Dahlias: It’s the variety that lures them in

It’s a flower whose name can bring many pictures to mind. That’s because no one is really sure just how many varieties of dahlias there are.

And for dahlia growers, one just leads to another.

“It’s like popcorn,” said Pat Paulsen, a grower and a member of the Kitsap Dahlia Society. “The more you have the more you want. It can become an addiction.”

Paulson, Wanda Novak and Eric Anderson are longtime dahlia growers and member of the local society. Each has a unique story of how they came to grow and show dahlias. But all of them now are getting ready for this year’s Kitsap Dahlia Society Show.

The 93rd Kitsap Dahlia Society Show will take place on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 5-6, in the Kitsap Sun Pavilion at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds in Bremerton. On Saturday, public viewing will be from 1-5 p.m., and on Sunday from noon to 4:30 p.m.

The group expects as many as 2,000 blooms in about 20 different varieties, some single, some triple and some five-bloom stems. There are categories for basket displays, flower arrangements in themes, and photography. There also is a public category for non-members to show.

Attendees will vote for their favorite variety for the People’s Choice Award.

“When you see some of those five bloom dahlias in a big bucket, it knocks your socks off,” Paulsen said. “They can get really big.”

Paulsen has been a member of the local society for about 25 years. She moved to her home on Central Valley Road in 1985.

“A neighbor had tons of dahlias and she kept saying she wanted to give me some tubers,” Paulsen said. “I didn’t really want to get in to it. But after about three seasons, I finally said ‘Yes.’

“I planted them and the first year I had great blooms. The next year, I had so-so blooms and the following year I walked around my yard saying ‘Where’d those plants go?’ I figured if I was going to do this, I better get her to teach me how to grow them.”

In time she had a big garden — with soaker hoses, just like a pro. This year she’s expecting 150 plants to blossom.

“I bet I have about 75 or 80 different ones,” she said. “They’re very easy to grow. Almost too easy. That’s why you end up with so many.”

Likewise, Novak became a dahlia grower by mistake.

“My husband worked with a lady who grew them,” Novak said. “She gave him about half a dozen tubers and told him to ‘take them home to your wife. She’ll love them.’

“I planted them and I did love them and that was the start.”

Today, she has about 180 plants in her garden and has been a member of the society since the 1980s. While Paulsen grows mostly for fun, Novak competes in dahlia shows with her blooms. So does Anderson. In fact, he’s among the society’s members who really loves to show dahlias.

“It’s become a passion,” he said. “I used to show at about eight shows a season. Now I’ve cut it back to five or six.”

Like Paulsen, he wasn’t really looking to grow dahlias. But when he and his wife moved to Kitsap County about 30 years ago, they took in a dahlia show.

“My wife and I bought a few tubers,” he said. “Some of the people there got my wife and I excited about dahlias and it grew from there.”

He has two gardens at his home and he takes care of the Kitsap Dahlia Society’s garden at the Silverdale Post Office. In all, he cares for more than 350 plants.

“I have about 100 varieties,” he said. “Some are mystery ones.”

While there are named varieties, every few years, new dahlias come on the market from individuals who are propagators and develop hybrids by mixing seeds. Growers say the many varieties of dahlias is what makes them fun to grow.

“And they are a flower with no scent,” said Paulsen. “So for those who are sensitive to smells, they’re a flower they can have around.” Hence, she’s able to take bouquets of her flowers to her daughter’s veterinarian clinic and not worry about scent sensitivity.

The local society has been around since 1923. At the time, membership dues were 50 cents. In 1925, the group became affiliated with the American Dahlia Society and held its first sanctioned show.

“In order to be a part of the American Dahlia Society, our shows have to adhere to its criteria,” said Novak. “There has to be consistency.”

Dahlias at shows are judges by members of other dahlia societies, all who have taken and passed training offered by the Federation of Northwest Dahlia Growers with members from British Columbia, Washington state and Oregon. The federation operates under the guidelines of the American Dahlia Society.

Those who show dahlias do so to obtain awards and honors and some have farms where they make a living selling their tubers.

And dahlia growers come from all walks of life. Anderson is in the healthcare field. Novak worked for a school district, and Paulsen was a stay-at-home mother and worked part time.

Dahlias grow in sandy soil and do well in the Pacific Northwest climate, they said. Their worst enemies are slugs, snails and the weather.

“Most people will dig up their tubers every fall and plan them again in the spring,” Paulsen said. “They can be ruined with the wet winters we have.”

And she said, by digging them up, they can be split and produce tubers that can mean more plants the following year.

Dahlias are a popular flower because the more blooms cut from them, the more will grow. Deadheading them forces more growth.

“They take grooming and care,” said Novak. “But they grow from July to late in the fall. That’s why some people plant them, so that they will have color in their gardens all summer and fall.”

Members gave some suggestions for those who want to attend the show.

“Just come and stroll around and enjoy it,” said Paulsen, “It’s total eye candy.”

But one rule is don’t touch.

“Sometimes people will want to touch the blooms because they are so perfect, they can’t believe they are real,” Paulsen added.

And if you see a flower you like, write the name down and look for that tuber at the group’s spring tuber sale. (Proceeds from the tuber sale supports the society and its gardens.)

But you better plan on being there early, Anderson said.

“Last year there was a long line waiting for us to open,” he said. “And we sold out in one day.”


Who: The Kitsap Dahlia Society

What: 93rd Annual Dahlia Show

When: Saturday, Aug. 5 from 1 -5 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 6, noon to 4:30 p.m.

Where: Kitsap Sun Pavilion, Kitsap Fairgrounds, 1200 NW Fairgrounds Road, Bremerton.

Admission: Free. Members will be on hand to talk with visitors. Membership applications will be available. Photography is allowed.

Other: They also maintain gardens at the West Hills Post Office in Bremerton and in Port Gamble.

For more: www.kitsapdahlias.org.

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