CALCUTTA - Looking at one of his winning dahlia entries on Saturday, Dr. H. Gene Toot, president of the East Liverpool Dahlia and Floral Society, marveled at the color, form and substance of the flower.
The dark pink petals formed perfect concentric circles around the head of each of the three flowers on display. The dark green stems and foliage, like a painting perfectly matched with its frame, appeared almost flawless.
On the show tag of such a beautiful flower was the prosaic name "seedling" - meaning when Toot planted the dahlia tuber in the spring, he didn't know what variety he was going to get.
Ron Miner (center) takes hold of a dahlia Saturday during judging at the 87th annual show of the East Liverpool Dahlia and Floral Society. With him are dahlia growers (from left) Jim Stacy and Randy Miller. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
"It was a mutation that somehow or other appeared in my garden," Toot said. "I planted something, and this is what grew. I'm not quite sure how."
Toot, 83, of East Liverpool, has been growing dahlias for 60 years, and he continues to be amazed by the flower's seemingly endless diversity of colors, sizes and species.
"I like the variety. I like the colors. I like the challenge of growing something like this," he said.
On Saturday, Toot helped judge the 87th annual show of the East Liverpool Dahlia and Floral Society, the oldest such society in Ohio and the eighth-oldest in the country.
Saturday's show at the St. Clair Township Administration Building drew more than 30 exhibitors from as far away as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Erie, Pa. Bob Romano, of Robinson Township, Pa., was among them.
"This is one of the biggest shows in the area. I brought my A-game here," said Romano, who ended up with four or five flowers on the winner's court.
Romano said he has been coming to the East Liverpool show for 29 out of the 30 years he's been growing dahlias. In that time, he's had several new varieties introduced to the American Dahlia Society. He had 40 entries at Saturday's show.
Toot said dahlias have always done well in East Liverpool - for the same reason they do well in states such as Oregon and Washington.
"The English potters brought the dahlias with them to East Liverpool because the dahlias like the clouds and cool weather," Toot said. "They don't like the real hot weather."
Exhibitors at the show also double as judges, although they don't judge their own entries, Toot said. Flowers are judged on color, form, substance, stem, foliage, bloom, uniformity and something called floriferousness - the quality and number of blooms
Toot said there are more than 3,000 different varieties of dahlias in the world. Among the standouts at Saturday's show was a dahlia that measured 12 inches wide by 8 inches deep-or 96 cubic inches.
"All this is really fascinating," Toot said.