PHOTO: Aztec Dahlias
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March 12, 2020

When Kate Rowe chanced across her first dahlia while visiting a local farmers market, she recalls “falling completely and truly in love” with the flower. Duly smitten, Rowe pursued a dream of becoming a dahlia farmer and now presides over Aztec Dahlias, a Petaluma, California-based enterprise that she runs with Omar Duran.

Along with buying dahlias, visitors to the grounds are also given the opportunity to immerse themselves in flower fields that host over 400 varieties of dahlias.

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We spoke to Rowe about the challenges of tending to over 7,500 plants and the enduring appeal of the Cafe au Lait dahlia. We also got a heads-up on changing trends in the dahlia market.


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Dream of a Dahlia Farmer

Rowe describes the first dahlia she purchased from a farmers market back in 2010 as “just a plant with one bloom on it.” When she got home, she planted it.

The next year, she planted three dahlias, then 21 dahlias the following year. She kept increasing until she was looking after around 120 dahlias.

Then, in the middle of August 2015, she got the opportunity to receive some professional career coaching from a person studying the discipline. The advice worked out, and Rowe became a dahlia farmer with the stroke of a pen.

“I signed the paperwork on our dahlia farm almost exactly a year later,” she says.

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Scaling Up In The Dahlia World

“First and foremost, going from a garden-sized plot to a farm is a completely different situation!” says Rowe when asked about the earliest challenges she faced when launching her dahlia business.

“Growing 7,500 plants, I needed to have professional irrigation,” she explains. “I couldn’t water individual plants based on their needs. And I have to water 1,300 at a time ’cause that’s how our field is broken up into six sections.

“Going from the individual care you can give each plant at home to growing them en masse in a field is a totally different situation. I care about each and every plant, but to give that same care on such a scale is completely different.”

Curating 400 Varieties of Dahlias

Last year, Aztec Dahlias grew over 400 different varieties of the flower—although this coming year they’re going to scale down a little.

“It will be just under 200 because that’s what the market is calling for,” Rowe says. “I love all the different varieties. But I’ve found we live in an area with a lot of weddings and the desire for more white and blush dahlias is so great.

“It’s giving the people what they want. I’ll still include some speciality dahlias on the edges [of the field]. But they don’t make sense from a business point of view right now.”

Surrounding Yourself With Dahlias

Along with the retail side of the business, Rowe is determined to ensure that Aztec Dahlias also offers people the chance to wander through fields of flowers as a form of sanctuary and self-care.

“My intention is that everyone leaves the farm feeling better than when they arrived, whatever they’re going through,” she explains.

“I’ve had people tell me it’s healing and it brings them a type of joy they haven’t felt in a very long time,” she continues. “You see just utter joy in peoples’ faces in the field of flowers. There’s something magical I don’t fully understand from being totally in it, like a reconnection to nature and beauty.”

The Diva of Dahlias

Rowe says that the Cafe au Lait variety of dahlia is a firm customer favorite—although “that’s rarely a farmer’s favorite because she’s so dramatic.”

She describes the variety as being “gorgeous but she can be a little persnickety. Like she’s that drama queen where it’s always too hot or too cold and life is never perfect for her—but we love her anyway!”

Follow Aztec Dahlias at Instagram.

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