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Policeman has a flowery day job

By night, Officer David W. Diggs patrols a busy sector of northwestern Baltimore County, dealing with assaults, drunken drivers and other mayhem.

By day, he grows flowers. Big ones.

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He plants acres of sunflowers on his hilltop in northeast Carroll County, and he sells cut-your-own bouquets. He calls his nursery Sunflower Gardens.

"Working in the garden brings me back down, keeps me on an even keel, gives me some perspective," Diggs said. "It's a slower pace."

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One recent day, after a rainstorm, he walked amid rows of blossoms in shades ranging from deep orange to pale lemon. The sun highlighted the spiky petals against steaming green hills to the east.

Pamela L. Martin, who lives near Hanover, Pa., and commutes to work in Westminster down Route 27, has been a regular customer since shortly after Diggs opened in 1998.

"He has the most beautiful flowers," she said. "So many unusual flowers you never see in the grocery stores or even a flower shop."

Diggs, 39, said some people grow acres of sunflowers as cash crops for their oil or seeds or to attract birds. But he just likes the way they look, in the field or in a bouquet.

A 1982 North Carroll High School graduate, Diggs had earned a degree in psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park and was working in the building supply business when he became interested in police work. He participated in a ride-along program about 10 years ago with his younger brother, Ronald Diggs, a state trooper. Soon after, he entered the police academy and became a Baltimore County officer nine years ago.

He usually works the midnight shift, patrolling the Owings Mills-Reisterstown sector from the Garrison precinct. After a shift, he sleeps a few hours, works outside, then takes a nap before going back to work.

For Diggs, growing flowers is a welcome contrast to police work. He recalled a typically stressful incident: This month, he reassured a victim of domestic abuse that she had done the right thing in calling the police for the first time. Then he drew his gun and talked her husband out of the house.

When it comes to moonlighting, he knows that a good part-time job would pay a lot more money for a lot less work than his gardening. But after a night with, say, a domestic abuse call, gardening "just calms me down," he said. "I'm not yelling at some one to 'get down,' to 'stay in the car,' whatever."

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When he settled near Manchester 10 years ago, he planned to grow vegetables, but a neighbor already had a stand. So he decided upon sunflowers.

Now he leases 3 acres to a corn farmer, And 3 acres are planted with thousands of flowers, all put in by hand. About half are sunflowers, half other varieties that make good cut flowers, including snapdragon, zinnia, strawflower, Shasta daisy, coxcomb, yarrow, and cosmos.

But he is known for the sunflowers, Diggs said, showing a lemony Yellow Queen, and describing the Russian Mammoth that will come later - growing to 12 feet high with golden flowers 18 inches across.

"People don't like the real big ones, they're too big for bouquets," he said, showing how he crowds the plants to get them to bloom with the 4-inch faces that his customers prefer.

Sunflower Gardens relies primarily on word of mouth. There's a small billboard by the long black-gravel drive winding up the hill to his home in the 2300 block of Manchester Road. On a good day, he might have seven customers.

"I enjoy it," Diggs said, smiling. "I just like the fact that you put that seed in the ground - my wife, Tracey, makes fun of me - but I like going out and seeing how much bigger it's gotten, watching it grow."


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