Dahlias were discovered by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century growing wild on the Mexican hillsides. Botanists were brought along on these excursions to the New World to bring new plant species back to the homeland. Empress Josephine, who had a special fondness for dahlias, first introduced them to France (in the 1800s) and soon they became a favourite in Germany and England as well.
The indigenous peoples of Mexico used the dahlia plants as a food source. The tubers taste like a potato/radish cross. The stems are strong, long and hollow and were used as water pipes.
Europeans did not care for the taste of the tubers and instead began growing dahlias for their beauty.
In February, during a particularly long cold spell, I received a text message from a lovely woman who is very knowledgable about gardening. She helped me in my garden last summer, and occasionally she will send me a picture she thinks I’d appreciate or a video link. On this particular day, the video link was a youtube of Carolyne Roehm in her garden. Roehm’s property is enormous, and the gardens are spectacular. I’ll admit to envying her formal garden areas, the parterre garden, and the vegetable gardens which are amazing. What did surprise me was the dahlia garden and the number of varieties she grows. In the past, I’ve never considered growing them in my own garden. I remember seeing them poking over the fences of the “grandma” gardens in the neighbourhood I grew up in. What I saw in Carolyne Roehm’s garden was a riot of colour, mostly in the warm shades of red and orange…but there was something about these dahlias that had me thinking on that bitter February day. How could I fit them into in my garden which consists of mostly white, lavender and green…
p.s. The above watercolour of a dahlia was painted by Carolyne Roehm. Her creativity knows no limits. She started her career as a fashion designer, then decorated beautiful homes, grew unbelievable gardens, began photographing both her homes and gardens and then followed the natural progression (her words) of painting watercolours of the flowers she grows. On top of all that, she has 12 books that would compliment any coffee table or library shelf. Her style is romantic, with a love of the formal, classic design (both in her home and garden) for it’s orderly, calming effect. Her inspiration comes from nature, saying she is addicted to flowers. Carolyne Roehm believes that any room, regardless of how humble, benefits from a floral arrangement bringing life to the environment like music, scented candles and dogs.
Although I’m not as outgoing as Carolyne Roehm with her love of rich, bold colour, I also want to grow dahlias. I don’t have room in any of my existing garden beds, so I started researching the viability of growing them in containers and was thrilled to learn that it’s a good alternative. I’ve decided to plant three different varieties … a white Fleurel Dahlia, a Bluetiful Dahlia, and a creamy coloured Cafe au Lait Dahlia, (all pictured above) in a row of large pots along the back of my house. This has southern exposure which is the ideal light for dahlias.
These varieties grow to 4 or 5 feet so will require staking. If they are pinched back, the flowers will be bigger and more abundant. I’m happy to have the height in these pots, and I’ll still be able to plant annuals around the base of the dahlias.
The vision in my head looks great…if the experiment works like I’m hoping I will post pictures later in the season.
Dahlias are beautiful as cut flowers. I look forward to having bouquets of my own garden flowers in the house late into our growing season (Sep.-Oct.) when dahlias are at their prime.
If all goes well, I will have fresh garden bouquets for the next six months…lilacs in May, peonies in June, roses all summer, hydrangea in the late summer, and dahlias in the fall.
Dahlias have been selected by the National Garden Bureau as the 2019 flower of the year!
The Dahlia is the national flower of Mexico.