My entrance into the world of dahlias began last year with a few Instagram posts from various gardeners I follow and it took off from there. Big bodacious blooms filled their feeds, some in subdued pinks and yellows, others in saturated reds and purples. Isn’t that how most things come to be in the garden? You see it and suddenly you’re hell bent on getting one, two, or twenty ASAP. That’s how it went for me and with so many from which to choose and very little dahlia growing knowledge, I jumped in with my hair on fire and learned along the way.
I picked randomly, selecting a few of the dinnerplate varieties that are as big as, if not bigger than, my head. I rounded out my order with a cactus variety and a single-flowered form for pollinators that find the open center far more inviting than the lush, multi-petalled varieties. In all, I had seven varieties thanks in part to a bit of a lucky streak that came my way.
Longfield Gardens announced a dahlia giveway of three Cafe au Lait dinnerplate dahlias. Guess who won? THIS GIRL! But wait, it gets better. A few days later, the dahlia fairy visited again. Halden Garden reached out to me to trial some of their dahlias.
By then, my dahlia order was complete, my garden budget exhausted, and I chose only one. ONE! Can you believe it? They were offering me whatever I wanted and I took one?! That’s like going into a candy store and ordering one dark chocolate raspberry cream when you know you want 10. I’m still in disbelief that I didn’t go for it. And for the record, I’ve never ordered less than three of anything at Fannie May. It just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. Ever.
Since I’d already won Cafe au Lait from Longfield, Halden sent me another member of the Cafe au Lait family, Cafe au Lait Royale, and I like it even more than its predecessor.
I get a little giddy when pollinators choose to hang in my garden. Unfortunately, the big dahlias are not very attractive to my favorite visitors because their pollen is so difficult to access due to the densely arranged petals.
That’s where the singletons come in. Single dahlias have one layer of petals with an exposed center that makes a perfect landing pad for pollen hungry insects. Every morning, the centers of many of the Bishop of Dover flowers were the overnight rest stops for bumblebees. Can’t think of a better place to crash.
On the right side of the pathway leading to the patio sits a rather wild mix of Rosa ‘The Fairy’ with sprays of diminutive pale pink flowers, a mass of self sowing flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata) and Rockin’ Blue Suede Shoes salvia from Proven Winners. Within that mix, I added a few Creme de Cassis dahlias. The flower is striking with lavender colored petals whose undersides are painted wine-red.
I love raspberry colored anything so Diva dahlias were a must in the garden. I had no idea where I was going to put them but that hardly matters. What does matter is that Diva lived up to her name and looked smashing right up to the first hard frost.
Don’t ask me why I chose a red dahlia. Many have heard me profess my dislike for red in the garden. It’s such a difficult color to work with. But these cactus-type Nuit d’Ete were an exception. I planted them as the backdrop to the mostly direct-sowed bed along the south side of the patio. It has a southern exposure and consequently, it’s ridiculsouly hot and dry. I love the quill-like petals and found the shape both strange and sculptural.
Labyrinth was planted next to the Cafe au Lait Royale dahlia and I liked the color variations but this one dahlia of the 13 I planted struggled the most. It had very few blooms but the ones it had were lovely. I’m thinking it was more a problem with the gardener than it was the plant. I’m new to dahlias after all and think my first go with them was quite the success.
Perhaps the dahlia’s greatest attribute is its ability to carry the garden into autumn. When everything else is crisping and lagging as night temperatures dip, the dahlias remain unfazed, churning out the most spectacular technicolor show in a garden at the end of its season. Until the frost hits and everything ends, at least until next year when I do it all over again. With a few more new dahlias, of course.
Following the recommendation of another gardener in my zone, I planted the tubers in containers in April to get a jump start on the growing season. I did a little experiment to see if this added step was necessary in my garden. Check out my Here She Grows YouTube channel to see how dahlias started early indoors compare to tubers planted directly in the garden in late May.
Will you be planting dahlias this year?