Dahlia Legacy Project

By the Federation of Northwest Dahlia Growers

Dahlia Legacy Profile


David and Leone Smith started growing dahlias in 1982, purchasing two plants from Burpees. 

They heard about the Puget Sound Dahlia Club being a good source for learning about dahlias.  Since the Smiths lived in NE Tacoma (Dash Point), it was recommended that they attend the Washington State Dahlia Club meeting.  There they met Les Connell.  Les became a key mentor to the Smith’s becoming hooked into growing and hybridizing dahlias.

They saved tubers the first three to five years.   Early on Les had David and Leone visit his garden and showed them how to collect seed to grow their own  

seedlings.  Les would encourage them to just do it and see what they’d get! 

David and Leone lived on 1/3-acre lot in Dash Point.  They started out growing a big vegetable garden, but like most dahlia growers the garden slowly switched to dahlias. 

In 1990 they purchased a small glass greenhouse with power and water.  Their next key mentor, Pauline Fanning, taught Leone about taking cuttings and growing pot tubers.

David dug the holes and strung the lines, and their dahlia garden continued to grow. David and Leone retired from teaching on July 1,1995.  In September 1996, they moved to Chimacum, Washington, where they took over a small farm with rich valley peat soil and a high-water table.  At the peak of their dahlia production, they grew thirteen 75-foot rows! 

The Chimacum microclimate presented the Smith’s with challenges at times.  During their first season, they planted too early and had a late frost.  They tried to cover the plants with newspaper but could not find any rocks to weigh down the paper in the rich-peaty valley soil.  Early frost also hit their show flowers in September! 

Show History 

The Smiths began exhibiting dahlias in 1988.  David had an eye for good form and would stage each entry very quickly leaving Leone with unmarked entries to make the tags. 

Chaos would soon prevail! Leone focused on color.  She developed an eye for color with mentoring from Keith Hammett. While attending a dahlia show in Kalispell, Montana, Keith asked Leone what she thought about the color of a 5-bloom entry of Edna C.  She thought she saw each flower had a different shade of yellow, which Keith confirmed.

David’s approach to judging, especially when selecting best of type for the head table and best in show, was to compare two dahlia entries against each other.  He would then select the best and compare the next dahlia entry against the previous best until the winner was selected.

Gordy Leroux also helped mentor the Smith’s judging skills by focusing on faults that could prevent an entry from reaching the head table or best in show. David and Leone would always provide teaching moments for their judging teams and for the less experienced judges and clerks. 

Why they grow Dahlias 

When asked what their favorite part of growing dahlias was, Leone always like the dahlia people more than the flowers.  David always enjoyed looking at the first seedling blooms of the year because you never knew what you’re going to get.

Leone’s favorite dahlia was Chimacum Cathleen, then Chimacum Davi, Chimacum Troy and Chimacum Katie. When David came up with the name for Valley Rust bucket, Leone thought it was a terrible name for a flower. For those growers who exhibit, David believes people grow too much.  Exhibitors should pick their show flowers carefully and take special care of the plants. 

Personal History 

David grew up in Marysville and Leone grew up in Everett.  The High School sweethearts married after graduation in 1953.  Both continued their education in college and graduate school.  David earned a Master’s in Science and Leone a Master’s in Education. Their love for teaching carried over when mentoring dahlia club members and while working with other judges and clerks.  The Smiths always liked the Snohomish show because it was the same week as their anniversary. 

They owned a thirty-foot sailboat named Noah’s Dove, which they loved. Their passion for sailing slowly diminished as they became more involved with growing and hybridizing dahlias.  Eventually they gave up sailing for dahlias. 

Their Dahlia Legacy 

David and Leone are well known all over the world for their many originations. Chimacum and Valley dahlias are shown and grown everywhere.  Valley Porcupine (NX PK, introduced in 2002) won the Stanley Johnson Medal (for the most higher awards). This novelty dahlia has been the #1 Cream of the Crop the last five years and in the Fab 50 for the last five years.  The seed parent was Crazy Legs.

Chimacum Troy (MB PR, introduced in 2003) won the Lynn B. Dudley Medal (Seedling Bench). This MB dahlia is #1 Cream of the Crop for the last five years and in the Fab 50 the last five years.  The seed parent was Jesse G. 

Other medal winners include Chimacum Pumpkin (P OR 1999) – Lynn B. Dudley Medal (seedling Bench), Chimacum Zyair (MB PR 2009) -Darrel Hart Medal (Trial Garden). 

