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