Did I just get seduced?

On Sunday morning, while visiting the Chicago Botanic Garden, I stopped in to see the Central States Dahlia Society’s 2010 show. As I opened the glass doors to the exhibit hall, my goal was to photograph the dahlias, not window shop for my own garden. I’ve never been a fan of plants you have to dig up and store each year, and dahlias have always been too expensive to treat as annuals in the garden.

University of Georgia professor and author Allan Armitage notes that dahlias “are certainly not low maintenance plants in most areas of the country. Many require support to prevent flopping and are prone to mosaic, stunt and ring spot viruses, as well as fungal and bacterial problems.” (Armitage, 1997) Although dahlias are certainly easier to grow in my zone 5 garden than in Armitage’s Georgia climate, I’ve always put them in the same category as gladiolus: too finicky.

If my hope was to leave the exhibit hall with that same prejudice against dahlias, I should never have walked through the doors. The seduction of the beautiful blooms started with my first footsteps.

‘Rock Run Jacob’ was the first to attract my eye. The salmon to butter gradient of its daisy-like petals created a beautiful simplicity not present in many of the more showy dahlias.

‘Bargaly Blush’ was a popular cultivar in the exhibit hall. Its lavender-pink curled petals emanate out from a tight center in a peony-sized bloom.

‘Rose Toscano’, considered a formal decorative type, is a medium sized dahlia with tightly-packed tangerine petals. It was one of my favorites and would look amazing combined with blues and purples in a garden container or cut-flower display.

When I saw ‘Midnight Star’, I immediately wanted it for one of my mixed-perennial borders. It doesn’t have that “cut flower” look like most dahlias and would combine well with more native, natural looking plants.

‘Bristol Fleck’ looks almost edible. If I could figure out how to prolong its bloom until the holidays, it would be an amazing centerpiece for candy and cookie spreads. I may try this cultivar next summer just for the opportunity to dry the blooms for use in the winter.

‘Rock Run James’ explodes with fiery curved petals from its center. Combined with other hot colors in an annual container, this cultivar may find a place in my front-porch garden next year.

I may eventually find myself once again like Armitage, that dahlias “are not worth the problems involved in trying to raise them well,” but my seduction at the hands of the Central States Dahlia Society has me convinced to give them a try in next year’s garden.

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