The Stonehenge dahlia display uses thousands of Oxfordshire flowers

The Stonehenge dahlia display uses thousands of Oxfordshire 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.

Dahlia shows were held for four years until the event moved elsewhere, leaving it 180 years since then for thousands of flowers to be brought to Stonehenge this week.

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Dahlias planted on Dahlia Beach in Abingdon arrived on Tuesday and were arranged into sculptures and a flower meadow by local groups.

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Dahlia Beach flower grower Andy McDowell said: “I am extremely proud to have supplied English Heritage with 5,000 dahlias and dahlias to celebrate a forgotten Victorian tradition: the Stonehenge Dahlia Display.

“In the 1840s, crowds of up to 10,000 people would arrive at the cairns to see displays of award-winning dahlias and flower sculptures and also enjoy cricket matches and brass band performances.

“To highlight and recreate the Stonehenge Dahlia display scene, floral sculptures, including a giant trilithon, have been designed by local flower arranging clubs and professional florists.

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“Not only were we asked to provide 4,500 cut flowers, but we came up with the idea of ​​creating a meadow of flowers in the identical Neolithic village on the site.

“It's the perfect opportunity for the hundreds of dahlias we planted in the fall displays that have not yet set fruit.

“It's been our biggest challenge yet, so it's amazing to see all the hard work pay off. It shows that when one door closes, another opens.”

Oxford Mail: Dahlia grower Andie MacDowell

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 carried 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. With the appearance of dahlias, more and more people are showing up.

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

Oxford Post: Stonehenge

Historians have used local newspaper clippings from titles including the Oxford Mail's sister paper Devizes and the Wiltshire Gazette – now the Gazette and Herald – to research dahlia displays.

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

She reported: “Salisbury Plain had never witnessed such a spectacle of gaiety… and 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.”

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 Jill Bilton said there was a focus on sustainability during the arrangement.

“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.”

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 get 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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