Dahlia Legacy Project

By the Federation of Northwest Dahlia Growers

Dahlia Legacy Profile

It isn’t many people who can get in on one dahlias society and found two parent organizations and another society, but Ed Corning did just that.  He joined the Seattle Dahlia Society within its first year and was instrumental in shaping the organization; he helped found both the Pacific Northwest Dahlia Conference, and the Federation of Northwest Dahlia Growers; and he was instrumental in the founding of Puget Sound Dahlia Association.  It was his calm logic that helped draft and shape the by-laws of the Federation and he was a signator of those same by-laws.  And then it came to wooing societies to join.  At first there was Washington State (a powerhouse society), Evergreen State ( a fledgling society), Puget Sound (just beginning to flex its wings).  Ed lobbied hard for Snohomish County to join and in the end he prevailed, mainly because he was so respected.  Without SCDS the Federation probably would have faded away, but with its inclusion it added legitimacy to the new organization and tipped the scales in favor of the new parent group.  The Federation owes a debt of gratitude to Ed for his efforts on its behalf.

Ed started his career as a teacher and coach on the Olympic Peninsula and then moved to Central Washington, but quickly decided that he wanted to do more than just teach so he joined the Seattle police force where he rose to the rank of captain before he retired.  After he retired from the Seattle police force he became an independent accident investigator and an expert witness in trials.  

He and his wife Helen had two children and they began growing dahlias in 1944.  Ed was the face of their ventures, doing the cultivating, showing, and hybridizing.  Helen did the grunt work of dividing, labeling, and storing.  This was the time when most growers labeled their dahlias with a number that corresponded to a chart they kept.  A-1 might be Hamari Gold.  Helen wrote the name of the variety on each tuber in very legible handwriting, so when Cornings gave a grower a dahlia, he knew exactly what that tuber was.  

Helen was also a force to be reckoned with in Snohomish County Dahlia Society where she reigned as refreshment queen.  She was the one who asked people to bring refreshments to the next meeting (they weren’t done by alphabetic chunk), she organized the potlucks and assigned the contribution so each section was accounted for, she organized the refreshments for the show.  And what dahlia society doesn’t live on its stomach?  She often quipped that we should be called the Snohomish Dahlia and Eating Society.

Ed, on the other hand, was known for his helpful attitude toward new growers and respected for the breadth of knowledge deepened by frequent travel and correspondence.  In his travels he met many of the foremost dahlia growers and invited them to the States, specifically the Northwest, and more specifically Snohomish County.  Many of them took him up on his offer.  Most notably was the most prominent dahlia ambassador, Derek Hewlett.  Derek was a sought-after speaker and it was a real coup when Ed got him to come to Snohomish County.  Ed brought him to our place for a pleasant afternoon and dinner and we became lifelong friends with Derek.  Ed brought all of his other other guests, many from England, to our house for a garden tour and dinner.  Now you have to remember that this was always in summer and we had a huge vegetable garden, so I served lots of vegetables in addition to whatever meat we had.  Imagine my consternation when I learned that my most prized dish — fresh corn on the cob — was considered cattle food in England.  Ed’s friend Keith Hammet also entertained us with his knowledge of breeding.  Other guests showed us their growing tips.

Ed taught dahlia judging classes and instilled his high standards in the judges he taught.  I took a judging class from him and although I never went on to be a judge, I learned what standards to apply to selecting the dahlias I put in the show.  He patiently guided novice growers in what to look for in their dahlias and helped them develop into major growers.  He won consistently and therefore could be a role model.

Ed dabbled in hybridizing, producing such winners as Canyon Midnight, Canyon Park, Caitlin and Lavender Freestyle.  He was very competitive and proud of his wins.  

On his trips, Ed took his camera and his pictures always made an entertaining program for the dahlia society.  He not only had photos of the newest dahlias in England, Australia or New Zealand, but also he included snaps of the countryside.  He was the spark plug behind PSDA’s slide contest, helping to select the best slides of the year.  Roger Walker remembers Ed’s memory for dahlias.  You could show him a slide of any dahlia and he could tell you what the name was.  And you could bring him a dahlia whose name you didn’t know and he would identify it.

Hall of Fame

Not currently a member of the Hall of Fame


Canyon Midnight

Canyon Park

Caitlin and Lavender Freestyle


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