ALEXANDRIA, VA – Nestled on a quiet street in Del Ray is “Grangel Farm”, a micro farm that grows among other things, a broad variety of the colorful flower known as the dahlia. The owner of the farm, JC Herz, has had a long passion for growing dahlias and in 2022 decided to share her passion by establishing the Del Ray Dahlia Society.
Herz conceptualized the idea for the society during the pandemic when she was participating in the Growing Kindness Project whose mission was to “empower, educate, and encourage individuals to cultivate kindness and connection in their communities by growing and giving flowers.” During that period, Herz sent dozens of dahlia bouquets to assisted living facilities as well as to her children’s teachers to show appreciation. Herz was overwhelmed with joy from seeing the jubilant faces of the unexpecting recipients. She wanted to share this feeling with others and “bring people together around a shared interest that gives them access to beauty and a way to share it.”
In February of 2022, Herz established the Del Ray Dahlia Society using a Nextdoor post, and the society quickly received a great deal of interest. To avoid overpromising and underdelivering, Herz kept the group small and initially only accepted 36 members while putting an additional 50 individuals on a waitlist. The society is comprised primarily of women who range from new moms to grandmothers, from a diverse range of backgrounds. “There aren’t that many multi-generational activities,” she says, “and that’s important for community connection.”
In addition to sharing her passion, Herz created the society as a way for people to unwind from work and politics and to seek serenity outside the toxic environment of social media. She wanted to connect people to nature for health reasons and points to research that shows how gardening improves a person’s mental health. Herz believes people derive personal satisfaction from getting their hands dirty and appreciating the tangible, not just the abstract. Herz noted that “no matter how many stressors pop up at work, in life or the world, flowers keep blooming. Working in the garden gives you a sense of abundance that has nothing to do with consumerism or financial wealth and that it is an important counterweight to the crisis mentality that feeds on itself.”
Herz is now ready to expand the Del Ray Dahlia Society and is currently accepting new members. For a $150 membership, a person will receive a bundle of tubers and all necessary materials to organically fertilize and support these tall plants, as well as personalized guidance and support from Herz and a jar of Grangel Farm honey. Herz hosts Dahlia Society get-togethers and last year held a dahlia season kickoff with coffee and cake as members picked up their bundles. This year, Herz would like to encourage the society to create bouquets for INOVA Hospital emergency room nurses who Herz feels are “underappreciated and stretched too thin.”
Herz, who grew up in Houston, TX., moved to Del Ray with her husband in 2004 and currently runs a tech start-up company. She named the Grangel Farm after her “adorable mastadors” mastiff/lab dogs, Grendel and Angel, who are well-recognized four-legged personalities in the neighborhood. Herz notes that her favorite dahlias are Peaches n’ Cream, Rip City, Breakout, and American Dawn. In addition to dahlias, Grangel Farm produces various types of fruits and vegetables as well as honey from its honey bee colony.
The dahlia is a colorful species of flower that originated in Central America, specifically in Mexico and Guatemala. Dahlias were first brought to Europe in the late 1700s by the Spanish and symbolize love, beauty, dignity and devotion. They are perennials and bloom from mid-July to the first hard frost. Dahlias come in a variety of shapes and sizes with their blooms ranging from a couple of inches to a foot in diameter. The dahlia comes in every color but blue.
For more information on becoming a member of the Del Ray Dahlia Society, you can contact Herz on her Grangel Farm Instagram account (instagram.com/grangelfarm) or on Nextdoor.