2 March 2024

Customers were 'nicking' the dahlias from Brian's shop displays, so here's his solution (and it runs all March)

| James Coleman
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Man with flower in his mouth

Brian Tunks from Bisonhome in Pialligo is famous for his ceramics and glassware. Photo: Bisonhome.

Brian Tunks is famous throughout Canberra and beyond for ceramics and glasswares, which he sells through his business, Bisonhome, at Pialligo. Rather than just arranging the vases on the shelves, however, about five years ago, he came up with an idea to make the displays prettier.

He went out to his garden, picked some dahlias he’d been growing and popped them in the vases as props.

“But I’d come back the next day, and customers had bought them with the vases,” he says.

“I’d lost my props, so I had to grow more!”

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What started as “people nicking them” has become a fully-fledged flower festival called ‘Dahlicious’, kicking off this March.

Brian will open up what has now become a paddock of more than 700 dahlias to those who want to wander through in guided morning tours, where you’ll learn about the plant and cut your own generous bunches.

The month’s program of events also includes a candle-making workshop with Lucian Candles, a dahlia styling competition, and a conversation with a former Masterchef winner about “how to style your Easter table and make no-fuss dishes to impress”, with more to come.

Flowers in vase

Dahlias on display in Bisonhome ware. Photo: Bisonhome, Brian Tunks.

Brian first started growing the flowers after COVID, when he needed “a bit of a reset” and remembered the dahlias his grandmother grew.

“I love the symmetry of them,” he says.

“There’s a real crazy geometry to them, like those spiral drawing pads and things like that.”

Dahlias are native to Mexico and South America but were introduced to Europe after the Spanish conquests. There are 49 species, with flowers in almost every hue except for blue. To the Aztecs, they also had another use as a food source.

Flowers

Dahlias were a food source for the ancient Aztecs. Brian Tunks.

“I bought a couple, popped them in the backyard, grew them and loved them and thought, ‘Oh, my team will love them too’,” Brian says.

The number of flowers grew as demand at the store did, until last year when the nearby Pialligo Estate collapsed and Brian “started getting a bit more serious”. He invited all of the area’s remaining businesses for a weekend-long celebration, in neighbourhood barbecue style.

“The flowers sold out, and I thought, ‘These bring me so much joy, I’m going to do it as an annual thing, but really ramp it up and make it bigger and better each year’.”

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And so, Dahlicious was born. Brian says the best bit is watching people’s reactions.

“I don’t over-style the flowers. I like it to be that as you cut them, you mix them up – it’s that sort of chaotic, unaffected beauty that gives the sense you haven’t tried too hard. People chat with you, and kids will tell you what their favourite colour is.”

He stresses that Dahlicious is not, and never will be, Floriade.

“We’re a small-scale event for people who appreciate the beauty of flowers and the story and process of how they grow.”

Flower garden

Dahlias at ‘Pialligo Commons’. Photo: Bisonhome.

The site, dubbed ‘The Plot’, grew grass higher than Brian before COVID, but to make way for the plantation, it was levelled with mowers and whipper-snippers to become the far prettier ‘Pialligo Commons’.

He describes the area as his version of heaven.

“Pialligo is 10 minutes from anywhere, but still like you’re back, growing up in the country. It’s a really great part of this town, and I think enjoying a renaissance at the moment, with the truffle farm and restaurant next door and lots of other sustainable creatives joining in.”

Dahlicious runs to 31 March at 6/8 Beltana Road, Pialligo. Visit Bisonhome for dates, times, information and pricing for Dahlicious events.

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