September 22, 2008

My fetish for the forgotten.

Violet, red and coral Dahlias.
A selection of various violet, coral and purple Dahlias.

There are 3 reasons why I am growing Dahlias this year.
Martha Stewart, Martha's Vinyard and Mothera (well, I mean Tokyo).
You see, last yearI saw a rerun from an episode of an older Martha Stewart Show - one where Martha visits a Dahlia farm Swan Island Dahlias , the images of her strolling around the fields with giant mums, and then on her new show, a florist in New York City artfully demonstrated just how stylish the poor Dahlia can be when used thoughtfully, monochromatically. I later visited my Brother in Marthas Vinyard in September, and was so impressed with the jewel-like displays of Dahlias in front of the quaint, New England Homes...most amazing was that just two hours away, my garden was over for the season, it had become rather dull. Then, Last February, while trend hunting in Japan for work, I found some stunning floral design books which just happened to showed amazing and beautiful arrangements of Dahlias--- in stunning colors, tastefull monochromatic. I had to order some, it was in the stars.
Red, burgundy and sages--- an arrangement for the reception desk. It always helps to schmooze the assistants!

One night last February, again in Japan, I was in my room in Tokyo, I had a 3:00 am conference call with work, so I could not sleep, I decided to shop on-line of course! I rolled through my bookmarks and noticed the Swan Island Web Site, which I had forgotten about. Please visit the Swan Island site ( it works very nicely, showing thumbnails of each Dahlia so before you order, you can see the entire palette), and then next sprint,order a few. But be careful..I had a idea that I would order 6, but I ordered 60! These Dahlias were color coordinated - mainly purples, violets, magenta, coral and reds. I felt that this palette would be refreshing in a genus where one normally sees perhaps more horrid colors such as nuclear yellow and honey muck colors. You know - that wierd mix or orange, yellow and circus red. Ugh.

Next time you impulse-purchase a poly-bagged Dahlia at the home center, promise me that you will think about the color palette - and then buy alot! The more plants, the better. It doesn't matter what color you choose, if you limit yourself to one or two colors, in various tints and forms, the results will be amazing.

Still...people dispise Dahlias. Come on, I'm a huge plant snob, and I grow them!
When I told people that I was growing Dahlias, I was'nt too surprised at the response. "You're what?"
The poor Dahlia, ( and for what its worth...the poor, poor tall and elegant exhibition Chrysanthemum!), but then again, I may collect rare winter-blooming orchids from Borneo, I also love the smell of plain-old rusty-colored Marigolds.

Two years ago, I posted about growing exotic Chrysanthemums after another trip to Japan, and then I shared my results after spending a summer growing and training various exhibition Chrysanthemums. This year, I promised to indulge my passion in two other missunderstood classic plants - Tuberous Begonias- you've seen my Exhibition begonias last month, and now, I share my Dahlia experiment, as well as some thoughts on color palettes currently in my garden.

No color works monochromatically better than shades of green. Some lemons in my garden, begging to be picked for a stone bowl in the bathroom.

Lime greens provide foolproof contast in most contemporary gardens. The true Pitcher Plant, our native Sarracennea demonstrates just how effective lime green can be in a season of autumnal colors. Now offered as a cut flower in tony flower shops in NYC, these plants can easily be grown in a tray of water on your terrace. I have then in flat clay pots sitting in trays of water under the tall Martin house. This fall they are exploding into new growth, with some pitchers nearly two feet tall.

The Berkshire Botanice Garden Gravel Driveway- a source for ideas.

Last week I had a meeting of the American Primula Society which we held at the Berkshire Botanic Garden. I flew in from LA the night before, but still made some time to bake some yummy oatmeal peanut butter cookies ( um...also from Marthas new book - I am such girl), anyway, at the Botanic Garden, I took some photos to remind me to try bronze plants in containters. We have loads of container plants all over the property, and I am pretty good at creating nice color palettes, but sometimes, I see things which I simple will forget, unless I document it. I like to take photos and post them on my bulletin board, and in folders on my desktop, to remind me. Bookmarks are an amazing tool, and I think I must have hundreds. I save them on color ideas, combinations, inspiration, sources, all in folders. I'm on a Mac, so I use the web browser Safari. It's been easy to file my reference sources into neat, tidy folders. I don't think I would have been able to finish my design book BEYOND TREND, without using a deep resource library on my desktop. On a plane, it's easy to refer to ideas, and a great place to re-file these ideas into your mind. We are ALL influenced, but exercising your influence is what makes your ideas come to life. It would have been far too easy to watch a show on Dahlias, think a bit about how nice it would be to grow some next year, and then forget about it a month later.

A nice use of bronze and lime.

A new Canna variety, from Plant Delights Nurserycalled 'Pacific Beauty' ( oh yeah, I tried couple of dozen new Canna this year too). 6 foot tall, blue grey thin foliage, and pumpkin orange flowers. Gorgeous against the blue sky and golden needles on a rare yellow strain of Pseudotsuga.


  1. what a wonderful Dahlias color combination! love the first photograph colors :)

  2. There is quite a buzz about dahlias this year. posted about some this week. One was bigger than her head. (BTW, my M.I.L. gave me a huge box of old Martha Stewart mags and I've been going through all of the old issues. Pretty fun!)

  3. Hi there,
    Loved your blog. Fascinated with your respect and passion for these plants. Mine matches slightly. Am very, very interested in learning how you managed to find out (from Japan) how to grow their giant chrysanthemums! I've been searching and searching, ever since about 1992 when I went there, and have never found anything close except what you wrote. Can you help me out?
    My name is Dene, and my e mail address is . Many thanks, and happy gardening!!!



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