From July to a killing frost in October, dahlias dominate my garden with their many petaled lushly colored flowers. Except for a true blue, you can find just about every flower color in a dahlia. Sizes can vary from an enormous 12 inch dinner plate to small button pom poms. Bee magnet blooms cover my plants that are excellent for cutting and using in arrangements.
Originating with the Aztecs, and arriving in European gardens in 1789, by 1927 F. F. Rockwell, author and founder of Home Garden Magazine, reported that dahlias ranked in “the leading position of all bulbs grown in America.” For fascinating details on this beloved flower, go to Dahlia Archives of Old House Gardens. Old House Gardens carries a wealth of heirloom varieties of all kinds of bulbs that you can’t find anywhere else.
Easy to grow if given adequate sunlight and rich well-drained soil and plenty of moisture, these shrubby plants grow from tuberous roots, or tubers. Depending on how severe your winters are, they may require digging and storing indoors until planting time next spring. For this reason, many buy new ones every year. Hundreds of flower forms and colors can confuse people about what varieties to plant but I see this as a great opportunity to try new ones every year and also to go back to my favorites. But remember, the larger the flower, like the dinner plate size (7 inches +), the less flowers it will produce. Juanita, a lovely ruby-red smaller flower (4-5 inches), will produce dozens of flowers compared to a dinner plates’ couple of flowers at a time. Gallery Art Deco, Cafe Au Lait, and Diva are my favorites from Longfield Gardens. There are so many favorites and new ones to pick from! Swan Island from Oregon carries hundreds of varieties and I like how they stamp the name on the tuber so you can even see it when you dig it up for saving. You always have the name even if your tags fade in the sun. Brandon Michael and Hulin’s Carnival were outstanding selections from Swan Island this year.SunlightSelect a spot that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day, preferably more. If you can grow a tomato in a spot, you can grow a dahlia. Tolerating partial shade, dahlias will still bloom but less blooms will be available for cutting. And to produce more blooms, dead head and bring the fresh cuts in to enjoy.
Heavy feeders, dahlia tubers should be planted in loose fertile soil. Add compost to the soil before planting. Don’t plant in soggy soil; they need good drainage to be successful. Soil temperature must be over 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring and I check this with my instant read cooking thermometer. Tubers can rot if planted in wet cold soil in the spring.
Plant tubers by digging a hole three to six inches deep and laying the tuber in it with the growing tip up. The growing tip or bud is obvious as a fresh emerging shoot coming out of the fleshy brown tuber. Cover with soil but don’t water until well after growth emerges. Plant the tubers about 18 to 24 inches apart because they produce bush-like plants.
Staking can be done with tomato cages or with stakes and twine. Most dahlias need to be staked or you will have a plant with branches that will flop on the ground and have misshapen flowers. Water if you don’t get at least an inch of rain per week and the plants benefit from feeding lightly with a granular or liquid fertilizer of a general use fertilizer, not high in nitrogen. High nitrogen will produce more foliage than flowers. Dahlias like cooler conditions so flourish especially well in the late summer when temperatures start to moderate.
Frost will hit your plants sometime in October or November and they will go from glorious specimen plants to blackened wilted skeletons overnight. Check your weather report and before a hard frost is forecast, cut off every flower and bring it in to enjoy for another week. Once the plants are frost killed, you can start digging around the root ball carefully to remove the shrunken star fish like tuber that is nestled a few inches under the soil. Wash off any soil with a hard stream from your hose and dry in the sun. If you leave you tubers in the ground, I have found that some even come back if the winter hasn’t been too cold. Some people don’t save them, preferring to buy new ones every year.
Cut the stems a few inches above the tubers and store them in a container full of peat moss and perlite. I only place two layers of the tubers in a container, as I find that the bottom layers tend to rot more often than the top. If the tubers are too wet, they might rot, so I check them after a couple of weeks of storage to see how they are doing. If they are moldy, I scrape off the mold and add some dry peat moss. You are going to lose some of the tubers, but I have a success rate of about 75% saved tubers.
