Tuesday, September 4, 2012

After years of denial, I'm dabbling in Dahlias.

I was fascinated by Fascination

Until now, my knowledge of dahlias was limited to a magazine article I wrote about them in 2001, and the experiences of my Maryland neighbor Chuck, who planted them every spring.

Most of what I learned for the article I promptly forgot because dahlias weren’t on my list of preferred plants. (They seemed a bit gaudy to live next to my prissy, pastel English roses.)

I did remember they originated in Mexico and were grown by the Aztecs.

 I knew the flowers could be as small as a pincushion or as big as a dinner plate. 
Chuck chucked his collection citing bunny issues

I knew the tubers had to be lifted and stored over winter in areas north of Zone 8.

And I knew this was probably a pain in the neck since Chuck stopped growing dahlias in 2005.

So after years of indifference, imagine moving to an area where dahlias are a  head-turning sight in one garden, and a notable part of local history in another.
Dahlias move from England to the mountains.

The first stop is the resort once known as Hampton Hunting Lodge where early visitors  arrived by horse and buggy. 

High Hampton Inn celebrates its 90th anniversary this year.

In 1890, Carolyn Hampton (Wade Hampton’s niece) married Dr. William Halstead of Johns Hopkins, and the couple honeymooned on the mountain property.

Dr. Halstead thought the land to be the most beautiful place on earth. They purchased the estate from Carolyn’s aunts and renamed it High Hampton.

The couple traveled from Baltimore each summer and enhanced the property by adding exotic trees and shrubs (including one of America's largest Frasier Firs) that still thrive on the front lawn.

Part of the dahlia garden first planted in the 1890's

Caroline Halstead also assembled a remarkable collection of dahlias that were imported from England between 1892 and 1920. A gracious hostess, Caroline invited her guests to pick the dahlias. She also donated extra tubers to Cashiers gardeners.

Today the dahlia garden at High Hampton covers more than two acres and guests are still encouraged to cut and enjoy the colorful blooms.

 Dazzling roadside dahlias.

Heading back towards Cashiers on Highway 107 you can’t help but notice a small garden on the right that is so eye-catching,  your car might just swerve into the driveway by itself.

This riot of color is Rebecca’s Natural Gardens where her dahlias and assorted perennials have been turning heads since1990. 

Rebecca waters every one of her plants by hand, feeds them organically and never uses pesticides. The pollinators love her. 


So do dahlia enthusiasts who travel for hundreds of miles to purchase her beauties and listen to words of wisdom from the Dahlia Queen.

Melody Gypsy and Thomas Edison
I was immediately captivated by a variety called Genevieve, named after Rebecca's Mother. Of course I bought one, despite my previous dahlia doubts. But I had no clue how to care for it.

My first dahlia, Genevieve

Rebecca advised me to dig up the tuber after our first freeze and let it dry out for a couple of days. Then wrap it in newspaper and try to store it in an area that stays between 35 and 40 degrees. 

It’s a tricky tightrope but high temps will cause the buds to swell, if it's too cold the tuber will freeze and turn to mush. Don't wrap them in plastic or they’ll rot.

Even though it’s a time consuming task, Rebecca digs up and stores her tubers each year. Some of them are decades old and she couldn’t bear to lose a single one.

David Austin's Princess Alexandra of Kent
My Genevieve is currently living very happily next to my English Rose Princess Alexandra of Kent.

But cold weather is on the way and I’m worried about getting the winter storage bit right. I’ve fallen in love with this dahlia and don’t want to lose her.

I guess old gardeners can learn new tricks.

Photos © Lynn Hunt


Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

There are some varieties of dahlias that can stay in the ground over the winter in borderline zones. I have not grown them either. I remember my grandfather digging them up every year. (lived in Pittsburgh PA) I might try to add some next year....though I can't guarantee I would remember to dig them up.

Jason said...

I like the way some dahlias look, though not the ones with a gazillion petals, more the simpler ones with colors like deep red. Like that 'Bishop of Lsomething'. But the whole lifting up the tubers and storing them during winter seems like its more trouble than its worth.

Lynn Hunt said...

Janet, Rebecca told me some folks here don't dig theirs up but she doesn't want to take any chances. Since I only have one it won't be a big deal, but I don't want to be dealing with dozens!

Lynn Hunt said...

