Stonehenge receives a dahlia makeover in tribute to festivals of the past

STONEHENGE received a floral makeover in a tribute to displays of yesteryear.

The Wiltshire landmark was decorated in homage to the annual dahlia shows that once took place on the site.

Site custodians, English Heritage, arranged a spectacular display of more than 5,000 dahlias for the exhibition, which took place from September 29 to October 1.

At its height, the Stonehenge dahlia show attracted crowds of up to 10,000 people, all coming to see the spectacular flower sculptures alongside displays of prize-winning dahlias, cricket matches and brass bands.

In 1842 one of these winners – then a new variety of dahlia – was named the ‘Hero of Stonehenge’.

This year, English Heritage decided to award the title ‘New Hero of Stonehenge’ to a winning dahlia, chosen by a panel of experts together with visitors to Stonehenge.

Their choice of eventual winner were the Jowey Winnie dahlias of Julian Hemming.

English Heritage landscape historian, Louise Crawley, said: “It is wonderful to see these beautiful flowers return to Stonehenge after nearly 180 years, and to have such a colourful element of Stonehenge’s more recent past brought to life again.

“The original shows were an opportunity for people to gather and parade in their finery. The floral sculptures give us a real flavour of what those original shows may have been like.

“The original Hero of Stonehenge may no longer be in cultivation, but with so many wonderful varieties to choose from for the ‘best in show’, I know that with our visitors’ help, we will be able to find a worthy successor.”

According to the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette (September 1842), “the extreme novelty to selecting Stonehenge for a dahlia exhibition, and a delightful sunshine, attracted, as was expected, most of the fashionables of the neighbourhood to the spot. Such a scene of gaiety was never before witnessed on Salisbury Plain… Parties of gentlemen and elegantly dressed ladies were scattered about in all directions”.

The show became so popular that it was necessary to erect a sign commanding that “no vehicles, booths, or standing pitches” should be put within 50 yards of the stones.

Gardening writer and broadcaster, Arthur Parkinson, said: “I am so excited that English Heritage decided to tell the story of the Stonehenge dahlia shows of the 1840s, and can not wait to see which locally grown flower will be crowned the New Hero of Stonehenge.

“I’ve grown dahlias for some time and the heroes for me are the single and anemone varieties, which literally give life to a garden, brimming as they are with nectar and pollen for our precious pollinators.”

In order to recreate the spectacle of the original Stonehenge dahlia shows, huge floral sculptures or ‘devices’ as described in the 1840s, including a giant trilithon, were fashioned by local flower arranging clubs beside a meadow of blooms surrounding the Neolithic village.

The dahlias in the exhibition were grown by local members of the National Dahlia Society. They were displayed in the style of a traditional flower show in the Visitor Centre, during the three-day exhibition.

One Comment

  1. Rita Goldthorp Reply

    This was an amazing event and the local flower clubs put in a lot of work to make it a success. It would be good to have more things going on here

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