Annual Dahlia Club Meeting at Swan Island Dahlias 2018
by Ted J. Kennedy
Lots of club members attended the September Dahlia club meeting at Swan Island Dahlias yesterday. I got there at 3:30PM and left at 7:45PM. It was very well attended and one person
said he counted over 40 attendees. Nick Gitts of Swan Island Dahlias put us up in one of their buildings as the weather was very iffy. It did not rain on us and we judged at the trial garden
and then dived into the food at the pot luck. There was lots of visiting with other club members. Two people came from Eugene(100 miles away) and some club members from the Oregon
Coast(85 miles) were there too.
Gordon Jackman did his flower arranging demonstration and since he uses inexpensive Oasis holders(they cost about a dollar at the floral wholesale store) he was able to give the 6 or 8
completed designs to club members. I provided a couple of buckets of flowers and enjoyed getting comments about them. As expected, the HH Art W. was a big hit as were the brightest
orange HH Sophia flowers that I have ever seen were snatched up by members. Gordon answers questions as he works. What kind of greens do you use and where do you get them?
Gordon said he grows lot of plants for their greens like hostas but that he also harvests greens from his neighbor hood. He also lives adjacent to the largest developed park in Portland
and has made friends with the greenskeepers there. He went through a list of not so easy greens and gave out the special instructions for using them and with one woody type plant you
have to smash the stems with hammer. Alum makes hydrangeas keep better. Salt water works for soaking some kinds of ferns.
Nick Gitts did his annual presentation and had a buckets full of their new one called “My Hero” the giant purple sport of Nick Sr. He was almost emotional as he talked about it as Nick Sr(his
father) originated the flower Nick Sr. just before he died. It was a special giant dahlia that grew like a giant redwood tree and had flowers nearly as big as basketballs. He explained how
they spotted the sport in the field of Nick Sr. plants and they were able preserve it by taking cuttings and some of the tubers had the sport also. It has taken them about 5 years to get it to
salable quantities and word was that 200 had already been sold(at $39.95). He does not know for sure how many tubers he will be able to sell as they have not been harvested yet.
He had a bucket of his new WHITE one named “Solo” there too and said that he felt it was one of the best new ones in white that they have developed. It is a seedling of Gitts Attention
and has the vigorous growth habits of it’s parent with smaller flowers.
Nick made some statements about white flowers and that even with 45 acres of dahlias, they run out of white flowers all the time. People want white for weddings and make an assumption
that they have lots of them They do have lots but the wedding sales where they order in advance depletes all or most of the inventory. He told a story of a bride trying to order 20 bunches
of white for delivery that same week and how he had to turn down the order.
The sales of cut flowers has changed over the past couple of years. They no longer sell as many to the huge wholesale flower suppliers like they used to do. As with any product, there is
more profit margin if you can sell direct to the customers and they are switching as much as possible to do that. They do have a few bulk customers however. And they ship directly
premium flowers by overnight delivery nearly every day. When asked where they went he said to every area in the USA, the last order went to New Jersey.
He said that their 2 week Dahlia festival has grown so large (and profitable) that he was quite happy. He said that every aspect of the festival was successful including tuber sales, flower
sales and even food vendor sales. Parking is getting to be problem as their huge parking lot(horse pasture most of the time) fills up and customers are parking on the rural roads in places
that irritate his neighbors.
He said flower sales were so brisk at the festival that during the peak times there were long lines(85 people in one line) waiting for the next batch of heat treated flowers. He mentioned
selling 2000 bunches but I did not catch over what time frame. He said that since they greatly decreased the bulk sales of flowers that they use their labor to do more cleanup and such on
the farm. When asked how many employees they have he said during the summer it was about 16 but during the harvest season(October 25th through April) there were 18 more. Yes, the
harvest season is that long and digging is seldom completed by January 1st and dividing goes on through April.
Café’ au lait is still a brisk seller and he limits sales nearly always. Florists try to order many more flowers than what the fields produce. He made the comment that it is rather a poor
production flower, that it does not look very good in the fields and the color is not consistent. However, it is very profitable to grow and sell.
We were located in one of the storage buildings where their undivided tubers are stored before being washed and divided. They have two such buildings and the third building is the
underground “potato” storage building where divided tubers are stored. Tuber clumps are dug and stored with the dirt on them, sometimes for many months. The clumps are then washed
and divided within 24 hours of washing. Huge fans dry the divided tubers before they go into storage. The storage temps in all three buildings is about 45 degrees and the humidity often
reaches 100% with condensation dripping off the ceiling. They had to replace the ceiling insulation recently due to the condensation.
Farmers love to talk about new tractors and such and Nick said that they have new tractor with a boom sprayer that can be driven through the fully mature dahlias and the spray boom
sprays down on the plants. They spray at night due to the visitors to the farm and he says that the bees have gone back to their hives. He did not say what he sprays but it is for insects,
spider mites and also a fungicide.
Teresa Bergman, our trial garden director was happy that all the entries that needed judging were judged during the meeting, with only one exception. And that one was judged a day or
Unfortunately, one of our newer members arrived at the meeting at about 7:30PM and did not know that we start this meeting at about 4:00PM as it is a picnic needing lots of daylight. We
will do better publicity next year.
Gordon Jackman doing the flower
Nick Gitts, Gordon, and Larry Smith.
Nick Gitts talking about the giant
purple dahlia called "My Hero".
Nick, Gordon and the author of this
web page,Ted Kennedy
click on flower to enlarge