16 January 2008

dahlia wish list

I spent a lot of time on the subway this past fall looking at the Old House Gardens catalog. It gets rave reviews from Dave’s Garden members, and the bulbs and tubers they sell look wonderful. This is my wish list for the spring, which I had better order soon or risk getting a sold-out message. The spring dreaming has officially begun! (Descriptions and pictures below are not mine, of course; they’re from the Old House Gardens Web site.)

Kaiser Wilhelm (1893): Did you see the “Kaiser” featured full-page in Horticulture this past April? A rare souvenir from a lost age, it’s the most antique looking of all our dahlias. With neatly curled petals of custard-yellow brushed with burgundy, and a green button-eye like an old-fashioned rose, it’s a true 1800s “fancy” and one of a bare handful of Victorian dahlias that survive today. To honor the 10,000 lost to extinction (yes, 10,000!), we honored it as our Spring 2007 Heirloom Bulb of the Year. 3", 4-5', from Oregon.

Little Beeswings (1909): A decade ago when I asked in the ADS Bulletin if anyone grew this relic, I heard from just one person, David Murphy. He eventually sent his entire stock to us with a note: “In recognition of your efforts to preserve old dahlias. Their survival now rests in your hands.” Will you help? With its tiny yellow balls tipped with flame-red, “Little B” makes a lively show. It’s a fine keeper, too, so you’ll soon have extras to pass along. 1-2", 3', from Oregon.

Yellow Gem (1914): Exquisite in its symmetry, this perfect little dahlia seems to have been shaped by a jeweler from Middle Earth. Or maybe it will remind you of your childhood backyard aglow with lightning bugs. Either way, it’s one of our oldest and rarest dahlias, and a sheer delight. 1-2" pompon, 3', from Oregon.

One wishes one could grow dahlias successfully in one’s garden. I usually have pretty good luck growing things, but for some reason I have not had a lot of luck with dahlias. I get lots of foliage, and then frost comes in one night on chilly little feet and sucks the life out of all my plants. I had ONE, count it, O N E over-the-top bloom last year before the plant turned to mush overnight. Sheesh.

But that will change this year, of course. There’s a house on the corner of Cross Road and Route 31 nearby with a veritable hedge of Bishop of Llandaff dahlias every year that bloom from July on. If the gardeners at that house can do it, well, darn it, so can I.

Update (11:45 PM): Just ordered these three plus some Zephyranthes grandiflora or pink rain lilies or fairy lilies (1825); figured if I didn’t do it now, I’d be kicking myself later when I went back and found my first choices were sold out for the year.

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