Free Dahlias! (if you move in the right circles)

Catalogs and garden centers sell you dahlias in the spring, at planting time. Friends and neighbors give you dahlias in the fall, at dig-up-the-tubers time.

Could the red and white one be dahlia 'Mary Eveline?

Could the red and white one be dahlia 'Mary Eveline'?

This dahlia surely has an official name (might be ‘Mary Eveline’), but as far as I’m concerned it’s ‘Carol’s Wine,’ because my dear friend Carol gave me the start tubers now many years ago.

Like potatoes, dahlias multiply. First one tuber becomes two or three, which is nice. Next spring you can plant them all together and get a big fat bush. By fall the bush has made seven or eight. Not so convenient but still ok; dahlias are easy to divide and there’s usually room for another plant.

You see where this is going. Even people with plenty of cool dry storage room eventually cry uncle. Shortly after I first came to Maine, I saw a wheelbarrow full of tubers with a “FREE!” sign prominently displayed. It happens to us all.

dahlias Honka and Bishop's Children

dahlias Honka and Bishop's Children

The yellow ones are ‘Honka.’ All the others came in a single packet of ‘Bishop’s Children’ seed. Good name for the offspring of ‘Bishop of Llandaff,’ an heirloom with dark purple green foliage and bright orange red flowers.

Not all of the first year plants made tubers, and the ones that did have been slow growers that took a while to start creating problems. But last fall we had more than 20 tubers of the dark red one with the black center, and Kristi made me give most of them away.

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  • Fern R Said,

    Could the red one with the black center be ‘Bishop of Canterbury’ or part of the Happy Single family? Maybe ‘Romeo?’

  • leslie Said,

    Hi Fern,

    All of the dahlias in that arrangement – except the Honkas – are from one packet of Bishop’s Children seeds I started MANY years ago. (One year was enough, since so many made tubers to store.) Bishop’s Children seeds are still offered for sale and none of the vendors describes them as a mixture of named varieties, so as far as I know black-center has no identity except our non poetic but useful enough “semi-double round deep red BC.”

    On the other hand, if I were in the business of selling dahlia tubers, I certainly might be tempted to increase a few of the Bishop’s kids, give ’em names and turn ’em lose on the market.

  • Fern Said,

    On the other hand, if I were in the business of selling dahlia tubers, I certainly might be tempted to increase a few of the Bishop’s kids, give ‘em names and turn ‘em lose on the market.

    How come the people in charge of these things never listen to people like us?! They’d be rich and gardeners would be happy. Win, win!

  • Davene Said,

    Hi Leslie,
    I was one of the lucky people to be at your talk at the Thomaston Library where you so generously donated dahlias to the audience.
    Mine turned out to be Honka and it’s quite lovely.
    Funny thing happened with a dahlia bulb I thought was dead this past spring. I threw it out near a back garden and just recently saw a red and white bloom Since I don’t know of anything natural that would have that color combination, I checked it out and to my utter amazement, it was the dahlia I threw into the bushes growing merrily away. They are tough!

  • leslie Said,

    Fern, if you ever learn how the people who market new flowers decide which ones deserve their attention, please let us all know… and I surely promise to do the same. Meanwhile, we can be “in charge” (at least to some extent) ourselves. The Flower and Herb Exchange branch of Seed Savers is a hotbed – pardon the puns – of nifty offerings from fellow gardeners all over the country.

    Davene, Delighted your talk-dahlia worked out well — and that’s a great story about the lazarus tuber. Red and white no less! Sure hope it made new tubers this year and will be perpetuating itself.

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