Stories about David & Leon 

Dave and Leone shared a couple of stories that occurred while growing and showing dahlias.  Leone was approached by some growers from the Netherlands that wanted Valley Porcupine.  Leone told them they can’t ship out of the country.  Somehow, Valley Porcupine managed to find its way to the Netherlands.  A year or two later, Leone found Valley Porcupine in a nursery packaged for sale.  She purchased and planted a few tubers. 

Dave talked about his unsuccessful attempts to get Spartacus to dahlia shows two weekends in a row.  While traveling to the shows Spartacus broke off the stem!  “That’s enough to make a grown man cry,” he said. They also talked about one of their promising seedlings, Peppermint Patty, that was featured on the cover of Dahlias of Today as it was close to being released.  Unfortunately, the flower reverted in the trial garden and looked more like Spartacus.  Gordy Leroux and Madeline Senior tried to help fix the flower, but that was the end of Peppermint Patty! 

Significant Blooms 

Other dahlias include: Chimacum Sam 2006; Chimacum Topaz 1996; Chimacum Wendy 2008; Chimacum Cathleen 2006; Chimacum Nadjae 2009; Chimacum Julia 2000; Chimacum Del Blomma 2009; Valley Rust Bucket 2004; Chimacum Katie 2001; and Chimacum Davi 2008; Chimacum Night 2010; Chimacum Caleb 2004 Chimacum Harvest Moon 2005; Chimacum Jill 2000; Chimacum Kahlea 2009; Chimacum Les C 2008;  Chimacum Luke 2007; Chimacum Peggy 2011; Chimacum Sunrise 1995; Valley Alikat 2017; Valley Blush 1994; Valley CJ 1998;  Valley Dawn 1995;  Valley Evening Glow 2015;  Valley Glow 2005;  Valley Meringue 1997;  Valley Pop 1997; Valley Redhead 2007; Valley Sunbeam 1997; Valley Tawny 2007. 

Awards and Recognition 

In 2011, David and Leone were inducted into the Federation of Northwest Dahlia Growers Hall of Fame for their many years of contributions to the Federation and the American Dahlia Society.  For many years they taught the candidate judges class and encouraged many NW Federation members to go on to become senior judges. 

The Smiths also helped the ADS by being on the Classification Committee, which requires extra work at local shows assuring a dahlia meets the true definition of type and form.  The Smiths also presented several programs during Spring and Summer NW Federation workshops.  They both loved to teach about growing dahlias! 

In 2014, David and Leone were presented the American Dahlia Society President’s Award given to individuals who have gone far beyond being simply interested in dahlias. This special award identifies people who have seriously promoted the dahlia, and who have been especially supportive of the community of dahlia lovers. Thanks for all you have given us! 

Where are they Today 

David and Leone now live in a Port Townsend assisted living facility.  They have retired from dahlia exhibition but still grow a few dahlias in a raised bed at their facility.  Their son Matt has taken over the dahlia farm. 

Hall of Fame – Nomination

David and Leone Smith

2011 Nominees

Federation of Northwest Dahlia Growers Hall of Fame

David and Leone Smith began exhibiting their dahlias in 1988 and have been a moving force in the Federation ever since. For many years they taught the candidate judges class and gave many of us a great foundation to go on to become senior judges. They also did the incredibly difficult job of judges evaluation with great care about the difficult issue of keeping judges current — and also keeping them judging. The Smiths also helped the ADS by being on the Classification Committee which makes much extra work at local shows and requires trying to get a deciding vote with other members. The Smiths have, over the years, given many an enlightening program at the Federation workshops. They are teachers by career and have never stopped helping teach the of growing dahlias whenever they were asked.

David and Leone are well known all over the world for their many originations. Chimacum dahlias are shown and grown everywhere as are many of their Valley dahlias. Chimacum Troy, Chimacum Topaz, and Chimacum Katie are just a few. In addition, they originated Valley Porcupine which is different from most other dahlias. They have also originated some of the very best-formed ball dahlias that there are.

For many years, the Smiths were members of Washington State Dahlia Society while they lived in the Tacoma area. Their involvement with the local club, the Federation, and ADS has always been about promoting the dahlia. Since they moved to Chimacum after retiring from teaching they are members of the Kitsap County Dahlia Society, where they are also involved with club matters.

We believe that David and Leone Smith are exactly what the Federation of Northwest Dahlia Growers Hall of Fame is all about.




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