Jason, I think I'm with you on "too much trouble" but since I only have one I can see how it goes. Also I'll be interested to see how she behaves next year. Roses will always be number one with me but I'm willing to give this dahlia a try. I don't like the gaudy ones either!

Sunil Patel said...

Hi Lynn, there's no doubt that dahlias are beautiful and sometimes, I do have a longing to buy a load for my own, especially when I see them in other gardens, looking so lovely. However, I always stop myself from ordering them as they tend not to be hardy and rot easily in wet winter soil. I can't be doing with digging them out of the ground every year and over wintering them. Until there are a good selection of dahlias that I can leave outside in the ground, I'll have to continue to admire other peoples'.

Lynn Hunt said...

Sunil, that's why I am just trying one for the moment. I have better things to do than dig up tubers and I have no place to store them. They are like Rebecca's children so the extra work is no hardship. But many of them are really pretty -- that purple Thomas Edison is gorgeous.

The Principal Undergardener said...

A sharp stick? In the eye? Isn't that just a little much of a threat? Why not just say that you have a flashlight and a trowel and you know where they live?

HELENE said...

I live in London, UK and I have 5 mature dahlias that I never lift. They grow happily around a huge conifer and the roots of the tree helps to keep the dahlia tubers from rotting over winter. It means a bit more watering in the hottest part of the summer, but as I don’t have anywhere to store tubers, and can’t be bothered with the whole lifting thing, this works great for me and the dahlias.

Lynn Hunt said...

Ha ha Neal, I do know where YOU live :)

Lynn Hunt said...

Hi Helene,
As I mentioned to Janet, the dahlia guru lady said some people leave theirs in the ground up here in the mountains with no problem. I might give it a try and see what happens because I don't have anywhere to store tubers, and I can't meet the constant temperature requirements. If mine doesn't make it, I'll just have to pay another 17£ next year!

Fairegarden said...

Hi Lynn, very nice article! I have been growing dahlias, leaving them in the ground in my zone 7a garden for 4 years now. They are planted in a large wooden box I made, 8 feet x 3 feet x 2 feet tall. Half of the box was filled with chopped up leaves in the fall, the rest with a mix of soil conditioner and composted bagged manure. It faces southwest and is protected on the north and east by large evergreens. It is about the drainage, I believe. So far, so good.

Les said...

I grow a couple of the Bishop's Children series and they are all hardy, don't flop and have great foliage. They rest of mine are just a mess, acting more like ground covers. I think most are best rowed out like corn, staked and used in the cutting garden.

Lynn Hunt said...

Les, I am not familiar with the Bishop's Children dahlias but will find out more about them. I noticed many of the varieties at High Hampton and Rebecca's were staked. The rains here beat them down and it is sad to see them hugging the ground.

Mary Pellerito said...

I do love dahlias but I do not grow them. I would plant them as an annual here in Michigan since I don't think I am disciplined enough to dig the bulbs up and store them every winter.

Rose said...

I think you made an excellent choice, Lynn, though 'Fascination' is a beauty, too. I've only tried dahlias once or twice and didn't have much luck with them. I also tend to forget things that have to be dug up every winter until it's too late. These are all so gorgeous, I might have to give dahlias another try.

Mr Paul said...

It has been sometime since we grown Dahlias in our garden but this wonderful post is encouraging us to put them on our list for next year.

Lynn Hunt said...

I think I will get distracted this fall and forget to store Genevieve. Lots of gardeners here in the mountains don't dig them up and apparently 2/3 survive. That is still quite a loss when you think of the cost of replacing them!

Lynn Hunt said...

Rosalie, I agree Fascination is lovely so depending on how I do with my first dahlia, I might add her to the garden next year!

Lynn Hunt said...

Hi Magical Christmas and welcome! Yesterday I passed Rebecca's Garden and noticed she'd already dug up her small field of dahlias. I got tired just thinking of all that work, so maybe I'll stick to just one or two!

Lynn said...

France's, I did reply to your kind comment but it seems to have disappeared! Anyway I did say your box sounds perfect. We have good drainage (sometimes too good) so maybe my tuber would survive. We'll see!

Randy said...

They come in so many interesting shapes and colors. Some do okay in my garden and others don’t come back. I have a lot of trial and error when it comes to my garden.

Lynn Hunt said...

Randy I have decided to leave my one dahlia in the ground over the winter as an experiment to see if it comes back. But like you I am amazed by the variety of colors and bloom forms.

Post a Comment