Thursday, May 06, 2021

Person of the Week

Dagmar Miller: Flower Girl


Essex Garden Club Vice President Dagmar Miller is putting her floral decorating experience to work for the club as it prepares for its annual sale of holiday table decorations on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 27 and 28. Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

Essex Garden Club Vice President Dagmar Miller is putting her floral decorating experience to work for the club as it prepares for its annual sale of holiday table decorations on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 27 and 28. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

Dagmar Miller knows the truism of the season: If this is Thanksgiving, it is time to decorate for Christmas.

Dagmar, who is vice president of the Essex Garden Club, is one of the volunteers who has been decorating window boxes of stores along Main Street in Essex and Centerbrook. The Ivoryton Alliance takes care of the decorations in Ivoryton.

The garden club has been decorating the window boxes since 1982, according to its president, Pam Peters. The boxes are done as a community service, with no charge to the merchants.

Volunteers working in Dagmar’s garage also created holiday table decorations that they will sell on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 27 and 28 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the park on the corner of New City and North Main streets in Essex to support the activities of the garden club. Raising funds is important for the club since its biggest benefit of the year, the annual May Market, was canceled in the spring because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Dagmar is also working on a raffle to benefit the local auxiliary of the Child and Family Agency, which provides a range of emotional and psychological assistance to its target population. She is one of the volunteers who has delivered three-foot Christmas trees to local merchants for them to decorate. The merchants will then display the trees in their windows and shoppers can leave bids in the stores to win one. Bidding will be open between Friday, Nov. 27 and Saturday, Dec. 12.

“They are three-foot artificial trees, very nice looking, not at all chintzy,” Dagmar says, “The merchants seemed excited about it.”

Decorating with natural materials is nothing new for Dagmar. When she lived in San Diego, she participated in the annual fundraiser for the San Diego Museum of Art called Art Alive. Participants create a replica of an object from the museum’s collection entirely in flowers. Dagmar won a prize one year for a reproduction of a 16th-century painting of a woman in a green dress.

“It was a beautiful painting and really intricate with her hands elegantly folded,” Dagmar recalls.

She and a partner used a mannequin form, creating the dress with different shades of green chrysanthemums.

Dagmar has also decorated for the largest and most famous flower extravaganza in the United States, the Rose Bowl parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California. She worked on the float for one of the local communities, La Cañada Flintridge. Volunteering alone was not enough to become a part of the crew. Dagmar had to submit a resume showing she already had experience decorating with flowers.

The floats are planned long in advance but must be decorated just before the parade to ensure the flowers are fresh. Dagmar says that the design for the next year’s float is actually decided upon shortly after the parade takes place and the flowers are ordered in February, nearly a year in advance.

In the seven years Dagmar was part of the decorating team for La Cañada Flintridge, there were no disasters for the float she worked on. Still, there was one near miss.

The driver of the float sits at the bottom, very close to the ground, and looks through a small plastic window. It’s the only part of the float that’s not covered with flowers. One year, Dagmar remembers, the position of the driver’s seat was just a little bit too low. The crew had to nudge his posterior over the curb.

The Rose Bowl float Dagmar worked on regularly won the Bob Hope Award for the most humorous entry.

Although Dagmar has had no formal training in floral design or arrangement, she has gardened wherever she has lived: a succulent garden in California, rooftop garden in Manhattan, and now a big vegetable garden in Essex.

Dagmar says her name often makes people assume she is Scandinavian. She isn’t. She was born near the northern German city of Bremen. She was studying medicine in Germany when she answered a request for volunteer summer interns at Brooklyn Lutheran Hospital in 1976. She met her husband Wilk there, but he was not a doctor. He was in divinity school, doing his required clinical pastoral education at the hospital. They knew each other a total of 13 weeks before they married.

When Dagmar told her family about the man she had met, she got a one-sentence reaction from her father: “He asked why I couldn’t find somebody closer,” she says.

Transferring credits and academic qualifications proved difficult, so Dagmar did not go on with her medical studies.

“Plus, my English was not too good then,” she admits.

When Dagmar and Wilk, after living all over the country, began to think about places to retire, they visited Essex. Wilk was familiar with the area because he was a graduate of the Yale Divinity School.

Dagmar remembers seeing Essex for the first time.

“I set one foot on Essex Main Street and I loved it,” she says.

Now that decorating for local merchants is finished, Dagmar needs to do the decorating that many other people are contemplating: the annual ritual of decorating her own home for the holidays.

Holiday Table Decorations Sale and Tree Raffle

The Essex Garden Club hosts its annual sale of holiday table decorations on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 27 and 28, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in t he park on the corner of New City and North Main streets.

The Child and Family Christmas tree raffle runs from Friday, Nov. 27 to Saturday, Dec. 12 in shops in Essex and Ivoryton.

Rita Christopher is the Senior Correspondent for Zip06. Email Rita at

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