Home Archives December 2009 Winter’s back, but spring is in the mail

Winter’s back, but spring is in the mail

| Print |  Email
Sunday, November 22, 2009
flowers1

Swan Island Dahlias grow in Canby; the company was named after a former warehouse on Swan Island.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SWAN ISLAND DAHLIAS

Dahlias are odorless, but famously big and brightly colored; their vibrant, spiky blooms tend to dominate a garden. But the Northwest frost shrivels them completely, and at Swan Island Dahlias in Canby, where there are 40 acres of the flowers, it's as if a light has gone out.

But consolation for gardeners is on its way. Next month, 60,000 dahlia enthusiasts will receive Swan Island's spring retail catalog, which presents about 350 varieties of dahlias in full bloom, in full color. Swan Island has printed a color catalog every year since 1950 and at 68 pages, it's the most comprehensive dahlia catalog in the industry. "The catalog is our specialty. Nobody competes with this catalog," co-owner Nick Gitts says.

Nobody really competes with Swan Island's dahlias, either. The company has the largest farm in the country by about 35 acres. The Swan Island Annual Dahlia Festival in August draws more than 30,000 visitors over two weekends every summer. The farm has made it into the pages of more than two dozen newspapers from as far away as the East Coast and Canada, and was even plugged once by a guest on Martha Stewart's TV show. (Stewart loves dahlias; she calls them "dazzling." The Gittses have their fingers crossed for the day she comes to visit.)

Gitts' parents bought Swan Island Dahlias from its original owners in 1963, when Gitts was 12 years old. The farm has blossomed, doubling its acreage and expanding its wholesale business, which now accounts for almost 15% of revenue. Business was bolstered by advances in dahlia genetics, which extended the life of the cut flowers from two days to five. Martha Stewart's dahlia evangelism also has boosted sales, Gitts says.

Gitts used to put the catalog together unaided, sequestered in his room; now a computer program and a staff of family members lighten the load. He photographs the flowers and his wife, Linna, writes the descriptions: "festive," "reliable," "prolific," "...a late bloomer, but well worth the wait." The rest of the family helps with layout and the brainstorming of names for the new varieties: "Sheer Heaven," "Bluetiful," and "Blah Blah Blah," are among the 2010 introductions. All the Gittses have flowers named after them, individually, as in "Nicholas," "Heather Feather," and "Jennifer's Wedding," and together, as with "Gitts Attention," "Gitts Perfection," and "Gitts Respect."

The 2010 catalog is already available on Swan Island's website, dahlias.com. The Gittses started publishing the catalog online 12 years ago, and web orders now generate a third of sales, creeping toward half. This year, the Gittses dropped their ad in Martha Stewart Living and spent the money on AdWords, Google's online advertising service. Swan Island's revenue — about $1.5 million — has been growing between 5% and 10% every year, which Gitts says is largely due to the Internet.

Sounds like danger for the dead tree catalog, which has mostly older readers. But it will be hard for Gitts to let go if the day comes to go exclusively digital. "I've heard others say they're going to quit printing their catalog. But a lot of people want that paper book," he says. "It's our prize to be able to show off." They send Martha Stewart a copy every year. 

ADRIANNE JEFFRIES
 

Comments   

 
Christine
0 #1 WebsiteChristine 2009-12-07 13:39:20
Their website is dahlias.com
Quote | Report to administrator
 
 
Adrianne Jeffries
0 #2 Dahlias.comAdrianne Jeffries 2009-12-07 14:49:31
Thank you, Christine! We regret the error and we've fixed it above.
Quote | Report to administrator
 

More Articles

Powerlist: Credit Unions

June 2014
Thursday, May 29, 2014
BY KIM MOORE

A conversation about credit unions with the CEOs of Advantis Credit Union and OSU Federal Credit Union, followed by June's Powerlist.


Read more...

Driving green

June 2014
Thursday, May 29, 2014
BY KIM MOORE

Transportation accounts for the second-largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S. (28% in 2012), and the use of renewable fuels, such as biodiesel and ethanol, is booming in light of state and national programs to make transportation fuels cleaner.


Read more...

Why I became an Oregon angel investor

Guest Blog
Monday, July 14, 2014
AngelInvestBY TERRY "STARBUCKER" ST. MARIE

I really didn’t know that much about angel investing, but I did know a lot about the entrepreneurial spirit.


Read more...

Green Your Workplace seminar held at Nines Hotel

News
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

GreenYourWorkplacelogoOBMOregon Business magazine's  "Green Your Workplace" seminar featured a panel of sustainability experts from small, medium and large organizations. The seminar drew 70 people and took place in the Nines Hotel this morning.


Read more...

The role of higher education as K-12 underperforms

Contributed Blogs
Friday, May 30, 2014
ThumbChalkboardBY DEBRA RINGOLD | OB GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

Since 1970 the performance of our public education system has steadily deteriorated.


Read more...

Oregon Business wins awards

News
Monday, June 30, 2014

ASBPEOregon Business magazine won two silver awards for excellence in writing in the National American Society of Business Publication Editors Western region competition.


Read more...

Timber town

June 2014
Thursday, May 29, 2014
BY LEE VAN DER VOO

A forest collaboration saves the Rough & Ready Lumber Company.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS