How wonderful that this gorgeous garden cut-flower is making a very notable comeback in every floral designers' repertoire. Getting down at 5am on Friday to Flemington markets meant that I dodged the scramble for these gorgeous White Ballerina Waterlily Dahlias and quickly snapped up my bunches before they all vanished. Combining them with stunning snow white Porcelain Roses and the fabulous "Snow of the Mountain" or Euphorbia marginate "Summer Icicle" made this "Remembrance Day" bouquet extra memorable.
The Dahlia is the national flower of Mexico. Spaniards reported finding the plants growing in Mexico in 1525, but the earliest known description is by Francisco Hernández, physician to Philip II, who was ordered to visit Mexico in 1570 to study the "natural products of that country". They were used as a source of food by the indigenous peoples, and were both gathered in the wild and cultivated. The Aztecs used them to treat epilepsy and employed the long hollow stem of the (Dahlia imperalis) for water pipes. Dahlias are members of the family Asteraceae, which is part of the daisy family. These wonderful flowers originated in the mountain ranges of Mexico, Guatemala and Columbia, before becoming popular throughout the world.
A gardening expert once said of Dahlias, "Never have so many enjoyed so much with so little time and work." And he was right. There's probably no plant in the flower kingdom that gives the gardener more spectacular reward than the dahlia.
Dahlias are a little like roses. Or hostas. Most gardeners can't grow just one. Once you grow a Dahlia, you want more. And like roses or hostas, there are seemingly endless dahlias to keep a Dahlia gardener happy. Growing them is remarkably easy, so that just adds to the frenzy. If you've never grown a Dahlia, it's high time you did.
They’re also available in many forms and different sizes, ranging from dwarf 40cm to 1.5-2m giants. You can grow dahlias from seed or tubers – both will happily thrive in a pot or planted in the garden. And, with reasonable care, they will produce a mass of colourful blooms for years to come.
Dahlias prefer warm areas but can be grown outdoors in all climates. In colder climates, tubers should be planted only when the last frost has passed. These plants are sun-lovers, so choose a sunny position in the garden where they’ll get at least six hours of sunlight. Ensure they are protected from strong winds.
Dahlias have been celebrated in many of the art work of the great impressionists, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet. If you happen to have been in New York between May and November 2015, you would have had the joy of seeing these gorgeous blooms take centre stage at the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the New York Botanical Gardens. If not, you can still see them in bloom in late summer and early Autumn if you wander down the Seasonal Walk.
The Dahlia I chose to use in this arrangement is called The White Ballerina, from the Waterlily Dahlia Group. These flowers have double blooms, broad sparse curved, slightly curved or flat florets and very shallow in depth compared with other dahlias.
Dare I say that I have a new darling on my "must have" list.
I had the most wonderful grandmother any person could have wished for. I am sure that my love for gardening and florally blooms in particular, is a direct result of spending countless hours in her rose garden with her while she lovingly tended her beloved florals. I can still see her with her apron, gloves and rose prune shears in hand, with a wide brimmed sunhat and her gorgeous smile. She always smelt of flowers too. Like the garden was part of her, her own piece of living art. She taught me (and my mum, who loves her garden with equal passion) all about caring for our own flowers and to respect nature. She hardly ever used chemicals to fend off pests, instead, we were paid a couple of cents for every rose beetle we caught and put in a jar which she fed together with other grubs and crumbs to the large array of wild native birds that loved visiting her garden as much as we all did.
She had many favourites, Dahlias, Alstroemeria, Gaillardia, Roses and of course the stunning Peonies, which have become my gorgeous daughter's most favourite bloom of all.
In honour of her, I thought to dedicate the next couple of blog posts to learning more about a particular flower. Once the story of each of these blooming beauties are known their presence in an arrangement hopefully continues to inspire us to appreciate the wonderful precision to which they have each been so purposefully created.
THE GRAND PEONY
I visited China last year and was amazed to see the gorgeous varieties of this amazing flower and how much it is revered and loved. It features in their art work, on gorgeous silk scarves and as their unofficial national flower it stands as a symbol of spring, female beauty and reproduction. It also represents richness, honour and high social class. Peonies grown in China were once a luxury item, selling for the equivalent of thousands of dollars for one flower stem.
Few other garden plants go back in history as far as peonies, which in China have been used and cultivated for over 4000 years. There are hundreds of cultivars, of which only a few can be found in gardens in Central Europe.
In ancient times the peony was held in high esteem as a medicinal plant.
In Christian symbolism the peony flower represented wealth, feminine beauty, and healing power. In the Middle Ages peonies were often painted with their ripe seed-capsules, since it was the seeds, not the flowers, which were medicinally significant. Usually the roots and seeds of the plants were used to treat all kinds of ailments.
Peonies (sometimes referred to as Peony Roses - Peonies are however not related to roses at all) are challenging plants that most good gardeners would like to grow and most florists ADORE using in arrangements! Of all the peonies, tree peonies are the most difficult plants to grow.
The genus name Paeonia is derived from Paion, the physician to the gods in Greek mythology, implying praise for something of exceptional quality.
Peonies are desirable because:
Like people, Peonies have different likes. These include:
The variety featured in my bouquet is called "Paula Fay". They bloom heavily in late Spring to early Summer, make excellent cut flowers with excellent vase life (over 7 days) and have won the American Peony Society's gold medal. As a garden plant, the "Paula Fay" Peony is rabbit and possum resistant but butterflies love them! Let's all be butterflies then......