US (MT): Longtime floriculturist finds delight in dahlias

Martin Rippens believes there’s no experience necessary to grow beautiful dahlias, but it’s been a while since the octogenarian stepped into a novice’s shoes.

Rippens, 85, will be heading to the Northwest Montana Fair early Friday morning for the three-day dahlia show, bringing with him fresh-cut flowers from his garden and eight decades of experience in cultivating them. “I’ve been growing flowers ever since I can remember,” Rippens said.

His passion took root during Rippens’ childhood, growing chrysanthemums with his parents. “I was born into it, and I fortunately still get to do it,” he said.

He weaved that interest into his livelihood, spending his career as a design and landscape contractor. On the side, he has also maintained a greenhouse and a garden. These days, he grows about 50 varieties of dahlias.

Although he’s somewhat of a floriculture fanatic, Rippens has narrowed his attention down to dahlias, primarily, because even in his mid-80s, he spends more time tending to things outside the garden than down in the dirt. “It’s kind of a focus thing,” Rippens said of his preference for dahlias. “I just stick with the dahlias as you can’t do it all.”

Since dahlias are a pretty low-maintenance plant, they’re a good fit for Rippens and his perennially active lifestyle. “An important thing for people to know is how easy it is to grow them,” Rippens said.

Most of the work to care for dahlias centers around watering them once a day and keeping the critters away. “It takes a little human effort and some energy to take care of them,” he said. But with once-a-day watering, Rippens said most people can cultivate colorful dahlias, even in the climate of the Flathead Valley.

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