Step into a world of color at Annual Dahlia Festival
The days of summer are dwindling away, but dahlia season is in full bloom. The flowers are splashing color across the nearly 40 acres that make up Canby's own Swan Island Dahlias, ready for the Annual Dahlia Festival which takes place on two Saturday-to-Monday weekends: Aug. 24-26 and Aug. 31 through Sept. 2.
The festival will feature food, treats and brews from vendors, live music, family fun and of course flowers galore.
Swan Island Dahlias offers free parking and free admission for the event so that guests can spend a day with loved ones potentially without spending a dime. But this year, Swan Island is partnering with nonprofit The Canby Center and is inviting attendees to bring a can of food.
"We wanted a way for our visitors to help our community since the festival admission and parking are free," said third-generation dahlia farmer Heather Gitts Schloe.
According to Gitts Schloe, the highlight of the festival is the indoor floral display, which is the largest display by one grower anywhere in the United States. This year's display boasts a redesign that represents customers' yards and gardens.
"We have included perennials, shrubs and garden art to help inspire our visitors to grow dahlias in their own beautiful yards," Gitts Schloe said.
Each year, Swan Island Dahlias hires approximately 20 florists to make the indoor display happen. They start at 9 a.m. and work until it's finished, sometimes through the night. Then after the first weekend, they redo the entire display for the next festival weekend.
Throughout the display and fields, guests will enjoy approximately 370 varieties of dahlias. Swan Island Dahlias releases about 10 new varieties each year and discontinues 10 others.
The new varieties come as a result of a five-year process. Bees do part of the work, cross-pollinating the dahlias. Then at the end of the season, the dried up center becomes a seed pod with close to 20 seeds in it, each of them different. Every year, the staff at Swan Island Dahlias plants approximately 15,000 of these seeds in secret fields, which produce unique varieties.
Over the course of the next five years, they weed out varieties that they don't want or need, and they nurture the ones that are really beautiful. The flowers that make the cut are planted in the public fields and given a unique name, such as Who Me?, Gitts Crazy, Raz-Ma-Taz or OMG.
"We're known in the dahlia industry for our names," Gitts Schloe said.
This year, one of the new varieties is called My Forever, a peach waterlily that Gitts Schloe said will leave you remembering it forever.
But the Gitts family hasn't always been in agreement about which flowers make it to the public.
Years ago, Nick Gitts Sr. took a liking to a big odd dahlia that everyone else thought should be thrown away.
"By dahlia classifications it doesn't fit," Gitts Schloe said. "It's kind of like a giant sunflower that's hot pink with a yellow center—it's hot pink and white; and it throws an odd petal every so often. It's just one of those that probably should have been thrown away."
Each year it would get marked for throw-away, but each year Nick Sr. saved it. On the fourth year, when once again it should have been tossed, it got planted on the path where guests could see it…and they loved it. Even though it wasn't for sale at the time, it was in such demand that Nick Jr. finally decided to give it a name. And that's how the still popular Junkyard Dog got its name.
"It's got some funky characteristics, but I think that's why people like it," Gitts Schloe said.
Guests are invited to come see Junkyard Dog, the new My Forever and all the other dahlias at the festival during field hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and indoor display hours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. And start thinking about your own dahlia garden as all tubers are 10 percent off online and in-person during the festival.
Live music will play from noon to 4 p.m. daily, featuring acts including Britnee Kellogg, Joni Harms, Nate Botsford and others.
Food, drink and treats will be available from old and new vendors such as Dano's Dogs, Ebner's Custom Meats, St. Joseph's Winery, Tall Boy Fish & Chips and more.
The complete schedule and list of bands and vendors can be found online at dahlias.com/annualdahliafestival.aspx.
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