The Fairfield Dahlia Project
Most of Fairfield is aware of this project by now. But I think few realize how much time and effort go into it. The expenses are not huge, but the labor involved certainly is. I've been growing organic dahlias here since 2007. In the beginning I made a small amount of money selling flowers at the farmer's market, but mainly this has been a community service. Since moving here in '06, I've become enamored with the town and the people. But, as with the suburban DC neighborhood I left behind, I saw a need for residents to come together - to exit from our private bunkers; to break out of the anonymous existence that modern society has imposed on us. But how do you go about this? In the polarized political atmosphere of this age, how do you find common ground? I suggest the common ground ultimately is the land under our feet: in the neighborhoods - in what I call "the Garden Zone." I want to inspire my neighbors to come out and connect with the earth in a concrete way - to feel the wind, the rain, the seasons - to put their hands in the soil, right where they live. To let the land be their teacher. At the same time, they will be connecting to each other, as community members - establishing a grass-roots community based on the common interest of stewardship for the natural environment we all inhabit - Mother Earth. The government cannot do this for us. We residents have to do it ourselves.
Growing dahlias is perhaps the most beautiful way to inspire people to get out and garden. Is it absolutely essential that we grow dahlias for this project? No. Pretty much anything will do: roses, vegetables, herbs, fruit trees. But there very little else that creates such a spectacular display. Starting in mid-summer and continuing until the first frost in the fall, dahlias are the crown jewel of the summer/fall garden. Nothing catches your eye like a dinner-plate dahlia blooming atop a 6-foot plant! It's jaw-dropping. And to grow them organically? It's the pinnacle of flower gardening.
Again, the expenses are not great: fertilizer, stakes, diatomaceous earth, fencing. Water is easily the biggest monetary outlay: dahlias take a lot of watering. But the labor involved dwarfs all this. It takes hundreds, thousands, of hours of hands-on work, from May through November. If you were to pay a landscaping company to grow, say, 100 dahlias for you, and maintain them organically all summer, they would easily charge something on the order of $10,000. I'm asking for $2500 - a bargain - because I'm doing this also for myself - making my own world, my own community, as beautiful as it can possibly be. I'm not intending to create a tourist attraction; rather, I want those of us who reside in this town to be surrounded by beauty. Let's make Fairfield an ideal place to live. And if it catches on, then others are sure to be drawn here.
But when the dahlias eventually bloom, in August, the big payoff comes in. They are so spectacular that people go out of their way to see them. It's a perfect way to establish common ground and build community.
The work involved is substantial. Starting in April, when the tubers must be taken out of their basement storage, and extending into November, when all the plants must be dug out of the ground, not to mention the effort required for organic cultivation, pest control, etc. With 150 dahlias, it can become a full time job.
So far this spring I've potted close to 225 tubers, representing 60 or 70 varieties. I've also dug a new row at the 5th & Grimes location, lifting sod to do so, and started weeding and preparing the beds at C&Jefferson. About 2 dozen of the potted plants are showing sprouts already, so all systems are go. I'm ready to put these guys in the ground. Now I'm looking for some inspiration -- feedback from my fellow Fairfielders that tells me they want this to happen. If you can find a few dollars to contribute, that would go a long way towards motivating me to continue this effort.