A closer look at this year’s Dazzling Dahlia Festival

Highlands had an explosion of color throughout town before the onset of fall during this year’s Dazzling Dahlia Festival in early September.

The annual Festival is a fundraiser for the Highlands Historical Society and entails a judged bloom competition; and vignettes set up throughout town using dahlias, native flowers and plants, and props. This year raised $5,000 and HHS Board Member and Dahlia Chair Kim Dougherty said the weekend was a success.

Dahlia growers brought their finest blooms to the Dazzling Dahlia Festival for a judged competition at The Bascom.

Vignette exhibitors were asked to “Tell us a story,” with an emphasis on local history.

“This year’s Dahlia Festival went really well, the weather was perfect, which is a key factor in a successful weekend,” said Dougherty. “The vignettes were very creative and colorful, with everything from a fire with smoke dahlia box, to elephants on Main Street and a bear in Founders Park, there was something for everyone. The use of stories and flowers had humor, history, and high style.”

“Loafer’s Bench…Zoom Zoom” on Main Street by Kirk Moore and Oakleaf

What began as a judged event where dahlia growers had a chance to showcase their finest blooms, has evolved into something that local organizations, businesses, and people in the community can take part in.

Dahlias come in a variety of shapes and colors.

With the arrival of COVID and the restrictions that followed, an indoor bloom competition was prohibited and last year’s Dahlia Festival was in jeopardy of being cancelled. In response, Dougherty and her team came up with the idea for outdoor vignettes throughout town.

“Pickles’ Puppy Paradise” at The Park on Main created by the staff at PoM.

“This year we repeated the dahlia vignettes around town, with the public voting for their favorites,” said Dougherty. “We also added a panel of anonymous judges who diligently worked to award good design, story, use of dahlias, and creativity. They had a very difficult time deciding on winners. They spent hours deliberating, and there were a couple of vignettes that were not recognized that the judges really wanted to mention.”

“Mademoiselle Dahlia” by Jeanie Edwards-Jones. Photo by Jeanie Edwards-Jones

This time around also saw the return of the judged bloom competition, which is traditionally held indoors at the Highlands Rec Park, but was moved to the open-aired patio at The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts. There were 21 exhibitors who entered 156 blooms, which were judged by Garden Club of America judges and on display for the public.

A judged bloom competition was held at The Bascom during Dazzling Dahlia Festival.

Also at The Bascom was a display in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, which was also recognized at the flagpole in front of the Highlands Police Department.

A display honoring the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Dougherty said HHS hosts this free event each year as another way to help enrich the community, but pulling it off is a team effort.

The team from the Mountain Garden Club coming together the day before the Dazzling Dahlia Festival to set up their “wedding Bells are Ringing” display at the Old Jail.

“Doing two separate but simultaneous events was challenging, but with the help of The Bascom, the Highlands Chamber of Commerce, the HHS board, and many dedicated volunteers it went really well,” said Dougherty. “It takes many people to plan and execute an event that is all around Highlands. HHS wants to thank everybody that gave their time, their flowers, (it takes A LOT of flowers), and their talents for the success for the 11th annual Dazzling Dahlia Festival. This is a festival by us, about us, and for us!”

Over 150 blooms were entered into the individual judged competition.

In addition to entry fees, 130 flower arrangements were sold throughout the festival raising almost $2,000. All floral arrangements were made from donated flowers by volunteers who took the time to create the arrangements and sell them.

“Jannie Bean Fine Custom Jewelry” by Lisa Daily.

Dougherty said there were 16 arrangements left after the Festival that were taken to Chestnut Hill where the residents had were able to select an arrangement to brighten their room.

Dougherty thanked all those who make the annual event possible and said plans are in the works for next year’s Dahlia Festival scheduled for mid-September.

Kim Dougherty announcing this year’s Dazzling Dahlia Festival award winners at Founders Park.

“Thanks to the growers and exhibitors that generously share their talents with our community,” she said. “What a gift, between the creative displays, the stories and the gorgeous flowers, Dahlia Festival is a feast for the senses.”

Award winners

“Dahlia Show” individual bloom competition at The Bascom, Best of Show: Mary Dotson, Pompom


Judges Choice:

Best of Show: Dahlia Diorama by Drew English. Pictured at the top of the article are Best of Show winner Drew English for Dahlia Diorama and HHS Board Member and Dahlia Chair Kim Dougherty.

2nd Place: Natives Find their Bearings by the Highlands Biological Foundation.

3rd Place: Mountains of Mexico to Main Street by the International Friendship Center. Photo by Greg Clarkson

Honorable Mention: A Place for Artists by Lisa Dailey. Photo by Greg Clarkson

People’s choice:

Best of show: Wedding Bells A Ringing by the Mountain Garden Club.

2nd place: Natives Find their Bear-ings Among Paw-sitively Pur-fect Dahlias by Highlands Biological Foundation.

3rd place: Even Busy Bees take Time to Smell the Dahlias by Carol Miller and Rebecca Wiler.

Read about last year’s Dazzling Dahlia Festival HERE.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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Judged blooms


Awards Ceremony

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