Alternative Method of Planting/Saving
Another method is to plant your tubers in 1 gallon plastic pots early in the spring. When the weather warms up, plant the whole pot in the garden and cover with soil. Leave the tuber in the pot and roots will come out the bottom drainage holes. When frost hits, dig up the entire pot, cutting off roots that are outside of the pot and bring the pot inside and place in a cool dark place for the winter. When shoots come up in the spring, top dress with compost and plant outside for another season of bloom. I read about this method on Old House Gardens and want to try it next season.
Another method which a friend swears by is to dig up the tubers and shake the loose soil off and place in a large trash bag, leaving all the clinging soil attached to the tubers. Store the trash bag in an unheated garage that won’t go below freezing. Easy and effective!
‘York and Lancaster’ an heirloom dahlia from Old House Gardens
Pom Pom Dahlia
Bringing armloads of blooms in the summer will decorate your living space for weeks
Pom Pom form of dahlia
Juanita dahlia available from Old House Gardens and Swan Island
Bees love the single type of dahlias because they can easily get to the nectar and pollen
Pam Howden is a beautiful peach tinged with yellow, seen at Longwood Gardens
Cafe au Lait dahlia flowers are in shades of cream, pink, and tan
Two years in the making, the revamped and rebuilt 5 acre fountain display of Longwood Gardens is ready for prime time. Major new renovations that incorporate new technology have energized the old Longwood Gardens fountains into an unforgettable experience.
According to Longwood Gardens website; “The culmination of the legacy and vision of Pierre S. du Pont, the garden combines classic landscape design with art, innovation, technology, and extraordinary fountains. Spectacular events, glorious gardens, live music, special exhibits, and jaw-dropping fountain performances await”.
If you have never been to Longwood, their vision is clear; “To become a world apart, a place accessible to all is the driving force behind all we do to ensure we preserve and enhance this extraordinary experience for future generations”. Home to more fountains than any other garden in America, this is an experience that you won’t see anywhere else. New fountain engineering and lighting technology that weren’t available in the thirties transformed the fountains to the digital age.
Return of the Fountains
I remember the fountain display from years ago and I wasn’t prepared for the new and improved version with shape shifting columns of water.
On a recent humid summer night I got my chance. Sitting in a reserved seat, I had a perfect view of the recent renovations complete with fireworks, fountains, and music. ‘Dancing Divas’ was the theme and the fountains literally danced! Waves of undulating water streams throbbed to the music punctuated by eye dropping fireworks.
LED lights produce colors that weren’t possible when the fountains were designed and there were bursts of water propelled by compressed air and flames of propane gas that flare atop columns of water- Fire & Water!
Designed by Pierre du Pont and first turned on in 1931, the $90 million revitalizing project began in October of 2014 and opened with great fanfare this spring.
Lots of new jets were added (1,340) and the tallest jet went from 130 feet to 175 feet. The basket weave effect (pictured above) was added, a “Hidden Layer Dancer” and “Dancer on the Stage” were added, which means a nozzle moves side to side and front to back to make beautiful gyrations that are put to full use. The fountains did dance.
Daily fountain performances with additional special evening shows Thursdays through Saturday showcase the new fountain experience.
The Historic Pump Room & Gallery highlights the original pump systems that powered the main fountain garden from 1931 to 2014 and gives you a behind the scenes look at the powerful equipment required of the old fountains.
Flower Garden Walk
I loved the fountains, but walking through the totally redone first garden of Mr du Pont was my pleasure of the evening.
A celebration of annuals and perennials and a wonderful dahlia garden that was at its peak in August drew my attention and many photos later I joined my family at the Beer Garden for refreshment.
Returning for Thursday to Saturday evenings, the Beer Garden was a perfect spot to sit with friends and family for wine/beer and wood fired pizza and bratwurst. I have been to a real Beer Garden in Germany and this was very similar in ambiance and flavor.
The spiritual center of the new fountain display has to be The Grotto. Meant to be a place of reflection, it includes four fountains, including one that falls from the ceiling.
Framed in limestone walls, all of the old crumbling statues and carved wall fountains at the main fountain garden’s base, had to be removed and either replaced or rebuilt by craftsmen. New plantings of boxwood were added and the old invasive Norway Maples that have fallen out of favor were replaced with Lindens.
