North American Dahlia Society


Part One: Welcome to Portland!
Part Two: Show Events and High Points
Part Three: Saturday Night! -The Big Dance


If you have never attended an American Dahlia Society National Show, you are really missing something. The 2012 ADS National Dahlia Show, in conjunction with the Portland Dahlia Society, was a monumental event, in every sense of the word. Thursday, August 30 marked the first events of the long weekend, with a visit to the Oregon Garden and the Christopher Bridge Winery, followed by a reception at the Red Lion Hotel. Portland Dahlia Society members spent much of Friday morning, handling new arrivals, and setting up the exhibits that filled the hallways outside of the 18,000 sq. ft. Exhibition Hall.  Ted Kennedy of Hollyhill fame took on the task of securing an ample refrigerated trailer, which was parked at the outskirts of the parking lot.  Exhibitors who arrived early were able to carefully place and label their flowers, safely storing them until each grower was ready to place them into competition. The exhibition hall was temperature controlled, cooled to a point that, while a bit on the chilly side for the humans, was perfect for our fine  “floretted” friends, who needed to remain “forever young” for at least another 24 hours.  A large and well supplied staging area was supplied for exhibitors who needed it.  By the time the last entries were placed at 9:00 am on Saturday morning, the huge hall was replete with almost 10,000 entries vying for over 200 top awards.  

Playing host to the American Dahlia Society's national show is a huge undertaking that reaches far beyond borders of any town, city or state. The Portland Dahlia Society provided an amazing opportunity for dahlia growers from around the country and the world, to come together to unite around our common obsession. The very best growers and hybridizers were there, eager to learn and to share their expertise as well as their enthusiasm. With the ADS show in my back yard this year, I was hopeful that I might have something to enter in my first-ever national show. If you grow dahlias, you will know that timing is everything, and as growers, we are constantly challenged to counteract the elements of nature, in order to ensure that our blooms are ready and show-worthy when it is time to compete. As a new grower with a very small garden, I was hoping to be able to enter at least a few blooms, and as I assessed my garden the day before I left, I was thrilled to see that I actually had 15 or 16 stems that might survive through staging on Saturday morning.  I carefully transported and stored these flowers, and crossed my fingers in the hope that none of these would decide to be precocious, prematurely opening up yellow pollen-filled centers, thus thwarting my efforts to get at least one blue ribbon that says "ADS First Place." It took me about 7 hours to drive to Portland, Oregon, but the weather was beautiful, and the road wide-open. The lobby at the Red Lion on the River was festooned with large and stunning arrangements of dahlias of every description. After checking into my large, comfortable room, I walked down the hall to the registration desk, where I picked up my materials for the weekend. The Portland Dahlia Society members were very welcoming, conveying that sense of family that I so often find when meeting dahlia people for the first time. Without a doubt, the people you meet at an event like this are just wonderful. I sat in the lobby for a long time, watching as more and more people arrived, and I pored over my program, mapping out my weekend with great anticipation. Back to top


 The first show event I attended was the Thursday night reception, where I met up with Brad and Rosemary Freeman, as well as Bob and Terry Schroeder and Roland and Sandy Verrone. I was able to glean valuable information by visiting with a number of growers on topics ranging from endlessly hot days (a man from Georgia has similar challenges), misting and shade cloth systems (a grower from California) and the virtues of growing dahlias in Cleveland as compared to Arizona (very difficult, if not impossible!) I was even able to visit with the senior judge that I worked with at the Spokane show the prior weekend (Claudia Biggs) before it was time to go out and try to catch a glimpse of the August Blue Moon and the tawny sunset over the Columbia River. If you have never had the chance to visit the Pacific Northwest, I hope you find time to come here, especially during late summer and early fall, when the dahlias are at their very best.

Friday morning featured a wonderful tour of the private gardens of Portland growers, Eric Toedtli, Mike Riordan and Max Ollieu. Attendees filled busses, and enjoyed walking the gardens and sharing lunch with friends, old and new.   Back at the hotel, people kept arriving, and the refrigerated trailer gradually filled to bursting with some of the most amazing specimens of our favorite flower, and by Saturday at 9:00, these beauties have been entered into this weekend’s show. To say that I was astounded by the quality, variety, creativity and care that has gone into the presentation of so many perfect (and even better than perfect!) dahlias was clearly an understatement. As unique and distinctive as the blue moon may be, the presentation of these incredible blooms was a rare and memorable experience for anyone lucky enough to show up to be part of this little bit of heaven. I managed to keep a few flowers alive long enough to enter them into their various sections, but anything I brought disappeared in the splendor of the other entries. Maybe I'm not competitive enough yet, but I simply couldn’t feel bad about my little flowers when my spirit had been so generously fed by the glory in that ballroom.

