Dahlias bring a blast of late-summer color

Posted 8/21/10

Although they are named for Swedish botanist Anders Dahl, dahlias originated in the mountains of Mexico and Guatemala, grown by the ancient Aztecs …

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Dahlias bring a blast of late-summer color

Posted

Although they are named for Swedish botanist Anders Dahl, dahlias originated in the mountains of Mexico and Guatemala, grown by the ancient Aztecs and brought back to Europe by 16th century botanists who traveled with the Spanish conquistadors. It’s the national flower of Mexico, often represented on folk art.

At first, the tubers were grown in Europe as food resembling a potato, but never became popular.

The Royal Botanic Garden in Madrid distributed them throughout Europe, but they were not of interest until a showy bright red one appeared in 1872. It then was combined with other varieties, leading to the multitude of varieties known today in sizes ranging from 10 inch dinner plate dahlias to Mignon singles, measuring less than two inches. They bloom longer than many garden flowers and last well as cut flowers. But at the first hint of frost, they are gone. Hybridizers are constantly developing new varieties.

The dazzling dahlia display garden at the lower north end of Hudson Gardens exhibits many, if not all, of the possible varieties: nine recognized sizes, 20 classes (forms) and 15 color combinations. The classes have names like Aenemone -flowered, straight and incurved cactus, miniature ball, peony flowering and more …

Find pink Tutti Fruiti and burgundy Boogie Nights, with coral Dare Devil nearby. Also close at hand are bright orange Swan’s Olympic Flame and large, raggedy Bodacious, carrying orange petals with yellow tips. Nick Sr. is a huge red flower with pale yellow accents and some stripes.

At the entrance to the gift shop, where a visitor enters the Gardens, is a striking clump of a bright yellow single flowering variety with a dark center and purple/black leaves, Mystic Illusion. A related variety (more colors show up online) grows just outside the back door of the gift shop: Mystic Dreamer, an award winner with pink flowers and dark leaves.

In many warmer places, dahlias are grown as perennials, but in Colorado, they are annuals, unless the gardener digs them up and overwinters them in some sort of insulated situation.

Littleton gardeners Jose and Phyllis Trujillo grow prize-winning dahlias and he talks of a trench in the yard where tubers are put to sleep for the winter under a layer of straw. (Readers may have enjoyed Phyllis’ photographs and bouquets at Jose’s Restaurant on Main Street in downtown Littleton).

Plant tubers or purchased plants in full sun after the last frost, which is after Mother’s Day. They need lots of water, so don’t plant with the xeriscape plants. Mulch helps retain moisture and they should be fertilized monthly. The plants can be shaped by pruning. Growers who enter the huge dahlias in flower shows may remove all but that one bud from a plant, so all of its energy goes into a giant bloom.

If you go:

Hudson Gardens and Event Center is at 6115 S. Santa Fe Dr., Littleton. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily Mondays through Saturdays. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays June through August.. Admission: May through Oct. $5/$3/$2, members free. (Admission by donation Nov. through April). 303-797-8565. www.hudsongardens.org.

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