October 16, 2016

Recreating Seattle's Amazing Dahlia Wall To Close Out The Growing Season

We recreated the famous dahlia wall originally created at the Seattle Wholesale Flower Market - although we never intended it to look exactly like the original - it did.
Sometimes things just don't go as planned, and last weekend we learned a lesson about how influence  can sometimes backfire. Just a week before our first frost date, a casual conversation with Grace Lam from FiveForksFarm (a flower farm that many of you have seen featured by Erin on Floret Farm's blog), and myself were talking about how this years serious drought here in New England. Dahlia crops across the northeast have been terrible, due to the extreme heat and the record breaking drought. 

I went to visit Grace to see if she could donate some dahlias for arrangements at the Dahlia Show at Tower Hill, since I was afraid that we would have only a few entries. Grace was talking about this dahlia wall that she had seen at the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market and She thought that maybe her farm and the members of the Dahlia Society might like to create something like this, but we didn't have enough time to get something designed in 2 days, but that maybe we could create something their fall festival on Columbus Day weekend. 

What happened next was magic.

Dahlias from our 150 plants were limited to just about 30 blooms. That's how bad our dahlias were this year.

I Googled the flower wall and was blown away. I've done many flower installations in the past, with camellias, clever flowers and even dahlias, always on a black chalkboard background ( you've seen many of those here), but this was a different concept - as it used water pics.  I said' Oh my God, we need to do something like this". How can we all collaborate and design something in a week? All hands on deck, husbands and friends,  co-workers and anyone we could get to volunteer came together. What we didn't realize in the end, was that our dahlia wall, once it came together, would look EXACTLY like the one in the Seattle Wholesale Flower Market.


The dahlias at Five Forks Farms were scarce as well, beautiful, but scarce.

Joe overlooking the dahlia fields at Five Forks Farms, which is about 8 miles from our house.

Knowing that we had to act quickly, we sent an email out to all of the dahlia society members in Massachusetts, called Tower Hill to see if they would be willing to allow us to create something, and then we asked all of our friends to see if they could help source materials, from wood, to stain, to test tubes, calligraphy - anything that they could bring on Friday to help celebrate the last blast of dahlias in our garden. 

Dahlias arrived on Friday morning at the garden, as did the wall. When it arrived, we realized the it ended up looking exactly like the one at Seattle Wholesale Growers Market , but it was too late to change it at this point. 

Joe's nephew Curtis offered to build a wall for us, and I just told him to keep it small. At first we thought that a 30 foot wall would be best, and that we could use it for the camellia show and daylily show as well, but I advised him to make it 6 x 8 feet. Still large, but small enough to fit on Joes truck.

On Friday morning, folks arrived in the lobby of Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA. Cars with buckets of dahlias picked in members gardens, and some kindly donated from a few flower farms in the area - both in Rhode Island and from FiveForksFarm. A mess of colors, but somehow we knew ( or at least, I kept assuring Grace) that I was confident that it would all come together.

We started laying out dahlia varieties, and quickly discovered that an RGB  color grid would work the best, with dark purples in one color, true red in another, and then the warmer hues on the left, cooler colors on the right. My years working with the PMS color institute and speaking at color conferences helped here!

Joe and I argued a lot about the color order. He felt that we should arrange the colors differently, but I had to keep explaining to him that color order is color order, and we can't change color physics. IT took a couple of hours to select the darkest tones, and the brightest tones, the coolest hues and the warmest hues. 

It took a few trys to get the colors arranged just right.

You will see that on the left side colors have yellow in them, and on the right, they are bluer. We also wanted to have every variety labeled properly, and mostly, we didn't want to show just cut flower varieties, but some of every dahlia class available, as this needed to function as an educational display as well, to show the scope available in the dahlia world.


 By the end of the day, it somehow all came together, and once we started taking photos, we were shocked at how it looked exactly like the Seattle wall. Especially in photos. As photos starting emerging on social media by 5 pm, I was on my way home, stopped at the market for dinner, and by the time I arrived at home, I had a note in my inbox from a very unhappy Debra Prinzing, who also leads marketing for the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market. Yikes. I felt just terrible! (Really thought, she was gracious and polite about it, but clearly calling us out in the very nicest way. She's a lady with class.).

If you want to see how sinfully close our wall ended up looking like the original? Then check out this link at FlertyFleurs.  We decided to use their same hashtag of #dahliawall, at least some credit could be shared. And maybe, it's best that it ended up being an exact replica, and not a blue wall or a white wall which in some way, might just have been worse, a 'close' homage is more of a cheat than an exact replica. The worst part was, Joe kept saying "it's looking exactly like that wall in the picture dudes"..... but again, it was too late.

The completed dahlia wall installed in the lobby at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. It was stunning,  and the hardest part was labeling each blossom.

I mean, how do you explain all of this after the fact? All I can say is, as an artist and designer myself, it was never our intention to end up looking exactly as if we copied it, but I think given that we all used the same reference shots, we never took the time to create something different. So, I call it 'a homage' to a splendid creation that they did on the west coast, and I hope that since we are all designers in one way or another, that we understand how ideas move when shared.

The wall was undeniably beautiful, especially with all of the different types of dahlias that members brought to the collaboration. Although we had few dahlias in our gardens available to exhibit in the New England shows this year, this wall allowed many of us to exhibit a wide variety all in one place.

This effort was the result of a great idea invented in Seattle (by Flirtyfleurs Alicia Schwede and gatherdesignco Amy Kunzel-Patterson - the original creators and designers of this concept). A bunch of folks who raise dahlias in their back yard, their family members who helped make the wall who obviously copied the exact wall, and the the color of the wall ( it took three tries to get the right color, starting with grey stain, a blue stain and then at the last minute, a dark grey paint - exactly as the Seattle wall. It just got worse once we added the calligraphy for the variety names. Too late to turn back. All we could do would be to credit the original creators, and prey for forgiveness. After all - it was too beautiful to destroy at this point.

Since this wall was installed in a very public space, a gallery-like quiet nook at a world class botanic garden on one of the busiest weekends of the year during peak foliage time in New England, it became a crowd favorite. I am not sure the the original at the Seattle Wholesale Market was open to the public but it has been well documented on-line over the past three years, and I imagine that any flower farmer is familiar with it. The public couldn't help but share this wall in selfies and social media posts.

Dahlias are so diverse and their colors almost represent every color in the color wheel, that it was amazing to see the different shapes and forms all within each color group.

Our apologies to the Flirtyfleurs girls, to Amy and Debra Prinzing, But we also thank you for being so nice about sharing your creation with the world. It is a striking way to display this incredible flower. The dahlia growers of the world thank you! And I know that this one week has inspired many new dahlia fans in the North East, who were so impressed with the variety and beauty that dahlias can bring to their gardens.

This morning, our dahlias looked like this. A full, deep freeze has officially ended the dahlia season here in New England.


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  2. What a great way of displaying dahlias. The colour gradation is fantastic and to have so many flowers to work with. I always learn something from your posts.

  3. Very very impressive!

  4. Its very interesting topic containing deep knowledge about gardening and plants. Thanks for sharing it.


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