Swan Island’s world-famous Dahlia Festival has been canceled this summer for the first time in more than seven decades, but luckily, it won’t be the only chance for flower lovers to enjoy Canby’s favorite bloom.
“It will be a strange year for us,” admits Heather Gitts Schloe, daughter of Swan Island Dahlias owner Nicholas Gitts Jr. “The festival has been going for over 70 years and never been cancelled. But we had to cancel this year due to Covid-19 restrictions.”
When the world’s largest dahlia farm announced in May that the festival would be nixed due to the governor’s ban on large events this summer, organizers had expressed the hope that they might still be open to their fields in a more limited capacity.
This is indeed the case: The multi-generational family farm will open its 40 acres of dahlias for the public to enjoy starting Saturday, Aug. 1. The fields will remain open through September.
Gitts Schloe said the fields, display garden and gift shop will be open every day of the week but Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
The Canby Now Podcast asked about the Covid-19 restrictions that remain in effect statewide, including ones that limit large gatherings and require masks outdoors in crowded places, where a minimum of six feet of social distancing may be difficult to maintain.
“Masks are required indoors, but at this time we feel that with social distancing, visitors should be able to maintain a safe distance to not be required to wear a mask,” she said. “We will be watching attendance daily and adjusting accordingly.”
The gift shop and office are open now, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Every visitor to the dahlia fields this summer will receive a Swan Island catalog, and thanks to an initiative of the Canby Area Chamber, each copy will include a map and flyer of local restaurants and other hospitality businesses — putting them in front of potential visitors during a time when additional commerce is desperately needed.
While the coronavirus has hit most segments of the state economy, few have been as devastated as tourism — including agritourism. With widespread bans on not only large events but also non-essential travel, tourism dried up practically overnight — to devastating effect.
When nearby Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm was forced to cancel its popular Tulip Fest, normally held in March and April, Swan Island lent a hand, selling hundreds of pots of the Woodburn grower’s tulips and daffodils out of its self-serve, no-contact flower stand.
“Our community is amazing!” Gitts Schloe told the Canby Now Podcast in March, after seeing how residents came out to support Wooden Shoe, another multi-generation, family-owned operation.
Swan Island Dahlias began in Portland over 90 years ago, before being relocated to the Canby area in the 1940s. It was moved to its present location in 1953, and purchased by dairy farmers Nick and Margaret Gitts 10 years later.
Their son, Nicholas Gitts Jr. owns and runs the farm today, along with his daughter, Heather Gitts Schloe. Thanks to Swan Island, the dahlia has become one of the symbols of Canby.
Hear more from Nick and Heather in Episode 191 of the Canby Now Podcast, “All Dahl-ed Up”: