Saturday, September 13, 2008

...and colour as bright as your cheek


Where should I start? My father was a man obsessed - he grew dahlias for showing, and did it very well, although he no longer does so. My childhood was measured in dahlia growing seasons. From the taking of cuttings, setting out in the garden, the first buds, the smell of mothballs to deter earwigs. The forest of stems, rising up from a floor of straw. Hide and seek between the rows.

As showing season came, the smell of wet newspapers to hold the stems in place during transport. The conical vases designed to show off each perfect bloom to its best advantage. Rainbows of flowers, preened with paintbrushes. A litany of names I could reel off, but remember only vaguely now - Evelyn Foster, Rothesay Robin (my favourite), Klanlstad Kerkrade...

Second class blooms were sold to the local grocer, with me carrying them the short distance, blooms down, to keep the water in the stems. What a smell. What a sight.

And the shows - hundreds of blooms of endless types, sizes and colours. Only six or seven, I could look at the flowers and note imperfections - one bloom larger than the others, one gone 'daisy-eyed', drooping stems, a petal nibbled by an earwig. The types - cactus, decoratives, the semi-cactus; and the sizes, checked scrupulously with judging rings: giants, large, medium. But best of all, the pompoms. My father never grew these, much to my disappointment. I loved their neatness, their roundness, their firmness, and best of all, they were on a scale a small child could appreciate. A handful of perfection, which I was never allowed to touch.

And so, now I have my own garden, do I indulge my misty-eyed reminiscences? Well, I've grown a few, but the less showy cousins of the prima donnas grown by my father. The Bishop of Llandaff (but who hasn't?) and his children grown from seed. A few bedding dahlias (the shame!) and one or two other cultivars. But I have not indulged my desire for the pompoms. Child-sized wonders will be left in the past; but still, when I visit the Malvern Autumn show this month, I'll check for imperfections, and my palms will itch to cup the perfect, tiny blooms in my hands and inhale the scent of my childhood.

The title of the post comes from a poem by Lord Holland:

"The Dahlia you brought to our isle
Your praises for ever shall speak:
Mid gardens as sweet as your smile,
And colour as bright as your cheek."


The Garden Monkey said...

Man Alive that's a big one!

HappyMouffetard said...

I was rather smaller then ;-)

Gail said...

Really lovely post! My favorite lines: "I'll check for imperfections, and my palms will itch to cup the perfect, tiny blooms in my hands and inhale the scent of my childhood." I could see at the show!


chaiselongue said...

It is still a big flower, though! You describe their associations so well. I've come late to appreciating dahlias and only started growing them here in France a couple of years ago when I found that they tolerate the dry climate well. I love them now, though - they flower all summer, intense colour in the garden and in a vase on the kitchen table when we eat.

Una said...

Brings back memories. My Dad used to grow bright orange dahlias and give me bunches to take into school. I think their smell was an acquired taste though.

Lucy Corrander said...

I really enjoyed reading this - which is surprising because I don't like dahlias (probably for the very reasons you do . . . their neatness, their brightness, their predictability, their pointy petals and the way they are so painstakingly cared for by their owners).

But I very much enjoyed reading your memories - so much so that by the end, I was wondering if I should reassess my distaste for dahlias.

But well, no, after this pause for reflection - you haven't converted me . . . but I enjoyed being put to the test.


P.S. Thank you for becoming one of the PICTURES JUST PICTURES 'Followers'.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your detailed memories of family and gardening. Your father must especially love that photo of his beautiful dahlias and his beautiful daughter, very sweet.
Maybe you could find a little spot somewhere in the garden for a few pompoms, and a few memories.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely story - so evocative.
PS I just got seed for pompoms for next year.

Sunita Mohan said...

Mmmm, thats a lovely post. I wish I had written it! I love that thread of nostalgia and sweet memories weaving through it all.

Sandra said...

This is one BIG dahlia! I take my hat off...

ConsciousGardener said...

Wow, I'm wanting for dahlia love. The picture of you as a child is priceless! Great story.