It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with dahlias. Last year I grew 22 different varieties in my garden, and this year I anticipate that number will climb to the high 30s. Dahlia people are totally a thing, and I’m unabashedly one of them.
My infatuation began when my husband and I were living in Spokane a few years ago — his parents were visiting, and we decided it would be fun to check out the gardens at a local park. As we exited the rose garden and rounded the corner toward the towering jungle of the dahlia garden, I knew I was done for.
Up until I’d seen a dahlia in person, they sort of made me uncomfortable. They’re so spiky and aggressive looking. (Which, I’ve since learned, is only true for some of them — there are so many different classifications of dahlias: Some have water lily-like petals, some are more puffballs, some are delightfully frilly like petticoats. And that’s just the tip of it!) But as I peered through the wire fence enclosing a forest of dahlias taller than all five feet of me, all I could think about was how I wished I could walk between the towering stems and surround myself with such beautiful and unusual flowers.
A few apartments and a house later, I never stopped thinking about that garden. After moving into our house in 2017, I bought some clearance dahlia tubers from WinCo on a whim. It was near the end of June, a little too late to plant dahlias, but they were already sprouting, so I put them in the ground and held my breath.
Only one bloomed, taking its sweet time and announcing itself around early November with a breathtaking display of butter-yellow petals. Only one flower out of six plants, but I was instantly hooked. I couldn’t stop thinking about them.
That winter I researched different varieties and acquainted myself with basic dahlia-growing information. I requested a catalog from Swan Island Dahlias and pored over it one drizzly day with a steaming cup of tea, dog-earing the ones that caught my eye. It contained just enough sunshine tucked between its glossy pages to tide me over until spring, and in the summer we made a special trip to Canby, Oregon, to attend the dahlia festival. You could call me obsessed, if you’d like. I don’t mind.
Now here I am, in 2019, with a cupboard in the garage dedicated solely to storing my tubers in the off season, and a plethora of new-to-me varieties somewhere in the U.S. postal system, steadily making their way toward me for the next growing season. I’ve got it so bad that I’ve even created a spreadsheet to keep track of the varieties I have!
I don’t know what it is about this particular flower that makes me feel so good just looking at it — no one in my family grew dahlias until they saw mine (dahlia fever is contagious!), so there’s no nostalgia at play with my fascination — and, yes, roses are beautiful in their own way and I’m a little obsessed with them too, but dahlias are something special. If I could choose only one type flower to grow for the rest of my life, it’d be dahlias, hands down.
If you’ve never grown dahlias before, I can’t urge you enough to get your hands on a tuber or two and experience their appeal for yourself. They’re easy to grow, and at the end of the season you’re rewarded with many more tubers than you planted — which you can either save for next year or give away to friends. And trust me, once your friends experience the magic of dahlias, they’ll be begging you for tubers.
So, have I converted — I mean, convinced — you yet? You definitely don’t need to go all out like I have, but at least try planting one tuber. Once it blooms, you’ll be so glad you did. And who knows? Maybe you’ll catch dahlia fever too.