Sunday, September 29, 2013


D is for Dahlias that never cease to amaze!

 D is for Dahlias that fill every vase!

It's hard not to wax poetic when the air is dry, the sky is a clear, crystalline blue and the sun outlines every leaf and petal with tracings of gold. In case you hadn't guessed, this is my favorite time of year. Not simply because of the weather, but because my dahlias, autumn's greatest gift, are in full bloom. Never has a homely potato-like tuber required so little and given so much. Sun, a little bone meal and well-draining soil are all that is needed to produce towering giants with enormous flowers or more diminutive blossoms better suited to the mixed border. I scatter groupings of dahlias throughout my gardens. Like the pink blooms pictured below, I think they show to best advantage when planted in groups of five or more.

After a killing frost when the stems are blackened, I cut them down and dig up the tubers, storing them in the cool, dry crawl space beneath my office. The twenty or so yellow dahlia plants that tumble over the nepeta that frames my cottage garden came from three tubers I purchased years ago. In May, after dividing and planting all that I can use, I share the wealth and give the rest away to friends.

Dahlias combine wonderfully in the garden with late season perennials like Asters ( the pink flowers pictured to the right of the photo above), Perovskia, Sedums, Grasses, and a host of other annuals. Below I used them in a vase with Zinnias, Hydrangea, white Mandevilla, trumpet vine and roses.

Some varieties like Bishop of Llandaff sport striking, reddish foliage that is a welcome addition to the palette of my hot colored garden. In addition to shades of pink and white there are an abundance of dahlia varieties with orange, yellow or red petals. There are even some that exhibit a combination of all three colors on each flower.

Unfortunately dahlias struggle in my Blue and White garden, where they flounder in the shade or  succumb to the predations of snails.

Despite all my efforts I haven't been able to rid my garden of the hard-shelled pests. Thankfully the creatures, which I refer to as the crawling plague, didn't wreak havoc with the begonias that I planted in my urn.

The tall white flowers to the right of the urn belong to Cimicifuga Brunette, a late blooming perennial with burgundy foliage and an exquisite fragrance that perfumes the early autumn garden. I like the look of its white wands, but it's worth growing in part shade for the fragrance alone.

The ageratum-like blue blossoms pictured above belong to Eupatorium Coelestinum, a relative of the more well-known Joe Pye Weed. I was a bit startled to discover that E. Coelestinum self-seeds with nuisance-like abandon. Still it's fairly easy to rip out and it fills the garden with hazy blue flowers when little else is in bloom.

The rate at which some plants seed themselves about my beds makes me feel more like an editor than a designer. In recent years the look of my gardens is determined as much by what I pull out as by what I plant. Not that I'm complaining. I always look forward to the Nicotiana Sylvestris seedlings that appear in mid-summer. Their fragrant, white trumpets, pictured by the arch above, are a welcome addition to my autumn garden.

I'm hoping for a late frost this year. In fact I'd like nothing more than to be out in the garden cutting flowers until the end of October. I know, however, that despite global warming and other climactic vagaries winter's bite is inevitable. Perhaps that's why I'm so fond of my dahlias. Their glorious blossoms are a reminder that the growing season is almost over and that I should treasure each remaining day.