Longwood Gardens is off Route 1 in Kennett Square, Pa., and contains more than 1,000 acres of gardens, woodland, idea garden, hillside garden, meadow and conservatories. In the Main Fountain Garden, 12-minute fountain shows are held daily at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Thursdays through Saturdays, when Longwood is open until 10 p.m., there is a 12-minute show at 7 p.m. and a 30-minute show at 9:15 p.m. The last show has illuminations.
Special tickets are required for the Fireworks & Fountains Show.
Garden Designmagazine known for its in-depth articles and awesome images has a clean and easy to read design, free of ads. Over the years, I have started and stopped my subscriptions to different gardening magazines, but I will never give up this one. I don’t review many print publications, but I felt that this one richly deserved to be recognized. Not available at the grocery check out line, it is primarily available by subscription. But if you are interested in nature, ecology, cooking, design, gardening, traveling or simply beautiful images, this would be the magazine for you. With 132 pages, there is plenty of space to cover diverse subjects that would appeal to amateur as well as professional gardeners. Most garden magazines have brief articles and I often crave more. In Garden Design, the articles can run 10 to 12 pages long to really get an in-depth look.
What flower can reach 12″ across and up to 18″ long? That is Hydrangeas’ main claim to fame, according to Garden Design article ‘Old Reliable, New Tricks’. The commonly asked questions of how to prune and change hydrangea color is demystified in this informative article. These two questions are asked by many enthusiastic gardeners as there are so many different varieties and treatments for each particular kind.
Using Garden Design magazine as a great design resource, and also for stellar articles on plants, containers, and pollinators, it is always sitting on my desk. More like an add-free soft bound book, I welcome it to my house every season for eye catching photos of gardens, design ideas, and great plant selections. Printed every three months, I am not deluged with monthly issues but instead have a seasonal reference at my fingertips.
The design posts will make your mouth water with all the delicious combinations of plants and good design components. My design of a healing labyrinth made the on-line Garden Design magazine when the magazine went on a brief print hiatus a few years ago. The magazine came back stronger than before chock full of garden inspiration.
And the article by Janet Loughrey, ‘Spanish Lessons’, highlighted three Mediterranean landscapes that show the best of waterwise design. I drooled over these images!
Visiting different gardens is also covered and Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens is featured in the latest issue because of the fantastic new fountain show. Perfect timing, as I am visiting it this weekend.
Another mentioned event that I would love to go to is the Swan Island Annual Dahlia Festival. Located in Oregon, strolling and ogling 40 acres of dahlias in full bloom is my idea of a good day. I’ll make it there someday.
A find of a box turtle is always happy but all too rare, and the article by Doug Tallamy explained why. Habitat fragmentation is the main culprit that has placed this species on the Threatened Species list as “vulnerable”. Fulfilling the important job of seed dispersal, Tallamy gave pointers on encouraging these great little natives. Exceeding 100 years old if conditions are right, I learned how to make my property better suited to the colorful turtles.
After doing my post on Watering Like a Pro, reviewing Dramm products like ColorStorm hoses and Rain Wands, the current article about watering tools in Garden Design “elevated this perennial garden task into a real pleasure”. Quality of your tools makes a huge difference in your garden enjoyment and reaffirmed my watering tool selection.
As a beekeeper, I appreciated the article ‘Darwin’s Beekeeper’. Letting nature take its course reflects my policy on beekeeping perfectly. And the foldout on pollinators is pretty enough to be framed. The progression from early to late bloomers is essential information and includes both tree/shrubs, and perennials. Go to my post on Pollinators for more information on what plants to select to attract a wealth of winged beasts to your property- and keep them coming back!
Great Gardens Across America
Probably one of my favorite sections is Great Gardens Across America. Showcasing gardens anywhere in the country, the stories and material and plant selections are always interesting to me as a garden designer.
No matter what zone or coast you live in and what type of nature lover you are, you will find inspiration from this magazine.
Full disclosure: Garden Design magazine is not paying me for this review!
According to Urban Dictionary, Plant Lust is defined as an uncontrolled desire or craving for any member of the kingdom Plantae. Yes, I just added that to the Urban dictionary as it is a well known term to plant addicts and I fit right into this category. Plant lust or envy is a condition with no cure or treatment. A craving or appetite for unusual plants is a common condition in garden circles and you learn to live with it. See what is on my current list.
