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Justified and Ancient

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous of late, lots of 50’s at night and 70’s for daytime highs. It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. I could just about give Mother Nature a big open-mouthed kiss.

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

I admit these temps are not ideal for maximum growth on my precious tropicals but for everything else (including me, okay, especially me) it’s fantastic. The Hydrangea paniculata ‘Kyushu’ along the mall has never been so happy. Not that they have looked bad other years. It’s just they look extra full this year.


The Sedum ‘Black Jack’ and ‘Matrona’ on the tunnel at the IMA entrance suffered in the spring with foliar disfigurement from fungus but now are glorious in their fall bloom, all covered in an assortment of bees (many of them of the honey variety).


I had not planned to have a mix of these two but nature thought otherwise. ‘Black Jack’ is a very dark burgundy mutation of the gray/green flushed with burgundy ‘Matrona’. But it is a rather unstable mutation and ‘Black Jack’ very easily reverts back to ‘Matrona’. Kinda like a politician heading to church on Sunday morning after a Saturday night full of debauchery in the clubs. Anyhow. We are now in September and the temps should begin cooling regardless of the summer weather pattern. The last several weeks before frost are the glory days for one of my favorite plants, dahlias. Though they bloom nicely all summer, it is here in the autumn when the sun looses a bit of its power and the nights cool that dahlias really start pumping out the blooms. It seems they are at their absolute zenith when the first frost hits. And I’m okay with that. Afterall, they have been blooming since July or earlier. Let the frost blacken them and send them off to their winter sleep. Come spring we will start all over again.

Dahlias were brought to Europe over two centuries ago from there homeland in Mexico and Central and South America. It was nearly 200 years before that when the Spanish conqusitadors first saw them in Mexico. The tubers were first tried as food. The Europeans found them rather bland though I think the petals will work nicely in a salad or as a decoration. After the food thing didn’t work out so well the blossoms were looked at and declared pretty enough for the garden. The modern dahlia was created using up to seven different species mostly from Mexico and Guatemala. You rarely find the species type today with the exception of the tree dahlia. Which as it turns out may be two distinct species, one white the other lavender. The tree dahlias can reach 25 – 30 feet in height but they take a long time to bloom so success this far north may not come every year. Nor will those heights. You can find more information in great detail from the American Dahlia Society. We grow several older cultivars here at the IMA. I think of them as justified and ancient.

Many of these came from Old House Gardens, a mail-order nursery that specializes in heirloom bulbs (and tubers and rhizomes). They have Dahlia atropurpurea introduced in 1789 which I should try one day. But for now we have plenty of others. Jersey’s Beauty is from 1923. It’s one of out tallest growing cultivars. I’ve seen ours over 6 feet tall.


One of the heaviest bloomers is ‘Glorie van Heemstede. It’s called a waterlily type because the flower shape is reminiscent of waterlily blossoms.


Another yellow but with small ball shaped flowers is ‘Yellow Gem’. This one dates back to 1914.


Introduced in 1944, ‘Sherwood Peach’ has the largest flowers of the heirloom varieties we grow. The big peach flowers have a hint of lavender in them with makes them all the more beautiful.


I first tried to just cut the fully open flower and leave the lateral buds. I couldn’t get enough stem for it to be useful. I now cut the stem longer and the lateral buds add can be cut off or left be. The heirloom that really brought dahlias back to forefront of current garden design beginning in the early to mid 90’s has to be ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ introduced in 1927.


The screaming scarlet flowers combined with black lacy foliage make it an absolute standout in the garden.



I’m quite certain it is in the parentage of most of the current dark leaved plants on the market including ‘Bishop’s Children’ (duh) and the Happy Single® series (They couldn’t find Happy Marrieds?) We have three that I just call by their color as they were purchased before individual names were given like Happy Single® Romeo™ from Proven Winners. Just look at all those trademark symbols. I call the ones we have simply Happy Single® red, lavender, and amber.




I wish I had space and time to go into the modern cultivars but I fear I may have said too much already. So much to tell you all about. All the plants I mentioned growing here can be found in the cutting garden adjacent to the IMA Greenhouse.

Filed under: Horticulture

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