Seems as though there is always some kind of festival going on during the summer months. Usually named for a flower, a fruit, or a vegetable, these festivals are really worth the effort. The Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California and the Asparagus Festival in Stockton are some down-home country festivals that got completely out of control. Thousands of people crowd the hundreds of booths and the original concept is lost. Can you count the Apple Festivals and Strawberry Festivals that are dotted all over the United States and Canada? A google search will open your eyes to that one!
Our short little camping trip north was inspired by one such festival. The difference with this one is that it isn’t a town or village thing, it is a chance for a local grower of dahlias to open their land for just six days a year to the adoring public. I had no clue just how adoring the public was until we arrived at the parking lot on Monday morning and found row after row of cars, buses, vans, and fields filled with folks admiring the dahlias.
Let me backtrack a bit. When we woke up Monday morning, the skies were cloudy and overcast and the temperature was in the low 50’s. A very light mist created a chilly, damp atmosphere. Remember I said I only brought shorts? Even though the forecast was for 85 degrees and sunshine for the entire week, I should have known better. Digging around in the few clothes I brought delivered my kayak pants, just in case, so I donned the kayak pants and the one sweatshirt I managed to pack, and I was ready for the day in spite of myself.
Even though I had no WiFi in the park, my iPhone had 5 bars and 3G, so I loaded up google maps to locate the Swan Island Dahlia Farm. It was just about an hour north in Canby, an agricultural paradise between I-5 and the mountains in the northern part of the Willamette Valley. We took our time, and when a sliver of lavender blue appeared in the distance, we ambled off the course to find amazing fields of annuals grown for seed by the Silver Falls Seed Company.
I used to grow annual larkspur for drying, and always had trouble finding seed that was an individual color not a mix. Lying in front of me were gorgeous fields of blue, lavender, pink, and rose, all perfect tall lush flowers of larkspur. Other fields were filled with godetia, one of my favorite little annuals, and other flowers that I didn’t quite recognize. In a way I was delighted to have subdued skies so the colors would show up more dramatically in the photos.
It wasn’t long before we arrived at the Swan Island Dahlia Festival, to join in the admiring crowds with their oohs and aahhs. Even little kids were getting into the thrill of seeing a truly amazing huge dahlia bigger than a dinner plate, amazed at the sensory overload of row after row of flowers bred in every conceivable shape and color.
Swan Island Dahlias is the largest and leading dahlia grower in the United States. The farm is now located in the town of Canby, in the rich soil of the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The farm was originally located in Portland, Oregon, with some buildings on Swan Island, which is where the farm derived its name. There was also a roadside stand in Sellwood, a suburb of Portland, so the business was known as both Swan Island Dahlias and Portland Dahlia Gardens at that time.
Swan Island Dahlias was moved to Canby, Oregon on rented land in the 1940’s. Around 1953, 20 acres of farmland was purchased in Canby, and the business was relocated to its present site. This particular bit of information was helpful because Mo grew up near the real Swan Island and picked beans there and she couldn’t understand why the dahlia farm in Canby was called Swan Island Dahlias!
If you have ever grown dahlias, you know how much work they can be. A difference in this part of Oregon is that the climate allows you to actually leave your dahlias in the ground over the winter and still have flowers come up in the spring. Where I lived, I had to lift my hundreds of dahlias one by one every winter, divide them and pack them carefully in sawdust in the root cellar. I treasured those flowers, believe me. So I was like all those little kids ooh-ing and aah-ing through the fields, thrilled and amazed, and especially excited when I would find an old friend variety among the bunch that was still in cultivation.
After we wandered the 40 acres of fields, we visited the big storage shed where one of the granddaughters in this family owned business demonstrated how to arrange dahlias while she talked about every possible cultural need. Many folks asked lots of questions and I was amazed at her knowledge. Grandpa passed away in 2007, but the family carries on with this beautiful family business.
Thoroughly overloaded with dahlia heaven, we were still in for a big surprise when we entered the indoor display, with three rooms of dahlia arrangements. I knew about the indoor rooms, but imagined something a bit like a county fair, with vases of flowers. What an understatement. The huge displays in the three large rooms were mind boggling, huge lush over-the-top craziness, piles of dahlias of every color and type. Hundreds of flowers in a single arrangement and literally hundreds of arrangements. It was a great way to pick your favorites and then go to the order desk to buy tubers for spring delivery. It’s a good thing I don’t have a lot of room or a long growing season, or I would have parted with a good chunk of money.
When we finally left the farm, the sun was warming up a bit and we ambled around Canby to explore the town and the area. We found Molalla River State Park, a perfect place for Abby to run in the off-leash dog area, with many trails along the river, but no overnight facilities. Just north of the farm, we found the Canby Ferry crossing the Willamette River and saving many miles of travel for folks going north. The ferry is free for pedestrians, but we just chose to sit on the bluff above the river and watch for awhile. I couldn’t help comparing the gentle crossing with the wild currents of the Yukon River at the ferry in Dawson City. This crossing took all of two minutes, and the cars lining up on either side of the river had at most a 5 minute wait in line. I love how these remnants of older times appear on the back roads of Oregon. Many of the old ferries have been replaced by bridges, so it was nice to see this little piece of history still in operation.
We traveled home through Silverton, with a stop at on of my favorite grocery stores for a few supplies. Back in camp, we decided we had time for some good biking on the beautiful trails and enjoyed the emptiness of the day use area even though the campground was still full to the brim. No one was swimming, and no one was out on the bike trails either, and the waterfall trail was nearly empty. Abby is pretty good at going along on the leash while we bike, but now and then she gets a bit excited and crosses over to the wrong side. We have learned that if I stay in front of Mo, Abby will try to keep up with me and not dawdle. The best part of this for Mo is that Abby actually helps pull her up the steep parts of the trail! I finally said, “My turn to have Abby, this hill is steep”! We switched, and I couldn’t believe just what a difference she made. Mush! Abby!!
Home to camp and grilled veggies and another beautiful campfire.
The rest of the dahlia photos are linked here
Tomorrow: We meet Russ and Donna and hike the Mackenzie River waterfalls