Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Stormy? Dream and Plan Dahlia Beds

Tony Lord's Best BordersWhen the weather’s beastly and wintry, and it seems like it’s gone on forever and stretches ahead for nearly as long, flower catalogues and websites are a great comfort.

And actually, there’s a lot you can do indoors (besides the obvious: order Lynch Creek dahlia tubers) to get ready for your summer garden. Planning flower borders is a great delight, and dahlias are among the best of the border bloomers with their long, late flowering season. While a garden full of dahlias is a visual delight, these luscious flowers lend themselves equally well, if not better, to a mixed garden.

One of our favorite garden spokesmen is Tony Lord, an English garden designer and writer. His book Best Borders is full of dahlias. Annoyingly, most of the frequently appearing English dahlias bear names unfamiliar to many Americans. Maybe there’s just very little exchange of plant stocks across the Atlantic. Often, as with many of our Ellis Island forebears, the immigrant is arbitrarily assigned a new name. But one can look at an illustration of a dahlia in an English book and find a look-alike to grow in the U.S.

Photographed above is part of Lord’s discourse on the red double borders at Hidcote Manor, a famed landscape garden in Gloucestershire. In Hidcote's red Double borders, red waterlily dahlias (very much like Cherry Drop) alternate with decorative grasses and orange daylilies; in front, adding a lighter texture and foliage contrast, are dark-leaved heuchera. In their basic form, they’re called coral bells; this one, however, is one of the purple-leaved varieties.

Planning a beautiful border might well involve a visit to the local library or independent bookstore. In Shelton, that’s the Timberland Regional Library and Sage Book Store. A stack of gardening books, a steaming hot cup of tea, and the prospect of spring and dahlia planting ahead: Let it storm, for the moment.

We can dream dahlia gardens.

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