Let’s talk Dahlias! I try not to play favorites with flowers. Sure, a spring peony can unfurl seemingly unmatched, that is until I spot a dreamy rose moonlighting as a perfumed pillow of petals. Oh wait, would you take a look at that lily, such stature, such fragrance, such gradations in color. Yep for me, picking a favorite flower is a lot like picking a favorite ice cream flavor, slice of pie or work of art. So many options, so little time.
But this time of year (late summer), the dahlias flatten the competition, serving up the garden equivalent of the final ten minutes of a Fourth of July fireworks display. The show’s colorful, varied, dramatic, bombastic, and stands alone as other garden performers retire early to drop leaves and don seeds.
My flower farm leans heavily on the dahlia as a cut flower, so I’d like to share some of my favorite dahlia blossoms, guaranteed to brighten any day or elicit a little wonder in the beholder’s eye. Some of the grander dames of dahlia-dom are cultivated in my greenhouse, for earlier bloom and later dormancy.
Dahlias planted in the front field weave a crazy quilt of color row by row. Here, I test out many different varieties for stem length, vase life, razzle dazzle, vigor and disease resistance. Because I sell the dahlias to florists and islanders alike, I work to select and grow viewer-worthy dahlias, ones with a little more mojo than your average tuber.
Penhill Watermelon (tubers from Longfield Gardens), one of this year’s star dahlias, is all about remarkable colors and expressive petals. The plant is especially vigorous, too!
Cafe au Lait dahlias (far left) find their way into more bridal bouquets than any other dahlia I grow.
Mango Madness, Purple Haze, Fusiana, and Brigitta Alita (top, left to right)Labyrinth Dahlia, like summer fireworks
I arranged a little still life of Cafe au Lait dahlias for Snapdragon Bakery and Cafe, and placed it in front of a stunning John Anderson photograph. (I’m competing with some seriously good-looking pastries, afterall.)
- Longfield Gardens*
- Swan Island Dahlia
*denotes bulb suppliers I have used and been very happy with. The other suppliers also get good reviews online, I just haven’t purchased from them, yet.
Here’s a great resource from the site Dave’s Garden: Guide to Gardening by Mail, Mail Order Gardening, and Catalog.
That Penhill watermelon is just luscious!–the color is really amazing.
I think your place must be so beautiful this time of year. Do you have to dig your tubers there?
And if you do, how do you store yours?
Susan, I chance it and keep them in the ground and mulch over them with leaves and grass clippings.
the Watermelon was my favorite, until I saw the Labyrinth !!! Wow ! Dahlia-icious !
The Labyrinth is my new favorite, dahlia-icious ! You are the best !
Thanks Brooks, yep, it’s a real looker alright.
You read my mind Tom. I was going to request a post of your favorite dahlias. Definitely plan to try a few of these next season. Thanks!
Ah Dan, your stunning garden will thank you!
oh my, what beauties!
What a wonderful way to begin my day, gazing at the pictures of all your wonderful dahlias! It’s really difficult to pick a favourite, and so the gorgeous bouquets of mixed dahlias that you have so artfully arranged are my favourites. Thank you so much for including a list of suppliers. I’m going to find some Penhill Watermelons for my 2017 garden. Of course in Montreal there is no question of leaving the tubers in the ground – brrr! A great post as always, Tom!
Thank you Sandra, the Penhill Watermelon tubers came from Longfield Gardens, and I highly recommend their tubers. Big and healthy, and usually in clumps.
Tom, your beautiful photos make growing dahlias very enticing. Do you need to protect them from the deer? Thank you.
Hi Peggy, deer do like dahlias, but around here, I think that’s mainly because they are hard pressed to find other fresh supple leaves in the forests and fields in late summer. Dahlias are an easy target. My front field is enclosed by a deer fence, so for now mine are safe.
These take my breath away, Tom! I have thought for years that I should devote a part of my vegetable beds to dahlias and these photos might finally encourage me to do so.
Eileen what’s great about dahlias is you can pop the tubers in anywhere, so maybe start with one or two plunked down in your veggie garden as accents. I don’t want you to go with Salad Nicoise, or apple-cabbage slaw. 😉
All of your flowers look magical. The delightful feeling that must embrace you when you look at each one and know it is all your knowledge, time and love that creatively grew them.
Hello from V and the Furry Gang
P.S. Lots of rubs and hugs for Buddy
Thanks V, for the warm words and kind wishes. Buddy’s in bed right now, sleeping off the irritations of some skin inflammations/hot spots. Poor guy. He loves to roll around in the dirt, in the greenhouse and such activity does not serve his coat well. And yet, he’s still the best! 🙂
We hope that Buddy is better.
The Furry Family rolls around in the grass on their backs with their legs up in the air. It is hilarious to see twelve waving legs in the air. It looks like a synchronized dance.
I am always concern that they may pick up something but how do you stop them from doing something that comes naturally? Hotspots! The Furry Gang sends their concern. They know how serious this can be.
Please give Buddy lots of get well hugs from V and The Furry Gang
xoxo Buddy xoxo
Just to let you know that I am using your photograph of the bouquet of dahlias as my desktop picture. It almost makes the end of summer bearable! 🙂
Now that is quite a compliment. Thank you Sandra!
Brigitta Alita and that variegated red and white variety. Just devine! But hang a tick. Just remembered I’m no fan of Dahlias. Doh!
PS edit whoopsie In Tall Clover. ‘Tweren’t apples you’d bin discussin’. Curious. 🙊🐓
Jacqui, not sure what happened in the studio, but the tape recording got goofed up in final production. Dang it. Sorry about that.
No apology necessary. Bit of a giggle actually😊
I am always blown over by the beauty of your blooms. I want to plant some for myself this year and am wondering when the best time is to plant. Would you recommend fall or spring?
Thanks for any help!
Hi Karen, Dahlias should be planted after danger of frost and soil has warmed up a bit. So buy your dahlia bulbs in the spring, and that is also when the best selections are available. Wet conditions can rot the bulbs, or actually, tubers as they are. That said, here in Zone 8, the Maritime Pacific Northwest, I leave my dahlia tubers in the ground and then cover them with mulch in the fall for added protection against rain and cold. I’ve had good luck with this practice, but should we have an exceptionally cold winter, the tubers are toast. Good Luck!
That is so helpful! I will start looking at catalogs for a spring planting!!
It is great to see your green house put to great, and beautiful, use! What is your winter “crop”?
Karen, winter is a time for rest (me and the greenhouse). Though I do amend the soil and try to improve it for the growing season, from weeding to adding compost, to mulching with fallen leaves to plying the beds with worm castings and chicken manure.
Tom, what do you do about earwigs? Here on Salt Spring Island they love to hide in the blooms and nosh on whatever earwigs nosh on until your lovely bouquet goes to the dinner table and then they drop off for the evening’s Hitchcockien entertainment.Yuck.
Sandra, I used to have earwigs, now not so much, and not sure why? I attribute (though there’s no proof of this) that mulching heavily brings in predatory insects and ground arachnids that may thwart the earwig population. I also use soaker hoses and don’t spray water over the plants and that may have something to do with it, too. Oh and I do have a lot of flower spiders, who sit in wait for anything that lands or crawls onto a petal (including bees). And I hear you, no one likes an earwig in their soup, or on their table. 😉