GROWING PRIZED DAHLIAS
By Capt. David Bitters
This is one of my favorite English teacups and saucers. It is covered in beautiful roses and I have a small collection of these lovely, little teacups from “across the pond” as we like to say.
My Dad was a gardener and loved to grow roses. We always had fresh roses on the table and they looked and smelled as beautiful as you can imagine…. But Dad’s real passion was growing prized dahlias as his father had done on the family farm in Duxbury, MA, before him.
I grew up hearing stories of my grandfather’s Dahlias being the most prized and desired flowers ever seen. My grandfather farmed many acres of crops, but kept a quarter acre by the side of the road and people would stop to stare and admire his flowers, including his giant, colorful dahlias. His garden was thick with them. After my grandfather passed (they found him in the garden), my Dad continued to raise Dahlias from my grandfather’s original stock.
Dahlias are native to Central America and Mexico and I wish I knew the story of how my grandfather acquired them. He had barrels of them that had to be dug up each fall and stored in the “backroom” for the winter. Then, on a certain day each spring they had to be replanted in the garden and fertilized and cared for. My Dad dug his up each fall like my grandfather did, and stored them in metal barrels and burlap bags in our garage.
I just can’t even begin to tell you how stunning and amazing my Dad’s Dahlias were. Your jaw would drop when you walked down in his garden and saw vast rows of them, of assorted colors and sizes. The biggest ones were the size of dinner plates! My Dad was always talking about growing the Dahlias. It was just a real joy for all of us.
I grew up to become a commercial photographer and spent many hours photographing my father’s prized Dahlias before he passed, all on Kodachrome transparency film. Those slides are now stored in my attic, along with over twenty-thousand other slides of my work on various subject matter over a thirty year period. Then the digital photography age arrived and I reluctantly switched over, like everyone else.
The sad and regretful part is, after my Dad passed I did not continue in his footsteps and the footsteps of my grandfather and even my great grandfather, and I suspect my great-great grandfather, as far as I know. There is no record of how long my family had been growing prized Dahlias before me. It’s just what my family did.
Oh, I tried to put in some effort, but it just took too much time that I did not have. I would plant a few of the tubers each spring but I never planted the barrels or bags of them that went to me when my Dad died. I’m not even really sure what happened to them? My grandfather was a farmer so I understand how he made the time to raise his prized Dahlias. It’s just what he did and he took a lot of pride in it. My Dad was a gardener and property manager and a custodian that held down two jobs his entire life. When he came home from work, he somehow made the time to go work in his gardens. Roses, gladiolas, peach trees, sunflowers, morning glories, phlox, tulips, foxglove, hyacinth, azalea, jonquil, daffodil, crocus, vegetables of every kind, strawberries, and of course, his prized Dahlias. Lots and lots of big, beautiful Dahlias. How my Dad made the time I will never know. He was often still out in the gardens after dark. He used to say he worked around the clock and I believed him.
It’s winter here in New England as I write this. One of my spring cleaning projects when the weather warms up is to clean out my garage. I want to do it, but there is also part of me that doesn’t want to do it. Because I know what I might find. An end of an era, from a simpler time, that I let slip away.