Remembering the ‘dahlia king’

A MAN known as the “dahlia king” is being immortalised in Armidale show society circles – and his family is carrying on his famous gardening successes.

Tom Hillard was one of the most recognised and respected green thumbs in the New England.

In April 2013, Graham Thomas Hillard (known as Tom) passed away at the age of 70.

His legacy lives on through the Tom Hillard Memorial Shield, donated by the family to the Armidale Show Society to recognise the outstanding entry in the flower competition.

Tom began his career at the College of Advanced Education. 

For 30 years, he was responsible for preserving the grounds of the Old Teachers’ College – a heritage-listed landmark.

He retired in July 2006.

Tom’s flower of choice was the dahlia and he made growing dahlias to perfection an art form.

He grew dahlias for about 40 years, showing them competitively statewide for 20 years.

Tom’s efforts to preserve the colour and vibrancy of his dahlias made his garden in west Armidale a quirky landmark.

For the weeks approaching the New England show circuit, Tom’s garden would be protected from the elements by a canopy of umbrellas.

“It meant a great deal for the family to contribute a memorial shield in honour of Tommy, as well as some trophies for the dahlias,” Tom’s widow, Christine said.

“My daughter and grandson are helping me to keep Tommy’s dahlia tradition alive and growing.

“It was a hard year for growing flowers but there was strong competition at the Armidale Show and it was good to see the family following on from Tom.”

Tom’s daughter, Lee Robinson did more than keep the family in the game.

She won the novice section with a “Devon Cherub” Dahlia (a pink ball or show-type flower with small petals) and became the first name engraved on the Tom Hillard Memorial Shield.

“Dad didn’t leave us much information, so we’ve had to start from scratch in many respects, from the names to techniques, though I picked some up at the 2013 Armidale Show, which was dad’s last,” she said.

“I’ve learnt to be patient and ruthless, in selecting the correct flower to grow to bloom.

“I’m sure dad would be proud that we are trying to carry on the tradition. He was a big believer in people having a go.”

There were up to 30 entries in the novice section of the flower competition and a total of 10 dahlia competitors across a range of experience levels. The Armidale Show saw strong numbers on Friday and Saturday, although there was a decline in exhibitors.

Lee has encouraged more community members to get growing for the flower competitions in the 2015 show.

“To get involved in your local show is to truly be part of your community,” she said.

“You might win a prize, you might not, but you will get satisfaction in that you’ve had a go.”

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