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Dahlias: Over 600 varieties on display at annual show

Sep 4th, 2015 | Category: Growing

by Kate Ferry

We seem to have a love affair with dahlias. Any meandering drive through the county will inevitably tempt you with endless variations of the bountiful beauties that are dahlias. Small stands parked at the end of driveways promise pre-made bouquets or pick your own combinations. Tubers, or dahlia starts, can be purchased from most of these same stands if you would like to try growing them.

Rows of beautiful dahlias bloom at the Lynden farm of Jean Heeringa, a member of the Whatcom County Dahlia Society. PHOTO BY KATE FERRY

Rows of beautiful dahlias bloom at the Lynden farm of Jean Heeringa, a member of the Whatcom County Dahlia Society. PHOTO BY KATE FERRY

The Whatcom County Dahlia Society was founded in 1983 by a group of local dahlia enthusiasts and now boasts almost 90 members. The membership includes a variety of growers ranging from those with over 40 years of experience to the beginner who is just experimenting with their first season of dahlias. Members come from Whatcom and Skagit counties as well as southern British Columbia.

The WCDS is part of the National Federation of Dahlia Growers and their show follows a stringent set of guidelines and rules.

“The real goal of the annual show is to show people, anybody and everybody, the dahlia. It is a friendly competition of local growers, an opportunity to win and a community atmosphere of learning,” said Paul Bloomquist, President of the Whatcom County Dahlia Society. “And, I guarantee you’re going to see some fantastic flowers that are beyond your imagination.”

The Annual Dahlia Show hosted by the WCDS happens every September and is the weekend after Labor Day. The event is open to the public and charges no admission.  Any community member can enter a dahlia and there are three groups for showing a flower: amateur (beginning growers), novice (intermediate), and open (most experienced growers). It is mandatory that all flowers include and show a set of leaves so that the judges can gauge the overall health of the plant. The rules for showing are specific and it is recommended that beginning growers have a mentor that can help guide them through the process.

According to Bloomquist, at the show’s peak (and before there were issues related to crossing the border), there more than 3,000 entries, “but now averages about 1,600 entries.”

Visitors to the show will enjoy seeing over 600 varieties of dahlias.  For those interested in growing next season, Bloomquist recommends putting together a wishlist of the flowers that are personally appealing and bringing it to the annual tuber sale that takes place the first Saturday of April. The sale is an opportunity to purchase the plant starts for the flowers seen at the September show.

Entries and winners at last year’s show. PHOTO BY PAUL BLOOMQUIST

Entries and winners at last year’s show. PHOTO BY PAUL BLOOMQUIST

For each event hosted, the WCDS provides a luncheon for judges and volunteers. In recent years, the luncheon attendees have been given a ribbon as a ticket to show that they are eligible for the potluck fare. Bloomquist reminisces with a chuckle, the year that a woman came to the luncheon, but was graciously turned away because she had no ribbon [ticket] in hand. “She was confused as to why things had changed that year.  She’d been coming to the luncheon every year before when she had come to the show to see the dahlias,” laughed Bloomquist. “She was our most devoted attendee.”

Dahlias are a bushy, flowering perennial that have an incredibly diverse range of colors, sizes and styles. They grow from early July until the first killing frost, generally in late September or early October. Tubers left in the ground will not survive over winter, but can be properly insulated in the dirt or dug up for planting come spring.  It is estimated that there are 27,000 varieties of dahlias, with almost 90 percent no longer being grown and virtually extinct other than their official record and unique name.  Devotees profess that growing dahlias is a labor of love and a time consuming hobby, but the magnificent displays and wide range of choices appeal to even the most elemental beginner.

One can enjoy the dahlia for all its unique beauty as a hobbyist with a handful of plants in the yard, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable “dahlia scientist’ who tweaks and hybridizes, an appreciative spectator or any combination in between.  The Whatcom County Annual Dahlia Show is an ideal time to see the dahlia in all its splendor and enjoy the fellowship of like-minded growers who have a passion for this stunning flower.



Whatcom County Dahlia Society hosts their annual show at Bloedel-Donovan Park, 2214 Electric Ave in Bellingham on Saturday, Sept. 12 from noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free to the event and all are welcome. For more information, contact WCDS President Paul Bloomquist at (360) 354-4346 or see

The group’s website also lists the sites of six Whatcom Area Garden Tours, the personal gardens of WCDS members available for public viewing. Visitors are asked to be considerate and call before driving around to view them. Information is available on the group’s website.

Published in the 2015 issue of Grow Northwest 

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