The Dahlia Wonderland

Darcy’s grandfather was a kind man who enjoyed many hobbies. He loved to golf and play tennis at his beloved Tam O’Shanter club, and he zealously gardened. He was particularly interested in growing dahlias.

In the 1980s, he passed a handful of precious tubers from his personal stash of dahlias to my mother-in-law. She told Better Homes and Garden’s Perennials Magazine in 2008:

“(T)hose dahlias fended for themselves while I was raising my children…”

Her father passed away in 2004, and this caused my mother-in-law to seriously consider cultivating his special breed of flower. Which she has done ever since, to celebration and acclaim.

Throughout the year, she labors over an environment-friendly drip-irrigation system, feeds the roots and tubers casings from her worm farm and creates “green gold” from carefully built and tended compost heaps.

August is the month when her garden blooms with the 125 different varieties of dahlias she grows. The American Dahlia Society describes the 19 different types of forms of the flower as “pompoms,” “water lilies” and “peonies.” I prefer to label them as lollypops, origamis and fancy daisies. Every Sunday this month, I’ve walked through the veritable candyland of these beauties, overwhelmed by the variety, sheer size (some blooms are bigger than my head) and the technicolor palate of colors.

When I joined the family, she cultivated a dahlia with my first name. She has incorporated more blooms into her garden based on my daughter’s suggestions (“More pink!”) and even my son’s suggestion. (“Can you find a black one?” She could and did, and this year, it won “Best in Show” at the County Fair.)

The Dahlia That Bears My Name

What I love about hobbies is that they can pass on traditions from generation to generation. Ancestors on both sides of my family wrote poetry, fiction and were diligent journal-keepers. I carry this on.

My mother-in-law has her dahlias. Again, from Better Homes and Garden’s Perennials Magazine:

“Asked to choose her favorite dahlia, (she) hesitates as if being asked to choose which of her two sons she loves more.

‘It’s tough because each flower has such wonderful qualities,’ she says. ‘But my favorites are the ones that were my fathers.’

It moves me to wander among these flowers cultivated by my husband’s grandfather, loved and worked over and fed and watered into abundance and great beauty by his mother. And today, they were admired and cut and put into vases by the fourth generation of little gardeners. Maybe someday, they too will grow these dahlias.

I only need 3 more people to “like” me on Facebook to be official! I promise to be cool on there and you won’t need to “unbaby me.” In fact, I may start just posting a bunch of cat pictures. Both of cats and the actors in Cats, The Musical.

What traditions do you carry on?



Filed under My Favorite Things, Traditions Revisited

9 responses to “The Dahlia Wonderland

  1. What an amazing story and what beautiful flowers. I wish I could find a way to get some of her dahlia tubers down here.

  2. These photos are stunning! I had no idea dahlias were so varied. What a lovely hobby and tradition to pass on.

  3. A-freakin’-mazing. (There, let your grammar freak relatives red-pen that one out!) 🙂 Liking you on FB b/c I need more cat pictures in my life 🙂

  4. I would like Dahlia pictures on Facebook. 🙂 These? Are gorgeous.

  5. I love dahlias! Beautiful garden, and what a special tradition to pass on. I have the mini-pound cake pan in which my great-grandmother made cakes for special occasions for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I made Daniel’s first bday cake in it & I think it contributed to my adoration of mini cake pans.

  6. Forgot to comment on this earlier – these dahlias are so beautiful! And it’s so cool that she named a dahlia after you. What a way to be welcomed into the family. 🙂

  7. I just adore dahalias. They are so beautiful! Amazing how many generations have enjoyed them.

  8. Awesome! Those flowers/photos are gorgeous and I really enjoyed their backstory. My parents, my kids and I went to the Chicago Botanic Garden today and I thought of you (even this post, which I’d read and intended to return to comment) and took lots of pictures of flowers.

  9. I’ve obviously never looked at dahlias before – they are gorgeous! And I love the family backstory and gardening tradition. It’s the kind of story that makes me want to have a knack for flowers myself.

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