Kingdom Plantae Wish List
I have a running list of plant acquisitions in the Kingdom Plantae pegged on my bulletin board that I “must” have. Understand, that I don’t “need” any of these. I need more plants like my dog needs more toys! I compare it to clothes shopping when you are not looking for anything in particular, and then spot something so perfect that from that moment on, you can’t do without. When I visit different gardens and see something irresistible, I whip out my iphone, take a picture and look for the name tag. That happened recently when I visited Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, and my plant envy list just got longer. Here are a few things that I will be looking for next year, either seeds or plants, anyway that I can get them!
1. Pennisetum villosum ‘Feathertop’– I am not a huge grass fan, but I definitely have some favorites that I use at many of my landscape jobs. Hakonechloa or Japanese Forest Grass, pictured below, is my absolute favorite grass for shade. But I am open to suggestions for new favorites.
So when I saw this Pennisetum ‘Feathertop’, I fell in love. Yes, it is an annual for me because it is hardy in zone 8 to 10. And yes, it looks like it could seed in after reading the reviews- meaning coming up everywhere. But with its pretty, white, bottlebrush plumes, perfect for cut flowers, these dramatic plumes contrast with all kinds of perennials – kind of how a pretty scarf can ramp up your outfit. This valuable attribute helped give Feathertop the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 2002.
2.Ammi majus or Bishops Weed- An annual that looks like Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids. Instead of a flat umbel profile, the flower is dome-shaped, with beautiful frilly fern-like foliage. This plant also can seed in, but that’s quite all right. I can deal with it. I see this as a great filler and valuable addition in cut flower arrangements.
3. Celosia argentea ‘Sylphid’
What can I say about green flowers? I am a sucker for them every time. And when I spotted this Sylphid Plume Celosia, it was love at first sight. Graceful greenish-yellow feathery plumes sit on tall straight stems. The perfect color to set off vibrant colors in your garden or bouquet.
4. Flashpoint Lily
Flashpoint is a Orienpet Lily (cross between an Oriental and Trumpet) which is an explosion of color, red and cream outfacing blooms. I didn’t see these at Longwood, but love this combination so much, I am going to duplicate it in my garden. Similar to a ‘Stargazer’ lily but with a lot more substance and staying power. Fragrant too!
5. Dahlia ‘Pam Howden’
Dahlias are definitely my weakness. Big, blowsy, colorful blooms that arrange beautifully and draw pollinators. What’s not to like? Pam Howden, a ‘waterlily’ type, is one I spotted and will be planting next year. Loaded with blooms, I admired another dahlia, pictured below, Starfire.
6. Hibiscus ‘Fifth Dimension’
Hibiscus was definitely not on my radar when I went to Longwood, but this one practically jumped up and hit me – Fifth Dimension. Looking the flower up on-line, I discovered that when the bloom first starts to open, it is orange with a silvery contrasting center. As the day progresses, the orange changes to yellow. I caught this bloom in the yellow stage. Go to Longwood Gardens Blog to see a time-lapse video of the transformation, like a psychedelic experience!
7. Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’
I admit I have grown this one before and loved it. But after spotting it in the Longwood beds, I need to add this to my permanent list of annuals for yearly planting. Flowering all season long with straw textured globes, the ends of the petals are topped with yellow stars. I grow these from seed as I have never seen the transplants available in the spring.
8. Lisianthus or Eustoma
Commonly known as Prairie Gentian, Lisianthus plants are herbaceous annuals which have bluish-green, slightly succulent leaves and a large rose-like flowers growing on the long straight stems. Frequently seen as cut flowers at the florist, you can grow these in your garden if you can find the transplants in the spring as the seeds are very difficult and slow to germinate. Preferring cooler temperatures would limit this flower for me, but I would like to give it a try. Great as a long-lasting cut flower and I know this will be hard to find.
There is a movement afoot to buy your flowers from local sources, instead of getting that canned arrangement sent out from FTC with the same old chemical laden flowers. Sarah Nixon of ‘My Luscious Backyard‘ made a compelling demonstration that you can grow your own flowers and foliage to make your one of a kind floral arrangements with very little space and time. Plus, create a thriving business out of it.
As a flower gardener, I always have arrangements sitting on my kitchen counter with all my cuts from my garden stuck into a vase. Visiting with Sarah Nixon and learning about her ingenious scheme of using other small neighboring plots to grow different varieties of plants that she couldn’t fit into her small plot, was inspiring.
