Before the October sun rises over Marty Gross’ West Bloomfield garden, he is outside working on it. Using a small light designed for headwear, Gross attends to a vast array of colorful dahlias complemented by occasional orchids and daffodils.
When it’s time to leave for Beaumont Hospital in Troy, where he attends to patients as a radiologist, Gross fills his car with abundant variations of dahlias to be generously given out to colleagues and those undergoing treatment.
“It is among my greatest pleasures in life to grow these flowers, cut them and give them away,” says Gross, who also spends time in his yard after work and on weekends. “Every day, when they’re in full bloom, I make multiple cuttings and give them to people. The most moving experiences come from giving flowers to patients with serious diseases and watching their emotions.”
Gross’ interest in gardening stems from his late father, Harold Gross, who prioritized planting vegetables but also planted flowers. Years ago, the two visited a dahlia show, and that became an inspiration.
“I said I had to try what I saw, and I’ve been doing it for 10 or 15 years,” Gross says. “The garden gets bigger every year.”
One steady fan of Gross’ hobby is his wife, Suzy, who likes having fresh blossoms around the house. Teachers and students in the yoga classes frequented by the doctor also get flowers, and they have found a way to reciprocate while adding to the giving.
Knowing that Gross likes to present flowers in vases, fellow yoga devotees often provide him with their emptied water bottles, full before exercising begins. They know he cuts off the tops of the containers — more than 200 a year — and fills them with dahlias.
“If you’ve given flowers to somebody who isn’t feeling well, you know the joy that brings,” Gross explains. “To give that joy, I keep doing this.”
Gardening stays in the family as Gross is helped by his brother. At the beginning and end of the growing season, William (“Billy”) Gross helps with the digging and weeding, all done by hand because there are no herbicides or pesticides in the dirt.
Mostly self-taught in planting techniques, Gross has enhanced his knowledge through lectures presented by local dahlia societies and videos shown on YouTube. He has learned how to prepare for each new season by searching out new varieties of his favorite flower.
“There are people who breed these plants to have a mix of colors, shapes and sizes,” he says.
Gross starts working on his garden each spring because the plants are not winter-hearty. Then, he digs out each plant and stores them in his basement over the winter. In early spring, he checks which have survived and prepares the beds.
“As the summer goes on, I spend less time in the yard as the flowers are kind of on their own,” he says. “This past season, I’ve been doing a lot of watering because we’ve had a relatively dry summer.”
All the giving makes family friends feel very comfortable about asking for plants. A number of Rosh Hashanah centerpieces recently were filled with dahlias provided on request by this member of Congregation B’nai Moshe.
In good humor, Gross’ friends have given him flowers of sorts for various reasons — to congratulate him on special occasions, thank him for medical advice and cheer him during some personal bout with illness.
“They know I have a sweet tooth, and they send me cookie bouquets with cookies shaped and decorated as flowers,” says Gross, who finds the beauty of his own garden — and working in it — relaxing.
“In the winter, I get a little bummed out because I can’t garden and give away flowers. I’m glad to have pictures of the garden taken by my sister, Elayne Gross, who also enjoys being around the plants.”
BRETT MOUNTAIN PHOTOGRAPHERS