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Move over, roses. Dahlia is staging a comeback as queen of both the cutting garden and the centerpiece. Once considered old-fashioned, she’s now the darling of hip designers and Instagram’s floral rock stars. 

Flower lovers can’t get enough of this alluring bloom, which practically arranges itself, making every customer a savvy designer. 

These flowers have been called luscious, breathtaking, decadent and bewitching. Design attributes are many, thanks to the Dahlia’s symmetrical form, versatile sizes, vivid color ranges and tendency to bloom prolifically. 

Dahlia flowers range from compact pompons to frilly water lilies to aptly named dinner plates – so large that a single flower can measure 10 inches across. Once cut, Dahlias generally have a three-to-four-day vase life, and the smaller ball-shape varieties last even longer, says Michael Genovese of Summer Dreams Farm in Oxford, Mich.

A producer of cut Dahlias and Dahlia tubers, Michael is currently growing nearly 100,000 Dahlia plants this year on land about 45 minutes outside Detroit. Of the farm’s 450 tuber varieties, about 55 are marketed as cut flowers to area wedding and event designers, farmers’ market shoppers and the floral departments at Plum Market, his largest customer.

“Peonies are really beautiful flowers, but come fall, I don’t think any flower has the same presence as a Dahlia,” he proclaims. “There’s nothing quite like its colors and shapes.”

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SUPER FLORAL

If sell-through is any indication, Plum Market shoppers, called “guests,” are in agreement. “Most of our guests anticipate Dahlia season because we pump them up for it,” says Cindy Sawyer, Plum Market’s Floral & Specialty Candy team leader. “People look forward to Dahlias here. They know our Dahlias are local, and they appreciate local product. I have virtually no shrink on them because they sell out so quickly.” With four stores in the Detroit-Ann Arbor area and a fifth location in Chicago, Plum Market is an independent specialty grocery chain with a commitment to support, promote and highlight local businesses within each store’s community. According to Tiffany Barnes, Plum Market’s director of the Floral & Specialty Candy category, guests “look forward to the season and there’s a different energy to the purchase of local product when they know they are supporting a grower close to home.”

Plum Market’s floral department was created with a single-stem focus to encourage shoppers to create their own bouquets or gather a number of stems that catch their attention. “Many guests like feeling they can personalize a floral purchase for their recipient or to brighten their home,” Tiffany adds. Come August, Plum Market makes room for Summer Dreams’ abundance of Dahlias. Raised on his family’s Michigan Christmas tree farm, Michael Genovese is riding the wave of millennials who have embraced floral agriculture in the U.S. With more than 10,000 Instagram followers who engage with Summer Dreams via comments, likes and shares of the farm’s beautiful Dahlia portraits and field shots, Summer Dreams has boosted awareness of Michigan Dahlias among flower lovers. Michael credits Facebook for facilitating his original connection with Plum Market. “One of my florist customers posted photos of my Dahlias to her personal Facebook page, and that’s where someone from Plum Market saw them. She contacted me, and I brought in samples – and it went from there. If I didn’t have Facebook and Instagram, if I was never active on those sites, my business would be half of what it is right now.” Michael began supplying mixed Dahlia bouquets to Plum Market in 2016. He makes twice-weekly deliveries to the chain’s Detroit area stores, including product that Plum Market regularly transfers to its two Ann Arbor outlets. Michael wholesales Dahlias for $10 per bunch, and Plum Market retails the product at $16.99 per bunch. “Normally, there are about 12 stems per arrangement, with flowers ranging anywhere from about 3 inches all the way up to about 7 inches,” he explains. “Plum Market receives Dahlias on Tuesdays and Fridays. By 6 p.m. on Fridays, the flowers are sold.”

 

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Michael personally delivers product, not to the loading dock but to each floral department cooler. The bouquets are kept fresh inside the cooler until floral staff wraps
them individually with brown parchment paper to protect petals from excess handling when on display, Cindy explains. She has ordered Dahlias from outside the area in the past but has found them to be pricy and short-lived, including product from Canadian sources.

“Michael’s Dahlias are truly the star of all flowers we have here,” she says. “Other farms just don’t match his local Dahlias.” 

“Flowers are perishable and fragile, especially Dahlias,” Michael points out. “So the fewer links in the (distribution) chain and the more people in the chain who care about the product, the better the end product is going to be. And that means you can demand a higher price for quality product versus something that looks beat up.”

For Cindy, she’s hopeful that in the future Michael can supply more Dahlias to Plum Market’s floral departments. “To have local Dahlias from Summer Dreams Farm is very special. All the customer has to do is go home, give the stems a little snip with some floral shears, and pop them in a vase.”

 

  DAHLIA CARE TIPS

  • Keep Dahlias cool with refrigeration versus displaying in warm or sunny areas
  • Keep stems hydrated with fresh water
  • Wrap bunches to protect petals from being creased or broken
  • Educate customers to re-cut the stems when they bring bouquets home and regularly refresh the vase water
  • Once cut, vase life ranges from three to four days for larger Dahlias; up to eight days for ball-shaped Dahlias.

DAHLIA DISPLAY IDEAS

Dahlia season is cause for celebration and you can create a buzz in your floral department with a special display featuring the many alluring attributes of local and seasonal Dahlias. Borrow an idea created by floral designer Alicia Schwede of Seattle-based Flirty Fleurs in partnership with Seattle Wholesale Growers Market (SWGM), a farm-to-florist cooperative. 

Each summer since 2014, Alicia and SWGM staff have produced a “Dahlia Wall” for the market’s annual Dahlia festival. The installation showcases the vast array of Dahlia colors, varieties and sizes available to florists, designers and retailers who source locally grown flowers from SWGM.

Alicia envisioned a freestanding wall, measuring about 7 feet high and about 8 feet wide. She enlisted her husband, Chad Siedlik, to construct the wood-framed display with horizontal boards, which she painted charcoal gray. As it turns out, that is an ideal backdrop color for showcasing the vase palette of Dahlia blooms. Chad drilled a tiny hole just below the rim of 150 plastic test tubes, one per flower, and hung each tube from a small nail arranged to cover the wall. The tubes are filled with water, and each holds one flower on the vertical display.

Alicia works with SWGM staff and volunteers to organize the visually compelling array. She clusters similar colors together and places flowers in a gradient arrangement from pale to dark. “Transitional” hues allow the petals to flow from one color to the next, such as coral Dahlias blending into those with apricot petals blending into pure yellow flowers. The final impression is eye-catching and instructional, as each Dahlia is labeled by variety and grower. 

The materials and labor are minimal, and the impact is swoon-worthy. “Yes, this installation takes hours to put together, but we make sure each Dahlia is tagged with its name and the name of its grower,” Alicia acknowledges.