Editor's Notebook

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Prize-taking flower taught a life lesson

Earlier this year, we invited readers to tell us about their favorite flowers. The variety of flowers growing around the world is staggering. There are 421,968 flowers if you believe British botanist Dr. David Bramwell. If you don't, you can split hairs - or stems - with Dr. Raphael Govaerts of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, who puts the figure at 422,127.

That's a lot of flowers. So we didn't expect an odds-on favorite among our readership. Readers singled out 36 flowers they liked best. They had good, often touching, reasons for their choices, as you will see in the Heart of the Home section (Page 26). The rose and the zinnia were the flowers named most often. Narrowly.

Absent from this 'unofficial' list of favorites - and a great disappointment for me - was the tuberous begonia (Begonia tuberhybrida). You see, I won the blue ribbon for tuberous begonias at the 1964 San Juan County Fair in the state of Washington. To this day, the flower has special meaning for me.

I worked one summer during high school at the Roche Harbor Resort on San Juan Island as a gardener and utility man. The resort owner's wife recognized my industriousness and soon had me working exclusively on the plants she was preparing to show at the fair. But I began neglecting my other tasks, and my supervisor started giving me a hard time. When the fair opened, I wasn't even allowed to go because I had to catch up on the other chores.  To add insult to injury, the owner's wife won most of the awards for Best-of-Show, and I received no thanks at all.

I brought it up to her, and she said she'd do something about it. For the rest of the summer, the subject never came up. But years later, I returned and was showing my family the resort's encased guest registry with Teddy Roosevelt's signature from his stay in 1906. Next to it, in another case, several blue ribbons were on display from the San Juan County Fair. One in particular caught my attention: 'Best of Show' Tuberous Begonia, 1964 -  grown by, yes . . . yours truly.

Dennis McLaughlin
Managing editor