September 24, 2017

Second Annual Show of the New England Dahlia Society Attracts Crowds

The crowds were delighted at this weekends' second annual New England Dahlia Society Show held at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA. It may end up being another record crowd for this two year old dahlia society with entries coming from all New England States and New York.

You might remember that two years ago, on a whim I announced on this blog that I was thinking about starting a New England Dahlia Society. The two Connecticut chapters were too far to Vermont or New Hampshire growers, and I felt that a club based in central Massachusetts might be a good idea, after all, the Worcester County Horticultural Society (who run Tower Hill Botanic Garden) used to have dahlia exhibitions as far back as the 1890's.  The idea seemed right given the new interest in the dahlia.

I didn't know what to expect after that post and our first meeting, yet so many interested members showed up at our house that it seeming like it might actually work. I was so pleased that all the nearby chapters helped as well as the American Dahlia Society in getting us started. I really didn't know the first thing about starting a dahlia society (well, maybe the 'first' thing, but these things cant just be started without lots of help. Most plant societies are over a hundred years old, and finding or retaining members is getting more and more difficult. This New England Dahlia Society is kind-of prooving that maybe, plant societies aren't going away. The public loves this show, so many visitors were telling me that that came because of last years' show. Many were inspired to start growing dahlias because of it.

At the end of this post I am sharing my favorites from the show (ones I plan on ordering), but I am so excited about this one, that I have to give you a tease. Meet 'Hollyhill Calico'.


 What's not to love when it comes to dahlias? So many colors, so many sizes, from the tiniest ones less than an inch in diameter to dinner-plate sized ones so incredibly huge and fluffy, there are spidery black ones, some that look like waterlilies, pompons and cactus types - in colors that excite that people of all ages pull out their smartphones and just have to snap photos, (here's a couple tips: dahlias shows are great ways to discover the prettiest varieties to grow at home, and because most of these dahlia varieties come from small specialty growers, take a picture of the tag too so that you can Google the name and find a tuber because more likely than not, you are not going to find these dahlias at big box stores or even local nurseries in those colored poly bags in the spring, as those are all Dutch propagated varieties or commercial varieties (like those from Spring Hill and the big nurseries with color printed catalogs). Not that there is a bad dahlia out there, but.... these below are newer, and probably haven't been propagated yet in big fields to be mass marketed.

Joe and I grow our dahlias separately. He picked his on Friday in the rain so that they would be super-fresh.

I can't take credit for much with this show, as I've been too busy with my book. The most I could do was to take photos and help during the show a little bit, all credit has to go to the show team lead by President Donna Lane.  Special thanks to officers Gayle Joseph, Chou Ho, and Cheryl Monroe as well as (my) Joe who spent hours getting ready. Victoria, a new member was extremely helpful and many others (sorry, I forgot all your names!).  Growing a new society to be this active at a time when most plant societies are failing isnt easy. It takes lots of time and effort. Cheers to all.

Kudos must go to the nearby dahlia society chapters for they are critical, especially to Ivan from the Provincetown Massachusetts Chapter who partnered on this show. He was instrumental in bringing this show to even a higher bar. Both Connecticut chapters brought many blooms - as their growers are perhaps the most experienced in the area.  I was impressed that this show also drew participants from as far away as Vermont and New York, as well as Rhode Island. It is truly a New England Show.

My dahlias were not handled with the care that others may have offered. I focused on ball types. mostly 'Mary's Jomanda', 'Jomanda' and others. I felt that focus was a better way to grow exhibition dahlias rather than lots of different ones. I just tied them onto bamboo canes so that they wouldnt break. I need to work on getting a better transportation system.

At Tower HIll BG the award tables were set up early on Friday. All of this had to be done before the show opened on Saturday morning. (each sign is a different award for a particular class). Imagine the organizing and prep that had to be done!

The main exhibition hall at Tower Hill Botanic Garden also had to be prepared with more signs - each showing the specific classification for each type of dahlia.   All the dahlias will be staged here and then judged behind closed doors. 

Chou Ho, an active member and a significant contributor on the show team may still be 'technically new'  at raising dahlias, one wouldn't know it.  He's been winning top awards throughout the northeast and at this show. 

Dahlia society folks will recognize this name, Marg Schnerr, one of the American Dahlia Societies most active and knowledgeable members. We are so lucky to be able to draw entrants like Marg and many others from nearby chapters in New England. We all have so much to learn.

Cheryl Monroe, the treasurer from our chapter playing with some rather large dinner plate or 'AA' dahlias.

