After 25 years of growing dahlias, Dungeness’ Lee Bowen developed a flower for the record books — or what gardeners call “the Bible of dahlias.”
The 77-year-old gardener and retired elementary teacher recently learned his “Zookeeper’s Giraffe” dahlia will enter the “2020 Classification and Handbook of Dahlias.”
“It’s really an honor,” Bowen said from the Sequim Botanical Garden in Carrie Blake Community Park.
“It’s a big deal. It’s forever. Once you get in, your name is there forever.”
Bowen began hybridizing the flower three years ago from seed in the Sequim garden and began producing tubers.
He said 98 percent of the time the tubers weren’t good and only about 2 percent were “keepers.”
Bowen sent tubers to Bellevue Botanical Garden and Volunteer Park Dahlia Garden in Seattle where they were grown and entered in various dahlia contests this summer. At two separate shows they received two blue ribbons from a panel of dahlia experts, Bowen said, earning his flower the right to go into the American Dahlia Society’s handbook.
Locals and visitors can see the Zookeeper’s Giraffe bloom mid-July through the first major frost of the year. It holds no fragrance, Bowen said, and has variegated colors of yellow and red.
The dahlia is being grown in multiple spots in Sequim and around Washington state, Oregon and Pennsylvania.
Giraffe and Zookeeper
Bowen’s flower honors his late friend Dick Pattee, nicknamed The Giraffe, and his wife Heidi, The Zookeeper.
Dick died last summer at age 59 and around that time Bowen brought Heidi some of the new — then unnamed — flowers. Heidi said Bowen was considering naming the flower after a sports team, but she suggested “Giraffe” for its color scheme and as a homage to Dick.
Bowen liked the idea, but discovered “Giraffe” was taken, so he branded it “Zookeeper’s Giraffe.”
“It was incredibly sweet,” Heidi said.
At a celebration of life for Dick, she said, Bowen brought the flowers to the party. He’s also provided numerous tubers to Heidi and Dick’s family to grow in their own gardens.
“It’s taken on a special meaning to a lot of us at least for the people who knew The Giraffe,” Heidi said.
Dick adopted the trail name Giraffe as a thru-hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010 and introduced himself to strangers by the nickname.
Heidi said her nickname “The Zookeeper” just stuck as she supported her husband on his expeditions.
Locally, Dick volunteered with the Peninsula Trails Coalition and Olympic National Park, and he bicycled with his wife and friends, and they participated in the Sequim Bay Rowing Club.
Heidi said she enjoys seeing the dahlia grow in her garden.
“It’s a lovely, lovely tribute,” she said.
”And now that it’s got its official name it’s even more meaningful.”
She hopes to have more tubers for people to share because there were more people than tubers in its first year.
Bowen said he’s tried hybrid flowers before with 13 years of experience in Bellevue and 12 in Sequim but never to the success of the “Zookeeper’s Giraffe.”
“It really is a pretty flower,” he said.
Bowen is the vice-president of the Sequim Botanical Garden Society, a group that meets two Tuesdays a month and one Saturday in the park from March through October. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/SequimBotanicalGarden.