Saturday morning around 9:30, judges and clerks gathered in one of the downstairs meeting rooms to receive their assignments. One by one, the teams were dispatched to their various posts, and everyone embarked on their mission to decide which of the best were even “better than the best!” A challenge for the judges, to be sure, and I was glad that I was just a clerk who had to write things down, rather than make these difficult decisions! With the greatest of care and concentration, one by one the teams made their decisions, hanging ribbons and recording the next new champions on the clerk sheets. By noon, everyone was finished, and the public began streaming in to share in the joy in which we had reveled throughout the morning.

Saturday afternoon we all had the opportunity to participate in workshops and seminars designed to meet the needs of the brand-new growers, as well as the grizzled veterans. Dahlias 101 was packed, with folks from all over the Portland area, as well as conference attendees, filling every stacking chair in the room.  Other workshop topics, including basket construction, dahlia photography and dahlia research, rounded out the agenda, with some people trying to sample a bit of each, so as not to miss out on anything! Back to top


Around 6:00, we came back together as a group for the hospitality hour leading up to the awards banquet. This allowed us to have the honor of meeting ADS luminaries, many of whom, up until that time, existed for us only in the black and white pages of the ADS bulletin. Outgoing ADS president, Jerry Landerholm was so friendly and welcoming, and we readily connected over our common experience of both having had fathers who worked for the railroad. The Landerholms live in Lombard, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I love Chicago, so we immediately had one more thing in common. We chatted a lot about our dads' work on the railroads, and then he shared with me that he knew OF my dad, Tony DeRooy, and that sometime in the 1990s, dahlia grower Bud Moore and Dad were the two oldest active judges in the ADS. Bud passed away recently, and Dad died in 2006, but these men were just about the same age, having been born in 1921 or ‘22. They stayed involved in their local and national clubs until the end of their lives. I could see the love that Jerry obviously had for Bud, and the great deal of respect he still maintained toward men like Dad and Bud. I came away with the belief that, although we are all motivated by our own strong drive to grow and show the very best possible dahlias, we also carry on the tradition of those who preceded us. There is such a legacy of the virtual bloodlines that are developed as a result of this common obsession with dahlia growing and showing. Although I had never met before met Jerry, or several others of the people I met last night, I felt inexorably related to them through this mutual commitment, as evidenced by our work with dahlias and dahlia people. At dinner, my table mates included Dick and Danielle Parshall (Clearview), David and Betty Burton (Stillwater), Les and Viv Connell (Tahoma, et al)  and Bernie Wilson (Lakeview), all of whom represent some of the brightest lights in the dahlia world. I felt honored to be able to speak the same language as these amazing people, a language that I heard since birth, at my father's knee and throughout the gardens of my childhood.  During the course of the evening, as we recognized the accomplishments of our members, everyone shared in the joy and the perfection that had been represented throughout the exhibition hall.

The high point of the evening was the presentation of the ADS awards.  Don Filand received the President’s Silver Cup Award for the best BB in show, Ron Wilkes from Australia receiving the ADS Silver Medal for his work. The ADS was pleased to be able to present their Gold Medal to outgoing president, Jerry Landerholm, for his leadership and service to the society. Finally, Margaret (Marge) Gitts and Family and Swan Island Dahlias were honored with the ADS President’s Award, for the tremendous outreach and influence they have had relative to dahlias.  Patriarch Nick Gitts passed away in 2007, after building the largest tuber and cut dahlia business in the country Nick and Marge were friends of my parents who I had first met as a small girl. In addition to sharing their passion for growing dahlias, Dad and Nick were also great fishing buddies, and Dad loved to tell the story of when Nick first had the opportunity to take over the dahlia business down in Canby, Oregon. I last saw Nick the summer of 2007, when he proudly took my mom and me through his seedling bed. After that, Marge had us back to the house for her famous lemon pie, and even sent one home with us! The awards presentation was a moving tribute to a family that has succeeded in spreading dahlia culture more widely than any other single entity in the country. The standing ovation that they received was amply deserved. There are still a few awards are in the works. We’ll be sure to keep you posted when they have been delivered.  

We basked in the afterglow of  Saturday by participating in a tour of Swan Island on Sunday, and then on Monday, the Hollyhill Gardens of Ted and Margaret Kennedy. As with the other tours, we reveled in row after row of cultivars, old and new, seedling gardens, trial gardens, dahlia experts and photo ops without end. The food and the company were also second to none.

As I have grown older, I have come to believe that humans might have a tendency to slow down, do less, and that our world becomes smaller and smaller. I’m sure that we all know people who, as they have aged, slowly withdraw from life. By contrast, however, the people I spent time with at the National Show were people of all ages, all shapes and sizes, abilities, states of health, some in wheelchairs, canes, walkers – but nothing stops these people in their quest to continue to be nurtured by the beauty of the dahlia. One of the very best things about being part of this group of people is that they have helped me to enlarge my world, to proceed on a great adventure, and continually pursue new and higher goals. I urge everyone you to join us in Grand Rapids, at Meijer Gardens, in 2013….you won’t regret it!  Back to top

Click Here for 2012 ADS National Show Results