A Victorian dahlia display has been recreated at Stonehenge with thousands of flowers

A Victorian dahlia display has been recreated at Stonehenge with thousands of flowers

The Stonehenge Dahlia Shows, held between 1842 and 1845, attracted crowds of up to 10,000 people who came to view the flowers, which were very popular at the time.

Visitors to the Wiltshire site can also enjoy cricket games on the field at that time, as well as brass band performances and a dining experience.

Dahlia shows were held for four years until the event moved elsewhere, leaving 180 years between then and bringing thousands of flowers to Stonehenge this week.

The British dahlias, from Oxford, arrived on Tuesday and were arranged into sculptures and a flower meadow by local groups.

One of the trilithon-shaped sculptures (Ben Birchall/PA)

There is also a traditional flower display featuring dahlias grown by local members of the National Dahlia Society, at the on-site visitor center.

One of these dahlias will be crowned champion of Stonehenge, in honor of the victorious flower that held the same title in 1842 and is now out of cultivation.

English Heritage landscape historian Louise Crawley said the flower displays highlight the role the Neolithic monument played in people’s lives long after it was built.

“Stonehenge has a much longer life after death,” she said. “This is still the background to people’s lives all the way.

“At that time, Stonehenge was not a tourist attraction. You wouldn’t get hordes and hordes of people coming to visit.

“It was a major transportation route and a local landmark but nothing more than that. As the dahlias appear, more and more people are showing up.

“You could say this is part of the beginning of tourism at Stonehenge.”

Stonehenge is now a major tourist attraction (Ben Birchall/PA)
Stonehenge is now a major tourist attraction (Ben Birchall/PA)

Historians have used local newspaper clippings from titles including the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette – now the Gazette and Herald – and the Salisbury and Winchester Journal – now the Salisbury Journal – to research dahlia displays.

In September 1842, the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette described that year’s display at Stonehenge.

It reported: “Never before had Salisbury Plain witnessed such a spectacle of gaiety… Parties of finely dressed gentlemen and ladies were scattered in all directions.”

Arthur Parkinson, a horticultural writer, described how there would have been fewer dahlia varieties on display during Victorian shows than there are today.

He said: “I’m very excited that English Heritage has decided to tell the story of the Stonehenge Dahlia Shows of the 1840s, and I can’t wait to find out which home-grown flower will be crowned a new champion of Stonehenge.”

“I have been growing dahlias for some time and the heroes for me are the single varieties and the anemones, which literally give life to a garden full of nectar and pollen for our precious pollinators.”

There are more than 5,000 dahlias on display (Ben Birchall/PA)
Flower grower Andie MacDowell with some of the 5,000 dahlias on display (Ben Birchall/PA)

This year, nine teams from flower arranging clubs assembled sculptures featuring dahlias and greenery including ivy and eucalyptus.

These include an interpretation of the skyline across the Wiltshire landscape, a piece referencing the solstices at Stonehenge, hanging Indian wedding wreaths, and buckets of dahlias.

The Salisbury Flower Club completed a giant triangular structure, more than 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide, that took seven hours to create.

Club president Gill Belton said there was a focus on sustainability during the arrangement.

The flowers came from Dahlia Beach in Oxford, while organizers used tubes, bowls and chicken wire instead of foam to create the sculptures.

“Our piece is a small tribute to our ancestors in appreciation of their amazing heritage,” she said.

“It is not small, but of course it is small when compared to stones.”

People celebrate the winter and summer solstice at the stones (Andrew Matthews/PA)
People celebrate the winter and summer solstice at the stones (Andrew Matthews/PA)

London florist Sophie Powell also created floral crowns of dahlias for the show, a nod to the large hats worn by the Victorians.

The dahlia’s popularity has varied over the years, including during the 19th century, but it is now in demand again, she said.

“In the last seven years, especially the last three years, dahlias have become the flower that everyone wants,” she said.

“They come at a time when the weather may be starting to change, so you can still have dahlias that provide a nice, strong pop of color.

“They are long-lasting and come in many different varieties. All the dahlias here are British plants, which people in the flower world are looking for more and more.

The Dahlia Show will be held at Stonehenge from Friday to Sunday.

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