GAIL WHITE Man's passion for dahlias grows along with garden

As I pull into the driveway of Rodney and Kay Toth's Hubbard home, the rain is pelting down on my windshield.
Through the downpour, I can see Rodney standing out on the porch, looking out toward a row of umbrellas.
As I reach the cover of the dry porch, I turn and face the direction of Rodney's eyes.
Through the rain, I see rows of dahlias in full bloom.
"Rain we want," Rodney said, with a hint of concern in his voice. "But we don't want high winds."
Even from a distance and through the sheeting storm, the sight was breathtaking; big, beautiful pink blossoms; bright, yellow petals; deep maroon and crimson shades.
Entering the house, I ask about the umbrellas.
"The umbrellas serve two purposes," Rodney explained. "Some flowers are sensitive to rain. They hold the water and it breaks them off. And sunlight destroys color. Faded colors are no good."
"How many umbrellas do you have protecting the flowers?" I asked.
"Not enough," he responded. "There's never enough."
Rodney's interest in dahlias began about 12 years ago. "I was at a basketball game, and somebody asked me if I wanted some dahlia tubers."
He received 11 of the root tubes.
He planted them in the spring, enjoyed their colors all summer and dug them up in the fall.
Within a few years, the tubers had multiplied, and he had more than 300 dahlias.
"That was too many," Rodney conceded.
More methodical: He began to become eclectic with his dahlia garden. Through research and experimentation, he chose and selected certain dahlia varieties. Today, his dahlia garden contains about 80 plants -- and he can name every one.
"What is it about dahlias?" I asked.
"There are so many different varieties," he answered with no hesitation. "There are itty-bitty ones, the size of a lollipop, to great big ones, the size of a dinner plate."
Along with the dahlia garden, Rodney has planted several other gardens.
A 40-foot-long gourd arbor grows at the far end of the yard. Huge gourds of various shapes and sizes hang from arbor wire. It's an amazing sight to see.
Rodney's 8-year-old grandson, Collin Dotson, has caught his grandfather's passion.
Collin has created a pizza garden. Bordered in silver-tipped Dusty Miller, each slice grows a different "topping."
"He has a good time with it," Rodney said of his grandson's gardening.
I suspect there is more to it than that.
There is a reserved passion in Rodney's voice.
Often, I have found, when someone becomes engulfed in a subject, there is an undercurrent of urgency; a sense of drive that pulls them.
Not with Rodney.
His wife says he spends "hours and hours" pouring over gardening books and magazines all winter.
Rodney shrugs.
Awards: He has won top awards in the Men's Garden Club of Youngstown the past four years in a row.
He shows the trophy, but I get the feeling he would rather be holding something with petals.
The motivation behind Rodney's passion lies deep within his heart.
"I enjoy seeing things grow," he said.
I believe his passion goes deeper than that.
He enjoys seeing things grow, but he gains a full satisfaction by sharing the beauty with others.
He invited his grandson to share in his joy of seeing things grow.
He invites you as well.
This Sunday, the umbrellas will be lifted off the dahlias he has so carefully preserved as Rodney and Kay are hosts for "Rodney's Fifth Annual Open Garden."
Your presence will make his joy of growing complete.
XRodney's Open Garden is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at 5637 W. Liberty St. (Route 304), Hubbard.

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