This exhibitor came from New York state with dozens of amazing dahlias.

And he brought these. Each one is nearly 10 inches across! The variety is 'Tartan'.

Chou Ho carefully prepares his entries in backstage at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. It takes great care to look up the identifying numbers, codes and other relevant information for each dahlia. Entries can't be 

It can take hours for entrants once they arrive at the botanic garden to unpack their blooms and to get them set into special vases and displays. Once properly labeled with all of the codes, the blooms are brought out to the benches and set out for judging. Every entry must have a pair of leaves, no open center, no green center, as it can be disqualified.

The name and variety must be included along with the codes and the grower's name. It takes time to get everything right (I had a flower disqualified because I wrote the wrong classification on it (Ball, when it was a Mini Ball).

Entries are set out on tables and set at the perfect angle. New entrants were helped in the novice section, as this can get confusing, but this show ended up with three tables of novice or first-time entries - how great is that?

The 'Waterlily' class had many entries. This was also our challenge flower (the orange one in the back).  All our members recieved a challenge tuber of 'Pam Howden' in the spring, but I fell in love with this red one 'Maks Royal Ruby'. It looked like a red lotus.

Entries arrived early in the morning before the botanic garden was open to the public, but by 9:30 the exhibition hall was full of flowers and three teams of judges started with some sections as the doors were closed.

Everyone sat outside in the hall while the judging proceeded. 

Doors opened to the public around noon, when everyone poured in. It was interesting to see police having to direct traffic down on the main road as hundreds of cars filled the lots at the botanic garden. Tower Hill was prepared, even having an ambulance ready (which was needed- hopefully that gentleman is ok.). Big crowds require good prep and a staff which is ready for anything, kudo's to the team at Tower Hill for making this such a successful show.

The AA section was full, but maybe not as full as last year most likely due to the remnant of tropical storm Jose which tore through most New England gardens mid-week, breaking the larger dahlias. Now, this photo doesn't look impressive, but each bloom is about 10 inches in diameter. I heard the words 'Dr. Seuss' many times.

The judges had their hands full, obviously judging hundreds of blooms in short period of time.

The winners come out to the gallery for display where the public can view them up close. How many smartphones can you see here? I go to many flower shows, but I've never seen so many smartphones.

Even toy smart phones!

'Badger Twinkle' (why do all dahlias sound like stripper names?) grown by Chou Ho was a favorite with many people, including me - which reminds me, maybe I should show my favorite varieties which I might order for next summer. Here goes:

'Kasasagi' was a nice pom that I liked. 

Another view of Chau's red waterlily 'Maks Royal Ruby' (this is probably a good place to mention another benefit when you join a dahlia society - members share their choice tubers!).

The appropriately named 'Barbershop' and 'Santa Claus' may not be show winners on the bench, but come on!!! Right?

Fimbriated types are always popular. Looking almost alien or like crazy hair do's from the sixties (Muppets?). This one is a favorite too - 'Pineland's Princess'. I already grow it, but as things sometimes go, it hasn't bloomed yet.

This one is crazy! 'Jennie'.

'Verrones Chopsie Baby' was almost blueish purple.

'Hillside Orange Ice', I've been looking for tubers of this one for a while now.

Black flowers are rarely really black, but this one was really popular with visitors. It's 'Black Spider', another appropriate name!

At the end of the second day, on Sunday, all the flowers are picked out and sold to visitors to help raise money for the society. Five dollar and ten dollar bunches were big and popular.

Clean up is rarely fun, but at Gayle Joseph demonstrates, even when tired, we can have fun.

Chou Ho and our president Donna Lane (in the black top) helped everyone empty out the oasis floral foam and water, and then pack up the vases for the next show.

Even the Tower Hill staff helped out in cleaning up. Kirsten was eager to help us empty containers.

Special thanks to the terrific staff of Tower Hill Botanic Garden and to all of the entrants who helped make this show so successful for everyone!

September 21, 2017

End of Summer Dahlias, Cyclamen and Veggies

'Jomanda', a handsome example of symmetry, and a hard-to-find favorite amongst growers of show dahias.
 A quick post as this is Wednesday and I need to get back into the groove of posting (at least) on Wednesdays agaimn. It's finally raining here, but while it is welcome, our second annual New England Dahlia Society show is this coming weekend at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, so you can imagine how rain can ruin a crop of fancy exhibition dahlias. Many have broken in this last gasp from Hurricane José, but I suppose the watermelons and peppers are happy.

My row of Jomanda holding up during the remnants of Tropical Storm José, their stems are stronger than most of my other dahlias. Show or exhibition dahlias are usually different varieties than those found at stores. You have to order early from specialist dahlia nurseries.

Joe had a hernia opperation last week and I had gum grafts done on some implants so the garden is looking horrible, except in macro shots.  The dahlias that havnt been ruined by the rain, are looking gorgeous, and the vegetables are coming in by the truckload (mostly becasue of my book), but most are going to the womens recovery shelter near us because Joe doesnt feel like eating anything, and I cant eat anything unless it is pureed (if youve ever had gum grafts, then you know what I mean. My dentist told me that it may take 3 weeks or more to heal the roof of my mouth where they cut the grafts from. Right now, it's just as if I ate a scalding hot pizza - I know). It's not a good time for chili peppers to be coming in from the garden!

Need to go look for the tag for this dahlia, it may look perfect by this weekend when our New England Dahlia Society held at Tower Hill Botanic Garden.

The rain and wind has really brought many of the dahlias down so only a few are going to make it to the show. I tried to stake them as best as I could but learning to master exhibition dahlias is still challenging. I should probably just grow cut flowers instead and not worry about perfection and disbudding.

Some varieties like this fromal ball-type known as 'Skipley Lois Jean'. They  almost made it for the show, but as you can see, the center is open showing pollen. It would be disqualified for being too open, but I may have enough of these to enter a five stem class. Fingers crossed.

The rain during the storm really helped how the ornamental kale looked (as well as the fennel pollen).

Kiss Me OVer the Garden Gate or Polegonum orientale continues to put on a show, it just keeps looking better and better, larger than the banana's which it is planted next to in my sweet spot next to the geenhouse and over 12 feet tall, the dangling flowers really look terrific now in September.

Speaking of the genus Polygonum this relative Persicaria amplexicaulis is generally a weedy genus but in the right spot, I am finding this genus most useful, especially in late summer. This one, a perennial species.

I had a big surprise when I went out to the greenhouse today - the cyclamen bed was not only in full bloom, but there was little to no foliage proving that my theory was right - if you don't water your species cyclamen when the autumn weather first arrives and allow the pots to just slowly uptake a bit of moisture from their pots which are sitting on damp sand, one can get pots of lovely cyclamen (sans foliage) which enhances their appearance. 

This white form of Cyclamen hederifolium is particularly nice. No worries, the foliage will come soon now that I watered the plunge bed but most alpine plant exhibitors prefer pots that bloom without folaige.

I'm also learning that I don't need to repot my cyclamen every year or every other year. These have been in their pots for 3 or 4 years now and getting better and better. This is Cyclamen graecum, and while tender and it goes dormant during the summer like most other species except the trick here is to keep the pots on slightly damp sand, and the root make tremendous growth during the hot and dry summer (just like in their native Greece). Trying to pull a pot off of the bed is now difficult.

I've been so busy on my book. It's been crazy this week after Joe's hernia surgery and my gum grafts (so painful), the last thing I want to eat are any veggies, especially chili peppers (and we have so many this year!).

Joe picked various varieties of artichokes for the chapter on artichokes and cardoons.

The oriental radish shot is over, so I just piled my props from the garden on a plate to tease you with how pretty they are. They won't go to waste. Making Kimchi is on the schedule this week.
One more teaser for the book - watermelons after a photoshoot are making their way back to the kitchen. They wont last long even though we've been shooting melons for about two weeks now.

Late summer bulbs always remind me of hurricane season, and these habranthus and rain lilies are alway surprising us with a few extra blooms in the autumn. I keep a few pots on the gravel walks so that I dont miss them.

This Amarcrinum x is not only large, nearly three feet tall, it is sweet scented. So fragrant that the entire deck smells like sun tan lotion in the evening.

Late crops of lettuce now replace the tomatoes in the raised beds. Some of these will mature soon like these 'Winter Density' heads of lettuce, just enough for the kitchen in early autumn, but more varieties have been sown along with four types of endive, which are all planted in the other four raised cedar beds.

Around the garden, the chickens are segregated into two groups. The barred rocks stay in one coop with their rooster, and these Americanas hang out on the walk because there are only three of them. We call the two girls 'the twins' and the rooster is Joshua. Don't ask.

Our Indian Runner Ducks are laying so many eggs that we are giving them away to everyone we know. They are free range and enjoy running out back in the weeds and squash/melon beds. I hope they are eating all of the Asian jumping worms we currently have (I think they are).

One last shot of the deck window box - the colors are so different, especially with that thumbergia - I am so impressed with how well the vines did. I may do all of the windows this way next year.