a floral alphabet ~ dahlias
I was given the most wonderful gift a few weeks ago. Mindy, the very clever talent behind Twig & Arrow, a floral and event stylist here in Wellington, messaged me on Instagram. “I have an overflow of dahlias from one of my events that I can’t use. Would you like them?” Ah, would I?!! And next thing I know, Mindy has dropped off not just a few dahlias, but a bucket full of the most beautiful, vibrant mix of dahlias. Amazing red cactus dahlias, striped with white, fluffy fimbriated crimson flowers on long tall stems, delicate burnt orange flowers with huge petals, and a pretty magenta dahlia. The colour clash in the bucket only making them look more beautiful. (And thank you Instagram for connecting me to a fellow dahlia lover, kind enough to think of me for her dahlia overload.)
I’m not sure how I came to love dahlias as much as I do. They are my favourite floral frippery. I know that until just a few years ago they were very out of favour – branded as garish and old-fashioned, and grown by no-one except my Nana and co-horts of her era. The only time you saw one was on a road trip through small town New Zealand, when you occasionally spotted a dahlia growing in an old-fashioned row along a fenceline. And this image only reinforced how out of favour dahlias were.
But I remember by chance at the garden centre one day picking up a tuber. The picture of the flower that this gnarly looking tuber was supposedly going to grow was so in contrast to the thing I held in my hand that I felt compelled to plant it and see.
And when, a few months later, I picked my first bloom from the now metre high plant, I couldn’t believe how stunning it was. Fuchsia pink with a multitude of soft spiky petals, it was so unbelievably perfect. And it flowered prolifically. The more I picked, the more it rewarded me with these gorgeous flowers. I was hooked.
The following year, after a little virtual digging around on the internet, I found a local dahlia grower, and placed an order for several different dahlia varieties. Of course, I knew next to nothing about them, or how to grow them or care for them, but being the sort of all or nothing gardener that I am, in to the ground they went, and the rest is history.
History with a very steep learning curve. Oh yes, there have been good years and bad. Some years the bugs have loved the dahlias more than I have. Loved them to death like a plague. Oh, such sadness those seasons were. I cried as I could see them spreading from plant to plant – the fact that I have so many varieties crammed in to a small space making it very easy for those bugs to jump plant, and each plant in succession turning brown and dying. Last season I culled and quarantined, and boosted my soil health, and so this season, although a little slow, I have been rewarded with a steady, if not always super productive show of blooms.
Enough to keep my vases filled and showy, and me happy. And here we are well in to April, and they are still going. This is the longest season I can remember, helped I am sure by the fabulous Indian summer Wellington has had. Many of my flowery books have always talked about dahlias as an autumn flower, and yet until this year, I’ve always thought of them as summer blooms. Remembering that I had my first flowers this season in December, and still being able to pick a bunch of happiness in late April, one would have to say that four months of picking is nothing short of wonderful!
Do I have a favourite? Yes, I just can’t decide which one! Some days it is the more vibrant, super showy, blousey varieties, and other days I prefer the moodier, darker colours, so dark they’re almost black. Cactus, pom pom, ball, collarette or decorative, I love them all. And mostly, I just enjoy how lovely my small garden looks, and love nothing more than wandering around with my seccateurs picking gorgeous flowers.
I think my Nana would laugh could she see me gah-ing as much as I do over my Nana flowers. And I wish this season would never end!
(photography and styling by Amanda Holland for perfectly imperfect living)