Garden Tour: The Additon’s Dahlias, Wickford, R.I.

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Larry Additon holds his favorite dahlia variety of the 2014 season, a Holly Hill Black Beauty.

“The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know,” proclaims Larry Additon, who began growing dahlias in 1969. That year, a friend gave him and his wife, Joan, nine dahlia tubers. At the time, his friend had to explain the difference between award-winning plants and run-of-the mill varieties. But what the couple didn’t know then was that dahlias would soon take over their entire vegetable garden or that they would one day be growing nearly 600 of the plants.

Certainly the duo, who are now both in their eighties, didn’t know they’d become sought-after growers or that they’d join niche groups like the Rhode Island Dahlia Society. But today, the king and queen of dahlias operate a three-quarter acre farm in Wickford, which has become a destination for garden clubs and produced multiple best-in-show blooms. While just a few visitors come to the farm each week, savvy local florists know where to scoop up the best stems for weddings and other special events.

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The Additons sell many of their dahlias to florists, but also cut and display the flowers around their own home.

In recent years, the Additons have scaled back — they currently grow about 250 dahlias in 140 varieties. Aside from occasional help from their son and grandson, the couple is the primary caretakers of the plants. They spend about six hours a day caring for the dahlias, beginning in May through to the first frost in October. “It keeps us out of trouble!” says Larry.

Earlier this month, they began cutting down the dahlias to store away for the winter, because the plants must be dug up and replanted each year. Once unearthed, the tubers are stored in a greenhouse during winter and checked on in January. The planting and growing season then begins anew each March. To a new generation of growers, Larry offers this advice: visit gardens, look at the plants, talk to growers, and ask lots of questions. “Learn by doing,” he ultimately advises. Judging by the striking beauty of their output, the Additons certainly did.

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Larry Additon, 85, has been growing dahlias in Wickford, R.I. with his wife Joan since 1969.

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Holly Hill Black Beauties punctuate the sky with pops of color. They are one of 140 varieties grown by the Additons.

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About 250 dahlias are grown by Joan and Larry Additon. At one time, they grew nearly 600 plants.

Photos by Maaike Bernstrom Photography. Click any photo below to launch the gallery.

Helena Touhey is a writer, copy editor and designer living in Newport, R.I. A naturally inquisitive person, she is a seeker and collector of stories, and enjoys talking with strangers, exploring new places and learning about offbeat topics.

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