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Grant's Getaways: Oregon's Dahlia Man

Fields of dahlia flowers and a barn-sized painting along the Oregon Coast will capture your eye, and then your heart.

TILLAMOOK COUNTY, Ore. — Tillamook County is often called, The land of cheese, trees and ocean breeze.” 

But that popular saying may have to change someday, for the fact is, Tillamook County offers many opportunities to see varied agri-tourism in action!

For example, visitors to Wilsonview Dairy can see where their food comes from and meet the people who provide a healthy product.

Dairy farmer Desi Josi recently said that they encourage tours of the family farm.

“I think it is very important that we reach all of the people who buy our product. They learn that it’s hard work that occurs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We invite people to come share our life with us.”

Then there’s the Nevor Shellfish Farm on Netarts Bay that’s home to Oregon’s only native oyster called Olympia. Once thought extinct, the silver dollar-sized native shellfish are making a comeback. You can visit, sample, and learn more.

And then the family-owned DeNoble Organic Farm is producing the state’s largest crop of delicious fresh artichokes that are ripe and ready right now at a farm stand just off Wilson River Loop Road and you can visit anytime!

Speaking of farm stands, when it’s time to wander south of Tillamook, fields of dahlia flowers and a barn-sized painting along the Oregon coast will capture your eye and then your heart when you stop in and visit "Oregon’s Dahlia Man."

Traffic speeds past at a shattering pace on coastal Highway 101, seven miles south of Tillamook. So slow down and poke around and take a gander at the remarkable Old House Dahlias where colorful bursts are prime right now.

Owner, Mark Harvey, aka "Dahlia Man," is often found in his fields, cutting or weeding his prized blooms. Harvey said the farm’s rich loamy soil coupled with abundant morning moisture make for a colorful harvest across his 14 acres each summer and fall.

“A number of years ago – maybe twenty or so,” said Harvey, ”I bought some dahlias to make some extra money. At that time, I planted them in my Southeast Portland yard but I was making about just five dollars a day. Well, I soon realized that wasn’t going to cut it, so I started growing the dahlia tubers for sale. I bought a cooler and started leasing more and more land here in Tillamook County. I just kept after it and growing it.”

Now, it’s dahlias as far as the eye can see across the Dahlia Man's property, where the close up views to the dahlias really get the twice over. They sport names like HySizzle, BJ’s Rival, Bryan Ray, Xmas Star, and Mengum Singles.

The list grows on and on – now more than 200 varieties strong – and they grow across Old House Dahlias fertile farm fields.

“I love the fact I can grow such beautiful flowers. It’s that moisture laden marine layer and not too much sun. It’s cooler here and I get better quality colorful blooms that don’t fade out.”

Harvey grows dahlias for the Portland grocery store marketplace but you can stop in, pick up a bunch and drop in the dough in an antique mail box where the honor system works just fine.

Nearby, is the Old Dahlia House showstopper: it’s Mark’s old house on a barn-sized mural with dahlias galore and a "Where’s Waldo" kind of moment. You see, you must look for Mark in the huge barn-sized painting that artist Hellen Hill did for Mark. Look hard and you’ll find him – with, of all things, a flashlight in his hand.

“Well, he explained, “We have elk here! Sometimes, as many as 30 in a herd. They come in at night, so I’ve gotta get out there at 2:30 in the morning most summer nights to make sure they are not eating my flowers. Elk love dahlias – to eat.”

The fields, the dahlias, the massive painting and the coastal setting add up to a marvelous bit of magical whimsy that is well worth your time for a visit.

Harvey adds the season is just hitting its stride: “Yes, that’s the great thing about dahlias; they don’t really stop and will grow all the way through October, and if we don’t see frost, will grow well into November. In fact, your Thanksgiving dining room table could very well offer a dahlia centerpiece. That’s what makes them so cool!”

Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways Podcast as I relate behind the scenes stories from nearly four decades of television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of our favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including “Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” “Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” and Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids.” The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promise to engage a kid of any age.

My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in 2022.