From the cold, windowless operating rooms where he works Mike Parrish anticipates getting home to the garden. The anesthesiologist at Hamilton Health Sciences walks into a wonderland of colour in his Dundas backyard. It’s dahlia-land.
The cheerful, cosmic flowers poke their heads high in the sky, some as small as ping-pong balls, others as big as dinner plates at a steakhouse.
There is something about dahlias that guys love. “Most of the members of the club are men, “ Parrish explains.
The club is really a society, the Hamilton and District Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society. September 20th and 21st they are staging their 50th anniversary show at the Royal Botanical Gardens. Parrish will be in the thick of things there, competing in a bunch of classes.
It all started 10 years ago when he went to his first Hamilton show, he saw the dahlias and he was a goner. “They’re an amazing flower, I signed up right then,” he says.
He bumbled through his first bunch of dahlias, and then got in the groove of the methodical way they need to grow. The staking, tying, disbudding, watering, fertilizing, lifting, cleaning and storing, that’s the rhythm from April to November.
Then once you’re growing, you’re on the slippery slope to competing. The day we meet, Parrish was getting ready to compete in the dahlia show at the Canadian National Exhibition. The show attracts a crowd. People shuffle through with their funnel cakes and bear claws, smitten with the flowers. “I really like the atmosphere there,” Parrish says.
Next up is the Hamilton show at the RBG, one with a great reputation. Parrish will select the best blooms, put them in individual vases, stake them with hair clips to spears of bamboo, and then secure them in the car so they don’t get bashed on route. He’s been competing for seven years and has the hardware to prove it.
Competing is just a sliver of what he loves about dahlias though. They all have their own personalities he says, and they’re packed with energy. “The speed at which they grow is spectacular.”
Sequestered in their own beds, with a deep blue sky as a backdrop, the dahlias are brazenly festive. Parrish grows all kinds, unusual in dahlia society, where enthusiasts tend to specialize. Cornel is a deep maroon ball type with petals placed with mathematical precision, a showstopper called Max has a fringe of petals exploding out from the centre, and a dahlia named Pooh turns its big face to the sun like a solar panel ready for charging. Funny that the fashionable dahlias are staked to rough and ready rebar, beauty and the beast in spades.
Dahlias make excellent cut flowers. A few years ago Parrish started taking big vases full of them where their special cheer is very welcome. “I take them into Mac where I work, the nurses and patients love them,” he says. Giant bouquets go to labour and delivery, pre-op clinics, same day surgery, “Initially people thought they were fake, when I told them I grew them, they asked for more.”
The 50th anniversary show () coming up at the RBG will undoubtedly seduce more people to the charm of dahlias. After the judging the show is open to the public, on Saturday the 20th from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday the 21st from 10 a.m. until approximately 3 p.m. At closing the blooms will be for sale. Bring a vase or bring a bucket, and prepare to fall in love.