Divine dahlias: Club celebrates 100 consecutive shows with a national event

Dahlias, if you somehow haven’t noticed, are in bloom now.

And that means it’s time for the Snohomish County Dahlia Society’s annual flower show and competition, open to the public for free Saturday and Sunday in Everett’s Forest Park.

But this isn’t just any year for the society.

Everett, Snohomish County and Washington have all officially proclaimed 2009 the Year of the Dahlia in honor of the club’s 100th birthday.

Snohomish County’s society, founded in 1909, is the only one in the nation to have hosted 100 consecutive shows.

That’s an achievement, said Dave Eldridge, 65, a retired teacher who joined the society in the 1970s.

Despite wars, despite the Great Depression, despite other setbacks of the past century, club members have honored their most celebrated flower with shows every year since 1910.

To celebrate its centennial in style, the society is also hosting the American Dahlia Society’s national show this weekend, a five-day event taking place at Forest Park and at the downtown Everett Holiday Inn.

More than 400 people are expected to attend, including enthusiasts from England, Australia and New Zealand.

Though it’s too late to register for the national show, Saturday and Sunday’s public events at Forest Park will feature local and national exhibitors for all to see.

Each year the society shows off up to 3,000 blooms. This year’s expanded event, however, may mean more competitive cut flowers from attendees, especially those driving to the show from Canada and California.

“This year we don’t know what we’re going to get,” society member Buz Carter said. “We may get 5,000 flowers.”

Though admission to see the blooms this year is free, that wasn’t the case in 1910.

Visitors paid 10 cents.

That’s just one nugget of trivia visitors to Forest Park will find, where the show will expand beyond its usual venue of Floral Hall and into other buildings, including a floral arrangement competition in one and a dahlia photography competition in another.

Carter, 73, who joined the society in 1988, has spent the past two years documenting the club’s 100 shows, hoping to showcase printed references to every single one.

“It was like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Carter, who succeeded by searching microfiche reels at local libraries, talking to local historians and scouring club records, including a century-old scrapbook.

Carter assembled what he found on more than 15 large storyboards, which will be on display. Each year is represented, including a black-and-white photo from the 1910 show, featuring a table full of blooms of all sizes.

Dick Ambrose, 66, who joined the society in the 1970s, said the society started out as a garden club of sorts for wealthier ladies of the day.

Over the years, however, it’s evolved to include a true co-ed cross-section of the county, including mill workers and teachers, like him.

Today it’s a social and educational organization that, come showtime every summer, brings out the competitive side of gardeners who enter blooms in the contest and show.

“It’s a pretty neat feeling when you go to a show and you win,” said Carter, who has won countless awards over the decades.

“Part of it, too, is the camaraderie and the fun that we have,” Eldridge added. “Dahlia people are great people.”

Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037, sjackson@heraldnet.com.

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