Saturday, February 19, 2011

Confessions of a Failed Dahlia Grower

waterlily dahlia Madissen JaneIt's appalling for someone who loves dahlias in everyone else's garden to fail to grow them.

But I've failed, and done it time and again.

First, I inadvertently left a couple of dahlia tubers in the ground one fall. They came up the following summer, and bloomed nicely. Well, I thought, all that work isn't really necessary. I tend to garden on the Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest model: if it's tough enough to come up year after year, and survives duking it out with whatever else comes up year after year, it stays. This explains why I have such exuberant displays of things like coreopsis and crocosmia "Lucifer" and phlox "David." They'll grow anywhere, in any soil, and proliferate insanely without any cooperation from me.

So, of course, when I left all my dahlias in the ground, they froze. A year or two later, I'd been feeling nostalgic about a red-and-white dahlia my mother and her Garden Club friends used to grow, a delightful single called "Union Jack," and I found a grower who had it. I planted it and waited with delight for it to grow. It came up, but it was a wet summer and the slugs damaged it so severely it died.

It was a while before I tried again. By this time we'd moved to our present location, with a stream and reservoir across the alley, and a bunch of ivy on the slopes to the reservoir. This is slug and snail heaven. Every night armies of slugs and snails march into our garden, eating everything in sight. When the Lynch Creek gang began selling dahlia tubers, I got some waterlily dahlias, one of my favorite types, but knowing what damage slugs and snails could do, I broke the vows I'd taken to garden organically and surrounded the dahlias' territory with the latest slug killer.

The dahlias sprouted. Oh, I was vigilant. I renewed the slug stuff every time it rained, and maintained a ring around the dahlias. One misty morning, I found the fledgling dahlias demolished. I was sure the malevolent molluscs couldn't have crossed the line; I was mystified. But the next day, mourning my dahlias and moping about the garden, I noticed two large snails on the fig tree whose branches spread out over the little dahlia bed. Make that dahlia graveyard.

I'm not saying that snails have enough brain to climb the fig tree and drop on the dahlias, but it's as close as I can come to explaining how my dahlias got eaten.

However, this spring, I'm going to try again. I just can't blog dahlias without realizing there are some of those treasures I've just GOT to try. Stay tuned. And if you've got some slugproofing strategies you'd like to share, please get into the comments box and pass them along!

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