judge for the American Dahlia Society and on their national board.”

Her garden is now a showplace of some of the 18 dahlias varieties. Small single ones to huge waterlilies to straight cactus, to name a few. Her garden caught the attention of the judges for the Inland Empire Gardeners, and they awarded her the September Garden of the Month, the last award for the garden season.

Dahlias come in almost every color of the rainbow so the best way to show them off is add more color to the garden. In her backyard, Biggs has clustered similar colors together in her garden and then backed them with sections of picket fence painted an equally bright, complementary color. Shorter plants are placed in the front, while taller ones form a backdrop. Raised beds in the corner of the yard are home to varieties she couldn’t fit in the flower beds.

“I just kept removing more and more grass and planting more dahlias,” she said. Her front yard is such a riot of color that her neighbors make a habit of coming by to see what’s blooming.

Once hooked Biggs didn’t just grow them. She started showing them at local dahlia events until she realized it was more fun to judge them than to show them. As a senior judge for the American Dahlia Society she now travels nationally to judge at a variety of regional and national events. Locally she helped start the dahlia garden that is planted every year at the local VA Medical Center and helps with the dahlia test garden at Manito Park, one of only seven dahlia gardens around the country.

Biggs also long has been a photographer and in 2005 her photography skills caught the attention of the American Dahlia Society such that they handed off their collection of slides to be digitized. Having accomplished that monumental task, Biggs now manages the society’s digital library of photos of newly introduced varieties, the winners of major judged shows and prepares compact discs with themed pictures on different dahlia types and topics.

Now that it is time to dig the dahlias, Biggs has a simple method of preparing them for winter storage. She digs the clumps and washes off the dirt. The clumps are then brought into a dry place overnight. She then divides the tubers and wraps them in plastic kitchen wrap by wrapping one once and then adding another with each roll. She then packs them into Styrofoam coolers with newspaper and places them in a 40- to 50-degree garage.

“I lose very few of them this way,” she said.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for over 40 years. She is co-author of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook” with Susan Mulvihill. She can be reached at

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