Dahlias bring color to your garden, joy to our hearts

People always ask why we grow dahlias, especially when they hear all the work that’s involved. Answer: It’s truly a labor of love and you can get great prices on them now.

In the age of the Internet and remote control, why plant dahlias that require a lot of work? Perennials and annuals are easy and require little effort. 

We plant the tubers every year in a mixture of sand, peat moss and soil, wait two weeks for them to come up, another month or two for them to grow buds, handpick or spray Japanese beetles, stake them for protection from the wind, pinch buds, and finally dig them up to store in the fall. 

My inspiration began years ago with Frank Tamulis, who used to work as a librarian at the Pocono Record. He grew dahlias in incredible colors and was the envy of garden club members everywhere.

Frank, a former military guy, made it look and sound easy. He’d come walking in with a dahlia in one hand and cigarette in the other. 

I figured I had it made when he gave me one of the precious tubers. I put it in the ground and nothing happened. I certainly had a lot to learn.

Frank got married and moved away. He later died but I’ll always see him steadfastly guarding our trove of Pocono Record photos and information and remember those dahlias. 

Soon after Ronnie and I married, a flyer came in the mail from Breck’s for a dinnerplate dahlia collection. I remembered Frank’s flowers and said, “I always wanted some dahlias.” 

Eager to impress in those days, Ronnie quickly agreed. 

Truth is, we’re obsessed

 

We planted them and the rest is really a 12-year history. Ronnie is the one who actually developed an obsession (that’s putting it mildly) for them. 

Along the way, my dear coworker Frank Pollock gave me pointers and introduced me to Ed Lewis of Stroudsburg, who provided dahlias for the farmer’s market, and a farmer in Lancaster who had many varieties. Farmer Frank, quite the character who knew much about everything dirt, passed away this month.

I will certainly miss the inspiration he provided, as well as his  funny stories and sage gardening advice. 

This year as I toyed with not taking the time to plant the dahlias, I thought about my inspirations, the two Franks and my husband Ronnie. He has MS and a back problem but he pushes himself to go out every day to take care of the dahlias. 

And I thought of the result. Last year we had almost 2,000 blooms to give away to people. We took them to nursing homes and everywhere we went. That’s really Ronnie’s doing too. He doesn’t believe in letting one flower go to waste.

Dahlias literally come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Every year we try a new variety, but we always plant Ronnie’s favorite, the yellow Kelvin Floodlight.  I adore the dark red Arabian night. In

The Kelvin Floodlight dahlia grows to 8 to 10 inches wide

the right light it’s iridescent. Each one is beautiful in its own way. 

Really, our favorite is whatever makes the person of the moment smile.

They just keep multiplying

When we pull them out in fall, the tubers have multiplied. If they last in storage over the winter we can cut one into several plants. We have to keep expanding our gardens to accommodate them all. And we still have extra to share with friends.

Each tuber is planted in a mixture of the sand, peat and new dirt. They are planted just three to four inches below the surface.

You don’t have to water them until they start popping up out of the ground.

But then the real work begins.

By the end of Memorial Day, I thought we were finished planting. But Tuesday Ronnie showed up with 24 more of them he bought on clearance. That brings our total to about 250 plants.

Good news for you though. If you want to try them, centers are already marking them down. It’s post Memorial Day magic.

At least I know where I’ll be spending every spare moment this summer. Gee, I’m tired already. 

But when that first flower opens, I won’t be complaining. 

And when we bottle them up to go to nursing homes, and walk into a resident’s room, I’ll know it was all worth the effort. 

 

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