5,000 dahlias at Stonehenge entertain Victorian displays
More than 5,000 dahlias have been on display at Stonehenge, paying tribute to displays dating back nearly 180 years.
They are displayed in a three-day exhibit at the visitor center in traditional flower show style.
Arrangements were made by clubs in Wiltshire, where local members of the National Dahlia Society planted the flowers.
English Heritage has also relaunched the Dahlia Competition – a ‘new Stonehenge Champion’ will be chosen.
Annual flower shows in the 1840s attracted crowds of up to 10,000 people, and events included cricket matches and brass band performances.
In 1842, the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette wrote: “Such a scene of gaiety was never seen before on Salisbury Plain… and parties of elegantly dressed gentlemen and ladies were scattered in all directions.”
The events became so popular that people were told “no vehicles, stalls or standing fields should be placed” within 50 yards of the stones.
Louise Crawley, a landscape historian at English Heritage, said Stonehenge was not a tourist attraction at that point: “You won’t find hordes and hordes of people coming to visit.
“It has been a major transportation route and a local landmark but nothing more than that. With the advent of dahlia shows, more and more people are attending.
“You could say this is part of the beginning of tourism at Stonehenge.”
To recreate the original events, large floral sculptures have been created by nine local groups, including Devizes Flower Club, Winterslow Flower Club and Warminster and Wylye Flower Club.
The Salisbury Flower Club created the 8-foot-tall (2.4-meter) trilithon structure.
Club president Gil Belton said it took seven hours to create: “Our piece is a little tribute to our ancestors in recognition of their amazing heritage.
“It is not small, but of course it is small when compared to stones.”
Visitors will be able to judge and choose a new ‘Champion of Stonehenge’ – in the 1840s, this was a new type of dahlia.
Ms Crawley said she thought they would find another good winner.
She said: “The original parades were an opportunity for people to gather and show off their fancy clothes, and we hope people will do the same this weekend.
“The flower sculptures give us a real flavor of what those original displays looked like, and the original Stonehenge hero may no longer be in cultivation, but with so many wonderful varieties to choose from for ‘Best in Show’, I know that with the help of visitors, we will be able to… Find a worthy successor.”
Visitors will also be able to pose in front of the stones with wearable floral headdresses.
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