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March 12, 2013 > Pat Kite's Garden: Dahlia dazzle

Pat Kite's Garden: Dahlia dazzle

By Pat Kite, Photo courtesy of San Leandro Dahlia Society

Saturday, April 27 is the prime time to purchase state-of-the-art Dahlia tubers. If you get to Root Park in San Leandro early enough, you can scoop up a few of John and JoAnna Morton's 2011 favorite Lakeview Glow. It's a bright yellow incurved cactus-petaled form. John tells us that "eye catcher," Lakeview Glows had "many blooms on them all through the season."

John and JoAnna have 600 Dahlia plants in their garden, and earned a blue ribbon the first year they entered the San Leandro Dahlia Society, back in 1989. "If we weren't hooked before," John recalls, "the blue ribbon really got to us."

Of course if you really become extra-extra enthused, there are over 3,000 Dahlia varieties to choose from. Some have straight petals, some curved. Some have teeny 2-inch blooms, and some get to 10 inches wide. Some flowers resemble balls and some look like peonies. Colors include orange, red, yellow, white and pink. Dahlias are not picky. I have one that shows up year after year in a miserable garden section, actually competing with a rose bush. They do like sun, and if you are a kind person [as all gardeners are], you will remember to water them. They tend toward good health and are not insect favorites.

Dahlia history is full of complex tales of adventure and skullduggery. When Spanish forces under Hernando Cortez invaded Aztec territory in Mexico, they thought they had found Paradise. There were exotic flowers, lakes, fountains, etc. as well as tree-shaded promenades and aqueducts especially designed to water the gardens. This blissful scenario didn't last long; apparently gold rather than palaces or plants were of greater interest.

However a Spanish doctor, Maciel, made lists of what was seen including a plain flower with eight red rays. The Aztecs called it Cocoxochitl. It was one of King Montezuma's favorite flowers, and sacred to the Aztec war god. Dr. Macias had "discovered" the Dahlia.

No particular notice was paid to it for about 200 years. But eventually seeds were sent from Mexico to the Madrid Botanical Gardens where the director fussed with, and grew three different kinds. He, so one story goes, called them Dahlias, after a Swedish botanist, Andrew Dahl. From France to England, and onward... Napoleon's wife Josephine planted Dahlias at Malmaison with her own royal hands and held a diplomatic reception for them when they bloomed.

Besides the the Dahlia Society of California tuber sale on April 27 in San Leandro, there is one in San Francisco August 20 at the County Fair Building. John Morton says you can email him at if you have questions about Dahlia shows.

The San Leandro Society ( meets at the San Leandro Library on Estudillo the third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. And there are several resplendent Dahlia exhibition shows now through Labor Day. Have fun and happy spring; it has sprung!

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