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August 2, 2011 > Pat Kite's Garden: 550 Dahlias!

Pat Kite's Garden: 550 Dahlias!

By Pat Kite

Five hundred fifty Dahlias?

It all began with a three-dahlia friendship gift to Hayward's JoAnna and John Morton. "We were so awed by the blooms our plants produced that we planted 10 the next year," John recalls. Fast-forward 30 years. The Morton's now have 150 different varieties in their colorful back yard, with flowers ranging from two-inches wide to 13-inches wide. When retirement beckoned, dahlia care became an increasingly delightful hobby. JoAnna, a Castro Valley native, retired from MJB Company. John, a San Leandro native, spent 38 years with Kraft foods.

"Each new Dahlia variety became our favorite that year." There are at least 13 thousand Dahlia varieties and 19 dahlia forms. "At one time the Formal Decorative was my favorite," John states. "Later on I was smitten by the Anemone form." Other forms possible include Cactus, Orchid, Peony and Waterlily. While neither JoAnna nor John comes from a dedicated gardening background, "my parents, especially my mother, tried to get a plant in every possible space in the yard," John comments. "She even had my Dad take out part of the yard for her plants."

Dahlias offer a lot of opportunity and history. Dahlias were named after Swedish botanist Dr. Anders Dahl. But even though they had been grown in Mexico for 400 years, when introduced to Europe in 1789, they were considered useful only as a vegetable. It was hoped Dahlia tubers would become even more table worthy than the common potato. However, one Victorian writer described Dahlia tubers as having a "repulsive, nauseous peppery taste." But the flowers, although small and plain, were also rather pretty. Hybridizers took over.

By the early 1800s, the Dahlia was the most fashionable flower in the country. A diamond was reputedly offered for one newly hybridized Dahlia tuber. Dahlia varieties now come in all colors except blue. They can be short at 12 inches, medium height, or stretch to 7-feet tall. Put them in pots, as a color focus, and gather them as summer hedges. They do need mostly sun, regular water, and improved soil. While Dahlia tuber planting time is in spring, now is the time to view your options.

The San Leandro Dahlia Society will hold its 78th annual Dahlia show at the San Leandro Library August 6 and 7. The American Dahlia Society National Show will be held at the Marriot Hotel, Santa Clara, on Saturday August 20 from 1 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. and Sunday the 21st from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. "The blooms will be judged," John explains, "and the public will be able to see the best of the best. My favorite usually comes after the shows when I determine which form did the best for me that year. Then I stock up on that form for the next year."

For information on the ADS National Show at the Marriott, email or call (408) 259-9223 and/or check the Internet. Maybe you will see JoAnna and John Morton happily selecting their new favorites.

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