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Centenarian 'Dahlia Queen' reigns over annual show

DAVID F. ASHTON - Portlands Dahlia Queen Myrtle Bloomfield shows two of her husbands hybridized varieties, Half A and Myrtles Folly. At the end of August, 100-year-old Myrtle Bloomfield will be leaving her “castle” in the Foster-Powell neighborhood temporarily, to become Portland’s “Dahlia Queen” at the American Dahlia Society show taking place in historic Oaks Amusement Park.

Myrtle isn’t treated like royalty solely because of her age. She helped her husband Bob Bloomfield, who passed away six years ago, to grow and breed these flowers starting in 1953.

By 1963, 1,000 dahlias grew in their back yard, and even though they kept cutting them back, the garden now features about 1,500 plants.

She considers herself a true “local”, having been raised just three streets away from what is now her long-time home. “Back then, they called this ‘the country’ – two stumps this side of Mount Hood! The streets weren’t paved back then. I went to Kellogg Elementary School, then on to Franklin High School, and then to Portland Polytechnic,” Myrtle recalled for THE BEE.

“What got my interest in dahlias started was my husband,” Myrtle confessed. “We were married for 67 years. You either join him in his interests, or lose your man; that’s the way I always felt about it.”

They married after a seven-year courtship, and then their mutual obsession with dahlias began. “When we got home for work, we tilled the ground with shovels.”

But, they did more than grow flowers from seeds, they became well-known for their hybridizing of the plants. “You can plant 1,000 seeds, and might get two or three worth hybridizing and keeping,” Myrtle explained. “Then you hope that they make tubers, so you can do it again next year, and get the same thing from the tubers. It can be a three or four year process.”

For years, Bob was connected with Swan Island Dahlias, the largest grower in the United States, because of the beautiful and unusual varieties he created.

When he died, Myrtle explored the potting shed in the back yard, and discovered some 50 journals Bob had written, in which he kept track of his hybridizing experiments.

“One of the best things about being with the local club is that it keeps everyone interested,” Myrtle mused. “In addition to swapping plant cuttings, it’s social time for those who go.”

Bob made and distributed thousands of cuttings of a variety he named “Myrtle’s Folly”. Introduced in 1998, and now sold to gardeners everywhere by Swan Island Dahlias, it has a fuzzy bloom with the unusual coloring of mauve purple blending to orange.

You can meet Myrtle, view “Myrtles Folly”, and look at hundreds of other dahlias August 27-28 at the Portland Chapter of American Dahlia Society’s 88th annual show, starting at 10 a.m. each day at Oaks Park’s Dance Pavilion. Experts will be on hand to answer questions about dahlia growing. It’s free to the public.

The Oaks Amusement Park is accessed northward from the foot of S.E. Spokane Street in Sellwood, at 7805 S.E. Oaks Park Way.