In the hills above Pleasant Valley near Napavine is an unusual but stunning farm. Here Wayne Lobaugh, of Lobaugh’s Dahlias, grows a remarkable variety of this gorgeous flower. A glimpse of his garden in the summer months reveals a dizzying array of colors and textures.
The road to becoming a professional dahlia farmer was long and indirect. Wayne’s love of gardening started in childhood when his parents grew big vegetable gardens. As an adult, Wayne tried growing dahlias just for fun in his yard but the clay soil made it difficult. When the family moved to their current location near Napavine, Wayne planted a dozen roses for his wife Juli, but found them difficult to keep healthy. Then a coworker gave her a bag of dahlia tubers. Wayne planted them thinking they were really cool.
He became enchanted when his first dahlias grew into the varied colors and shapes the flower is known for. “These are so neat,” he says. “They come in all sizes from 12 inches all the way down to two inches. They grow from two foot to six-foot in so many shapes and colors. I am attracted to all the variations.”
Wayne slowly built his collection from there. Eventually, he decided that, in order to save money on the flowers, he should meet other people who grew dahlias. That year he entered the fair and started to make connections. From then on his passion really grew.
Wayne is not exactly sure when it all began as a business, but it was about 17 years ago when his daughter RaeAnn was young. “I never paid attention to how this progressed,” he says. “It sort of went nuts on me. I overdo things, so that’s why it’s a business now.” His daughter still helps with the award-winning flowers.
Wayne first sold his tubers at the Lewis County Home and Garden Show. “I started because I couldn’t give them all away so someone suggested I sell them,” he recalls. He moved onto other home and garden shows from there.
Now Wayne doesn’t have to work at promoting his tubers as much, with most of his sales online. He’s already nearly sold out of his current 177 varieties for the year. Local customers hoping to get their hands on some of Lobaugh’s Dahlias can purchase them locally at Kaija’s Garden and Pet and at The Barn Nursery in Olympia.
As the past President of the Evergreen State Dahlia Association and the current President of the Federation of NW Dahlia Growers, Wayne is involved in many of both clubs’ projects and shows. “It’s exciting to be President of all these people because they are so smart and talented,” he says. He is also the Chairman for the 2020 National Dahlia Show in Wenatchee.
Six years ago Wayne began collecting species dahlias. They were sent to him by friends all over the country he’s met through his involvement in various organizations. He now has one of the largest species collections in North America.
Recently, the American Dahlia Society partnered with Stanford University to map the dahlia genome and its history. A professor from Stanford and another from the University of Washington came to Wayne’s gardens last summer to collect information from some of his species.
While the flowers bring him great joy, what delights Wayne most is the people he’s connected with through dahlias. “By being involved in the different organizations, I can go anywhere in the country and call a friend for a visit,” Wayne shares. Two years ago the Presidents of Norway’s and Sweden’s Dahlia Societies came and visited Wayne’s flower farm. “That is the best part: friends,” he says.
Some flowers are named for his loved ones, including his wife and daughter. Others come from tragedy. A flower called Angel Rowyn was introduced this year for the organization Raise for Rowyn.
When Wayne was younger, his friends’ baby drowned in a bathtub while with a babysitter. This tragedy led to Wayne becoming a Chaplin for Lewis County for 21 years. The child’s mother became a 911 dispatcher, and her father a volunteer firefighter. An award-winning flower was named for the girl; Alyxandrea. Sales of the tubers are donated to The TEARS Foundation to provide headstones for infants.
After moving around a lot as a child, Wayne has called Lewis County home for the last 40 years. He says he never wants to leave. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” he says. “I like traveling but this is the most beautiful location, I think, in the world. When my wife and I got married, I told her we’re staying in Lewis County. This is the last spot my parents dropped me at and I am not leaving.”