I have grown dahlias - not very well - for years. Inspired by a huge bouquet in my friend Ellen's kitchen, I was thrilled when she told me how easy they are to grow...ha. For her. She has deep rich soil and endless patience.
My first attempts came roaring up and keeled over, the stems covered with buds broken off. I felt reproached. And responsible. So I staked... and I got a few flowers.
Ellen told me her dahlias get bigger every year. I left them in the ground over the winter, looking forward to armfuls of flowers the next year. Bad idea number two. We don't freeze, but we have sticky clay soil, and the next spring there was not one dahlia left. Well, one - the indefatigable Thomas Edison, photos in prior posts. He is the one thing that kept me from giving up, and every time I see those purple flowers waving above the foliage I feel better. About everything.
The next year I tried digging them all up in winter ...they were already mush.
I cried. Note to self: dig before the rains come.
The following year I dug them in fall, before the rains came. Laid them carefully wrapped in newspapers in wooden crates in the garage...
Better. But lots died in storage, and lots didn't sprout in spring.
I have tried staking. I have pinched - apparently not enough, for the few dahlias I haven't managed to kill (Thomas and one other nameless hot pink) are taller than I can reach. And I'm tall.
So when my friend Meher and I had the chance to visit The Happy Dahlia Farm in Petaluma I was - you guessed it - happy.
It's called the Happy Dahlia Farm for good reason. Long rows of gorgeousness in a rainbow of shapes and colors greets you. I was stunned.
There are so many shapes! Cactus, pompon, dinnerplate. Waterlily, orchid, peony. The smaller the flower the more the plant produces. I confess a soft spot for dinnerplates, but the 4 to 6 inch look best in a vase. And play well with others. And don't break the stems with the weight of their heads.
I fell in love with this creamy blowsy dahlia, only to learn she is one of the most difficult. Figures. I may still try, but I won't get my hopes up.
At the Happy Dahlia Farm they plant their dahlias 12 inches apart in the row, in double rows with the rows 14 inches apart. They are supported by each other, and by wires about 2 feet off the ground. None of the ugly staking I've been living with. And they have left comfortable aisles between the double rows. For walking, for cutting. For dead heading. For admiring. For daydreaming.
Or in full glory. Every time I turned there was another stunner. I fell in love with this combination of colors. I'd like to upholster a couch in these colors. Or maybe paint a tiny bathroom. So happy.
You can bring a basket and have a social distance picnic. You can stay as long as you'd like. You can buy plants and cut flowers. They sell a few tubers, but plants are a surer thing. They have a newsletter with advice and events. They are happy people, these dahlia lovers, and will answer endless questions.
You cannot, however. cut your own. It looks perfect because people who know what they're doing tend the dahlias. If they turned us loose - I shudder to think.
You can, however, take all the photos you want, and come home with dreams and aspirations. Thanks to all their wise advice, humor and kindness I know what I've done wrong, what to let go because gardening is never perfect and nature bats last. And what to try next year. Can't wait.