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Dahlias: Stars of the Autumn Garden

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The garden’s bounty, more efficient to collect in a trug because dahlias take up so much space.

Dahlias, the iconic fall bloom, are truly a native flower of the Americas. With a histoire that goes back to the Aztecs (it was considered to be Montezuma’s favorite flower),  Spanish explorers are credited with taking the Dahlia back to Spain in 1789. Sweeping Europe as the hottest new botanical discovery, this multi-faceted flower quickly became the most coveted plant for the gardens of nobility. Empress Josephine planted them in the gardens of Chateau de Malmaison (Paris) where the famed artist Pierre Joseph Redoute soon added Dahlias as subjects of his most famous paintings.

Starting mid-summer and still standing tall and proud in the autumn garden.

Here in our gardens, dahlias provide a feast of color, hardiness and pleasure in a season that is fast dwindling for other bloomers. What’s not to love about them? Just the variety of shapes, sizes, height and petal form make them a star. See if you agree…

‘Lady Darlene,’ so fascinating with her surprise profile of petals curving back as though windswept.

‘Otto’s Thrill’ and ‘Saunderstown Pink’ each represent their own shade of that favorite color.

Where dahlias become most serviceable and will earn your affection is as an instant arrangement. Their prominent colors and interesting shapes make a statement on their own, a boon to the novice flower person or “hostess in a hurry.”


When it’s difficult to make a choice, I love to put out the whole selection, each displayed in its own glass bud vase, like showing off a collection of jewels.



One of my favored arranging styles is 4 or 5 single dahlias of one color, floating in a large surface of water (heads up…they can steal the show).

‘Otto’s Thrill’ completes a gilt-accented vignette.

'Belle of Bamera'

Precious ‘Peaches-n-Cream’ is a dainty specimen, but packed with details – love the abstract brush strokes of soft peach and yellow on the creamy white.


Dahlias always add a welcome spot of color on the stair landing.


The Pom Pon dahlia form is a personal favorite, here shown off by ‘Cornel’ and ‘Chricton Honey’.


Tips for Enjoying Your Dahlias:

These beauties have their own set of planting and stages of cultivation needs. Luckily, dahlia growers  provide detailed  instructions; some nurseries to consider: Swan Island, Dutch Bulbs and Van Bourgondien.

Collarette Dahlia

“Lift and store” your dahlia tubers approximately 2 weeks after a killing frost or by mid-November without a frost.

Personal Note: We’ve found it to be a better use of time  to order the dahlia tubers annually for planting mid-May rather than lifting, storing and monitoring the tubers over the winter (never a guaranteed outcome).

“Pinching” promotes shorter, bushier plants with better stems for cutting. Pinch off the center shoot just above the 3rd set of leaves (or plant height of approximately 18″ to 20″ high).

Cut flowers in early morn; immediately place stems in very hot water and allow to cool at least 1 hour to set the blooms.

Cutting Garden
Collarette Dahlia

Here’s an easy way to remember the name of your dahlias – print the name on a small, wooden garden stake and attach by copper wire to the top of each plant’s stake.


Dahlias “play well with others” in floral designs (and will, even up to Thanksgiving! )What’s your favorite dahlia?

Flower Arranging

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

3 thoughts on “Dahlias: Stars of the Autumn Garden

  1. I can’t stop looking at that last pom pom arrangement, the shape and the color is so beautiful. Hope to have a cutting garden one day.

  2. Hi Bettie,

    We know one another through GCA GH&D in Philadelphia and Santa Barbara plus your kind hospitality.

    I have a great love affair with dahlias. They are a terrific attraction to passers by to my garden in front. I do not recognize any of the names you have noted. Do you have a preferred source? I usually go to Swan Is with great results. I also dig and overwinter, split and share. My dahlias brighten gardens all over the area.

    Fondly, Sue

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