They make my dahlia

Andrew Mathieson
The last of the buses finally pulls out of the gravel driveway and for another year Australia’s largest dahlias farm can breathe a sigh of relief.
Thousands of visitors for the past two months have been roaming among Jenny Parish’s 2350 dahlia varieties that make up more than 20,000 of the flowers in season on the family’s Winchelsea property.
“It’s good to see the looks on their faces,” a reserved Jenny nods as she contemplates her flower fans.
“Some people come down from Melbourne and say they only come for the day trip on the bus and didn’t really like dahlias but they go away with a different idea altogether.”
At first glance, Country Dahlias is a sight for sore eyes – but not just for allergy sufferers battling amid the overwhelming scent of the popular flower.
When the Parishes built their rural home in 1975, one of Jenny’s aunts gave her a box of dahlias to start a garden because the species only took eight weeks from planting to flowering.
Sitting in the front room, she now points to an open patch of garden where a dream blossomed surrounded by a small fence.
Jenny now rightfully calls the remaining two and a half acres of flowerbeds a “wonderland of colour”.
Bright pinks, reds, whites, yellows span the landscape in perfect formation.
“This was never planned like this,” she points out.
“I had collected them for myself and then 19 years ago the little Buckley school down the road had an idea for a fundraiser.
“At that stage, I had 3000 dahlias, not 20,000 like now, so I told them they could have the garden for a fundraiser for their barbecue and Devonshire teas.”
The Parishes decided to throw their gates open to the general public during the blooming season when word of mouth spread.
In particular, celebrity Don Burke provided the farm with a substantial call of promotion on his popular TV program.
Despite the family living off just $50 a week at first, Jenny quit her job at Geelong Hospital to turn the hobby into an obsession.
“It’s turned into a full-time job. Well, it’s turned into a nightmare, at times,” she admits.
“You don’t get to leave here.”
Just like a job, the flower farm compels Jenny to rise so she can start work on the dot at 7:15am. She usually stays in the garden for another 10 hours.
A veggie patch that once consumed the Parish’s backyard continued making way to the dahlias until it vanished altogether on the orders of quarantine officials who objected to the edible flowers growing beside potatoes and tomatoes.
Dahlias are now out the back of the house, out the front, in a display garden and out the side in two other paddocks.
“No one else is doing this,” Jenny insists of her dahlia farm.
“It’s the biggest collection in Australia, if not the world. “I don’t know of anyone else, ever.”
Growing out 15 or so basic tubers, Jenny’s dahlias are staked to grow up to 180cm in a clay soil.
They enjoy one good drink a week from a slow-drip system. Dahlias rarely need water until they are 15cm.
“I have never lost any from a lack of water but, boy,” Jenny pauses, “if we get too much rain before I can get them out of the paddocks then I’ll lose the lot.”
And if Jenny did lose just even just a few, they wouldn’t escape her attention, either.
“I know the name of every one and I know where every one is in the yard,” she says.
“They’re like my own little family.”
The other half of the family hides in the background among his vintage tractors.
Husband Arthur is an inventor of sorts. One contraption he built can help plant 250 tubers in 10 minutes.
Another invention is “The Spider”, which carries Jenny and Arthur in hammocks on the motorised machine as they weed between the rows of flowers.
Jenny can’t kneel any more, has had a knee replaced and has a back full of arthritis.
Not that she’s taking it easy to smell the roses in this garden full of dahlias.
“They don’t bite you for starters,” Jenny laughs.
“I have only got half a dozen rose bushes and roses get you every time you go near them.”