McCarthy in Portland

Introducing Sherry & Tom McCarthy’s garden in Portland, by Franck Avril

“I’ve got the best of both worlds, it would seem: living in San Francisco while telecommuting to Portland, OR for 9½ months out of the year, in-residence in Portland itself for the (more) miserable months of the summer here – the only time it seems to consistently not rain in the Northwest.  I work for Chamber Music Northwest up there, but actually love the drive to and back, as landscape photo-op’s abound along the I-5 corridors.

‘Imagine my surprise on my last November trip, though, when I discovered that unlike our own dell’s season, the NW was absolutely regaling with dahlias blooming in people’s yards and city parks.  On the way back from the Ridgefield (WA) Refuge. Here’s a link to some of the great people who help it sustain itself. And in an effort to dodge an incredibly dark-blue and ominous set of thunder-clouds, I took a shortcut back home, skirting the interstate.

Suddenly, whilst coming around a curve on a tortuous 2-lane road, out of the woods’ dense growth & just across from a small historic cemetery, I was near-blinded by a field of dahlias – easily 65 different varieties.  Water-streaked; spider webs spinning; scintillating with light. The sun was going down, the sloped field faced west and south – time to pull over!

I haven’t done this before, actually – but I definitely think that I would again: in spite of the honking horns behind me, I stopped quickly as far as I could on the shoulder, walked up the long driveway, and rang the doorbell.  “Hi, I’m from San Francisco … well, I belong to the dahlia society there and … well … you have a beautiful field of flowers there.  Could I look at them, and do you think I could even photograph a few if you don’t mind??”  I couldn’t help but note the woman’s furtive glances – here was a mud-streaked & unknown man in her driveway, no car in sight (a hedge blocked the car from view), and no camera in-hand.



But a few more blurting from me, about my winning a few awards and about my website that she could check-out and Sherry turned cheerfully gracious.  Whew!  I knew dahlia people were great.  I took off my Kevlar, and while I ran back to my car to get my photo gear instead, she, it turns out, checked me out thoroughly on the web – she liked the shots of the GG Bridge of course, (even – I add) more than those of the flowers on my website, but wow – the gift of ISP’s, even in the country!




I shot as quickly as possible, dodging the storm periodically (Gore-Tex is a great thing to have in a NW coat), trying to race the sun’s determined descent.  As it turned out, Sherry’s husband, Tom, showed up after work and we spoke until dusk, out in the field (he already knew about me, my website, and everything).



Now here’s the kicker: it turns out that Tom & Sherry had this field next to their house, and they got tired of mowing it.  So four years ago, they plowed it under, and started growing dahlias.  They hooked-up with someone who sells flowers at the Portland Market (some 24 miles away), and in exchange with her more or less cutting back the plants and assisting them, and a little cash, they let her take what she wants (they also allow the cemetery to take bouquets as needed).  Good karma at that!  It turns out that they sold – yes! – $50,000 of (cut) flowers last year alone.  And we know how many more flower growers there are in the Portland surrounding area who supplies that market as well!  It turns out also that next year they’re going to plant ornamental thistles, lavender, etc; the flower-cutter is hiring an assistant, and they’re projecting $300,000 of sales next year.


Me, I spent about $120 of film, came back a week later with my 8-year old daughter (met Sherry’s father at that, and even fixed her computer set-up for her, since she was having trouble downloading my e-mailed photos), and shot another equivalent set of slides of the drenched garden.  The film even turned out to be more than the cost of the ensuing laundry and lens-cleaning, though not by much.  But now at last, you know how to make your first quarter of a million …

And all in all, it’s absolutely true – dahlias are the best, and dahlia people, well, they’re even better.”


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