More and more at farmer’s markets, I see not only locally cut flowers, but for the many who feel inadequate at making a composed arrangement, take-home arrangements.
Just like the slow food movement, the slow flower movement has picked up steam because consumers want to buy from local sustainable farms. At least 80% of the cut flower market comes into the U.S. according to Wikipedia, from distant parts of the globe, but the shift is moving more and more to cut flower growers in the U.S.
With my recent visit to Toronto with the Garden Bloggers Fling, I checked out Sarah Nixon’s operation and her jam-packed small garden in the city of Toronto. She farms her small plot along with cultivating numerous neighboring plots (with the homeowner’s permission!), to provide her burgeoning florist business with a constant in-season supply of floral cuts and treasures.
Locally Sarah delivers many floral designs arranged simply and beautifully in vases, both vintage and recycled. In addition to selling her cut flowers to area florists and creating arrangements for weddings and other events, Sarah has a thriving business that started with just a few jars of flowers at a farmers market.
Growing all of her own transplants from seed, corms, bulbs, and cuttings, using small portable greenhouses, and cold frames, Sarah can grow things that aren’t readily available at the local nurseries.
Dahlia tubers are laid on top of soil to root in early in the season and then she will take these and her other transplants and plant them out in “divets” in the garden. The “divets” make sure that when it rains that the water pools around the plant and goes right to the roots. Planting out the transplants intensively and staking them as they grow, Sarah can pack a lot in a small space.
Sarah tends to the plants all summer, staking, weeding, and watering, and cuts the flowers as they bloom for her arrangements that she composes and delivers to her subscribers to their door or workplace. The bouquet subscriptions can start at $45 plus delivery for a beautifully composed arrangement with cuts that you just don’t see in a regular florist arrangement. For homeowners who donate space for growing, Sarah gives them a discount.
Sarah’s Pointers for a freshly composed arrangement
As a former designer myself, I picked up some valuable advice during Sarah’s demo.
Condition your cuts by gathering early in morning and placing them in a squeaky clean bucket that has fresh water amended with floral preservatives (follow the directions for best results!)
Let stems remain in that solution for at least several hours to properly hydrate
For twiggy branches, slit the cut ends with pruners so that the water is more easily absorbed
Avoid using floral foam which can clog up cut ends and is a non-sustainable petroleum product; instead add twiggy branches first which will act like a nest to place premium blooms into
Remove all foliage that will be under water; this can lead to bacterial contamination which shortens the life of the arrangement
Enjoy your floral arrangement in a cool spot and add water to make sure all cut ends are under water
The autumn color palette is astounding here in the mid-Atlantic for weeks in October and November. Magenta, orange, scarlet, persimmon yellow, and purple tones are well represented. Here are some of my favorite plants to enjoy and plant for their beautiful displays in the fall.
Amsonia, Fall Perennial
The frostier it gets, the colors display better and more intensified hues. For plantings, if you plant the perennial amsonia, you will have great fall color and a perfect backdrop for the fall show of colors.
Turing a flaming golden color when the nights turn chilly, amsonia is the perennial for fall. I ignore amsonia through the summer adorned with it’s feathery green foliage and starry blue flowers, suddenly noticing it in the fall, admiring the perfect backdrop effect to set off autumn colors.
Almost over night, the feathery green foliage turns a beautiful golden-yellow, which becomes a perfect foil for fall flowers, notably Dahlias and other large-leaved accent plants like Castor Oil Bean. The fine foliage of amsonia is a perfect companion for coarser leaved plants.
Dahlias, Fall Flower
Dahlias, another overlooked plant in the early summer comes into its own in the late summer and fall, lighting up the garden when the nights turn cool. Sporting large bold foliage, Elephant Ears becomes a perfect backdrop for this beautiful bloom. Dahlias bloom for weeks and weeks starting in the late summer, continuing into November with painterly splashes of bright color.
Maples, The Best Fall Tree
If you plant a maple, you will have fall color guaranteed! There are few maples that don’t put on a colorful fall display. It doesn’t matter if it is a red maple, Japanese maple, or a sugar maple, you are in for weeks of brilliant colors.