Health issues no barrier for two dahlia growers

Grahame Evans, with his winning entry, and dahlia expert Walter Jack at the South Island National Dahlia Show in Winton ...
Robyn Edie/Fairfax NZ

Grahame Evans, with his winning entry, and dahlia expert Walter Jack at the South Island National Dahlia Show in Winton this month.

Disabilities don't stop Grahame Evans and Vic Patterson from growing award-winning dahlias.

The dahlia show circuit is underway and both men are spending extra time in the garden, keeping a close watch on their best blooms.

Evans, of Invercargill, is autistic and Patterson, of Myross Bush, suffers from post-polio syndrome.

Vic Patterson among his dahlias.
Jamie Searle/Fairfax NZ

Vic Patterson among his dahlias.

Patterson is placing umbrellas over his show dahlias to protect them from the sun and rain. 

Evans uses a tunnel house but also grows the colourful flowers in sheltered areas in his backyard.

Both men were exhibitors at the Southland Dahlia Circle's show at the South City Mall in Invercargill on Friday and Saturday.

Grahame Evans with the tray he received for winning the five blooms in a vase class at the South Island National Dahlia ...
Jamie Searle/Fairfax NZ

Grahame Evans with the tray he received for winning the five blooms in a vase class at the South Island National Dahlia Show in Winton on February 18-19.

Patterson was 13 or 14 when he came down with a fever, had headaches and was sick. That was the first indication he had polio and led to him spending four months in hospital.

According to, post-polio is "mainly characterised by new weakening in muscles that were previously affected by the polio infection and in muscles that seemingly were unaffected". 

Patterson says it affects his legs, shoulder and back.

"I can bend down but not for a long time."

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When it's time to plant dahlias, Patterson gets the job done by moving along the ground on his hands and knees.

"If you want to do something, you find a way to do it ... you get on with it."

Patterson and wife Pat have always had dahlias in their garden, but only began showing them six years ago. They are long-time friends of national dahlia judges Walter and Kit Jack, of Invercargill.

The two couples met through the Pattersons buying dahlias at the Jack's nursery at Northope more than 20 years ago. 

The Jacks owned the nursery, Belle Fleur Gardens, from 1973 to 2003 and a big part of the business was exporting dahlia tubers. 

They had one of the biggest collection of dahlias in the world during the 1980s and 90s.

"We had over 1200 varieties, now we're down to 350," Walter says.  

The Pattersons are retired after farming at Fortrose and Menzies Ferry. Earlier, Vic was a wool classer in Invercargill. 

He and Grahame Evans had success at the South Island National Dahlia Show on February 18 and 19.

Evans' miniature cactus won the five blooms in a vase class and Patterson's light accord was champion bloom in the intermediate section.

Success was sweet for Evans.

"I didn't realise I had won until my name was called out ... I was quite surprised."

Evans, in his second year of showing dahlias, won a novice class at the South Island show in Timaru in 2016.

"I like all the different colours [of dahlias].

"I look after them, water them at night and keep things tidy."  

His 5-metre long tunnel house was bought with a grant arranged by Idea Services - a branch of IHC. 

It was meant to be 2.5 metres long but supplier, Morrifield Developments Ltd, of Invercargill, gave Evans a second option, a 5-metre tunnel house, at no extra cost.

News of Evans' success at the Winton show delighted Morrifield Developments' owner, Gordon Morris.

"I'm really pleased. That's marvellous he's showing his produce."

Advice from Walter Jack and others in the Southland Dahlia Circle have helped Evans improve his gardening skills.

Jack began helping Evans 12 months ago and, every 10 days, he visits the novice gardener to see the progress of his dahlias. 

"I get great pleasure from helping him. His confidence with gardening is building ... there's a big improvement," Jack says.

They originally met through inter-club indoor bowls competitions 15 years ago.

Jack has been advisory officer for the dahlia circle since its inception about 35 years ago. He held the same position with the National Dahlia Society for 15 years.

He was among speakers at a one-hour seminar that ran in conjunction with the South Island show at Winton. Demonstrations were done on vasing up and information discussed on other topics including disbudding and planting.

About 20 judges from throughout the South Island graded 1500 blooms in 600 vases at the show. One exhibitor travelled from Blenheim to Winton in a day, leaving at 6.30am and arriving at 8.30pm.

Judy Laurie, of Otatara, was awarded the top gong for her lavender small cactus in the three blooms in a vase class.

She has been a grower for more than 20 years.

Dahlia shows will be held at Diack's Nurseries' Lorneville branch on March 3-4 and at Owaka on March 11. The Owaka show is an Otago-Southland competition. 

Two weeks later the chrysanthemum show circuit starts.

 - Stuff

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