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!


  1. Thanks, Matt. Concise, yet inclusive post -- and so encouraging. Next year I've GOT to see that show !

  2. Quite dazzling! Brilliant display. Thankyou

  3. Such gorgeous dahlias! Victoria is actually a friend of mine from our garden club, and I had really wanted to come to the show, but was sadly unable to come that weekend. What a great thing to start!

  4. Wow, what a stunning show! 'Tartan', 'Hillside Orange Ice', 'Maks Royal Ruby', 'Badger Twinkie', wow, wow, wow, and wow. Thanks for sharing the show.


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