I have been growing dahlias since I was child in gardening 4-H. I grew an orange flowered dahlia for many years. Probably I bought a tuber around 1974 from Park Seeds, which was one of my favorite companies selling plants and seeds. My mother continued to raise the orange dahlias when I no longer lived at home. These years included college through 1982, a year in Minnesota, living at Codman Community Farms, and moving to Hardwick in 1989.
In the fall of 1990 my mother told me that she was very ill with metastatic breast cancer. She urged me to go and live my own life. Together that day we cried and dug the orange dahlias for me to plant in Hardwick. I learned quickly that my hilltop rocky and sandy property was very different for growing plants from the pure deep loam of Lincoln. The orange dahlias did not grow well and I had no suitable place to store the tubers for the winter.
Always tempted by glossy garden catalogs, I mail ordered dahlias over the years. All failed in Hardwick. I lacked knowledge about best growing practices. Knowing the plant’s origin was Mexico, I chose sandy soil and warm microclimates and rarely watered. I started the tubers very deep in cold soil, sometimes more than ten inches below the surface.
My pawpaw friend Ted gifted me red and pink flowering tubers in the fall of 2016. I was thrilled that I could store them in my new root cellar. The tubers were in perfect condition for planting in late spring 2017. I was very happy with the blooms and shared the tubers with friends and family.
In 2021 Stan and I took motorcycle rides to Comet Pond where I swam in the incredibly clean water to help my back problems. On the way, we passed Frog Hollow Dahlias. We stopped and received a wonderful private tour of Melissa Morris's dahlia displays.
Melissa opened my eyes to the very big world of dahlias and taught me her cultural practices. I recommend highly reading Melissa's field notes for growing dahlias.
I adopted some of her methods last year and was very impressed with the number and quality of the blooms from mid-July until frost. I planted my tubers in pots in sandy soil on May 8th in a warm place to give them a head start. I transplanted to the ground during the third week of May. At the same time I put in a very sturdy 6ft tall post for support. The massive size and heavy plant weight and the wind will knock down a poorly anchored stake easily. It is okay to use more than one tall stake for support prior to planting the tuber. I had my first blooms more than a month earlier compared to my previous decades with growing dahlias. To compensate for my sandy soil, Melissa recommended that I water deeply and regularly during the summer. Also, I made sure that the plants were provided with generous amounts of rotted manure as fertilizer.
I love to eat new foods and was amazed when I saw dahlias planted in an edible garden display at the Montreal Botanical Garden in the summer of 2017. I Googled eating dahlia tubers and found many recipes. I tried eating some damaged pink and red tubers in November. I did not like the taste. From further reading, I now know that some tubers are tastier than others. However, with my huge crop of potatoes, I have no urgent need to explore this culinary option further.
The image on the right is a 2016 dahlia gift that has thrived for 6 growing seasons. I believe this is Jersey Beauty.
I am still loving the lingering lilac fragrance as I walk around the yard on May 22nd, 2023.
Soon after moving to Hardwick in 1989, I realized that I had terrible soil. My house site was surrounded with ledge and thin and sandy soil. To comply with Title 5, several tons of sand was trucked in for an expansive leach field in the back yard. I was determined to grow lilacs and had identified a rock free soil area where I could plant lilacs.
From research and gardening tours I learned about fancy lilac varietals. I searched sources in magazines and decided to purchase from a company specializing in lilacs called Fox Hill Nursery. The catalog sent to my mail box in December 1994 mentioned a 28-acre nursery in Freeport, Maine owned by Eric Weizel. I see today that the company manages the domain at https://www.lilacs.com.
I narrowed my purchase to a shipment arriving on April 22nd, 1995 of five cultivars: Sensation, a white edge petal, James MacFarlane a single true pink, Miss Kim, a late bloomer and fragrant pale violet, Monique Lemoine, a double white, and ME Harding, a double magenta. Sadly, Miss Kim died from being trampled. In October 1996 I went to a local nursery in Ware and found that the owner was passionate about lilacs. I followed his recommendation with purchasing Michael Buchner, a beautifully shaped shrub with fragrant double lilac blooms. The James MacFarlane lilac disappeared slowly with being crowded out by its vigorous lilac neighbors on either side. Monique Lemoine is facing the same fate. It is time for aggressive pruning to save her for her gorgeous white flowers.
The Sensation lilac shown in the right image is truly beautiful. The flowers are impressive when displayed in vases. I have many admirers when I arrange Sensation flowers on the church altar during May. I have shared Sensation suckers with several appreciative neighbors and friends. Lilac suckers are difficult to dig and transplant successfully. With my back problems as a 63-year-old, I am reluctant to share lilacs unless the request is respectful and purposeful. It makes sense to have lilac seekers dig their own in my yard with my guidance.
In 2000, the Quido family approached Stan with an offer for selling their property abutting ours. Prior to closing, Chris and Joyce Quido encouraged me to move some of their beautiful French lilacs to our property. I planted a row along Lucas Road which has thrived incredibly well. The Lucas Road location is close to the town’s former stump dump. The lilacs flourish in the rich humus rich soil. Routinely we sprinkle wood ashes around the shrubs when cleaning out the woodstove. Every three years, Stan will add well-rotted compost at the base of the plants. The varietal names of the strong growing and gorgeous Quido lilacs are unknown.
Two years ago, I chain sawed down many tall leggy trunks to encourage the young suckers to thrive. This drastic pruning effort was a success. This year I am using an awesome tool to keep up with my pruning needs. Specifically, I am using TOVIA cordless lithium battery powered pruning. The bypass cutting blades high carbon steel that can easily cut branches up to 1.5 inches wide. My hands are no longer getting bruised and sore from pruning. The process is fast and almost effortless. What was a hideous chore going on for hours for many days is now a quick pastime.
In 2005 I was an active plant trader with the GardenWeb. I did many trades with a lover of plants in Spokane. He really appreciated my early spring shipments of Eastern Skunk cabbage and young black birch trees. In return he sent me his near and dear large purple lilac. I knew that he was not exaggerating when he described this lilac as being very special. I set up a new garden space with good soil hoping this young plant would thrive. This lilac turned out to be more fragile and took a few years to bloom. However, the wait was very worthwhile. The flowers and heads are 3X larger than my other lilacs. The fragrance is great.
Planted with the Giant Lilac is a pink flowering lilac which may be the James MacFarlane. I need to check misplaced handwritten records to confirm.
I use lilac flowers to make lilac water. To a gallon jar I add three to four lilac flower heads without foliage. I fill the jar with water and refrigerate. Water flavors vary with the variety, with all being pleasant.
I have preserved the lilac scent by mixing a few flowers in raw honey. This is refrigerated and used to flavor beverages. A spoonful of lilac honey by itself is a treat.