"Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it." Confucius
Dahlias are one of my most favorite flowers, yet I have never really grown them. I think that is because I have a ready source of these wonderful flowers in greater variety of color, size and shape than my garden could ever produce.
Starting in late July, there is a veritable rainbow of gorgeous dahlias at my local farmer's market.
I love everything about the farmer's market; the bustle of people, the fresh picked fruit and vegetables, and the stands blooming with summer flowers. With luck market day is warm and sunny. Everyone, it always seems to me, is in a festive mood. In the air there is the smell of chicken kabobs sizzling on the grill, and the delicious scent of fresh baked bread and pastries.
For me the very best part of market day, is selecting the bouquet of fresh flowers that will light up my hall table all week. And, in my humble opinion, the prettiest, fresh flowers at the Brampton farmer's market can be found at Butt's farm stand.
Amanda Oldham (right) with her aunt Robin Withers in front of their dahlias and buckets of glads at Butt's Berry and Flower Farm stand at the Brampton farmer's market.
The Butt family has been growing flowers for four generations, first at their farm in Huttonville and now at their new farm in located near Rockwood, Ontario.
Starting in 1944, the family began growing glads and strawberries at their first farm on the outskirts of Brampton. When the popularity of dahlias grew in the 1980's, fields were changed over to grow them.
Then slowly over the years, the city began to inch ever closer to the farm. Developers, keen to build houses for a ready market, began knocking on all the doors of farms in the area. "They used to sometimes come in twice a week, pressuring us to sell.", Robin Withers recounts.
The family finally relented about five years ago, opting to move out far from the encroaching suburbs and bought a farm in Eramosa township. There, they carry on their flower and berry business, driving everyday to the flower grower's clock in Mississauga and coming into Brampton for the market on Saturday.
It one thing to grow flowers for your own personal enjoyment, its another to grow them for a living.
I asked Robin about the challenges the farm faces. "Its very tough."she replied,"We are always at the mercy of the weather."
We were thrilled when Robin invited us out to the farm to see the dahlias growing in the fields.
It was a hot, humid day when we headed down the tree lined road to the farm house, just north of the small town of Rockwood.
I was curious about the rows of small rocks resting on the open gate and fence that marked off the flower fields. I asked Robin later if that was for luck. "No" she answered, "My father just likes to pick them up in the field and put them there."
Chelsea the dog made an excellent field guide on the afternoon of our visit.
Aren't they just magnificent?
Dahlia flowers in a variety of shapes and an amazing range of colors.
They prefer full sun and well drained sandy loam. Plant dahlia tubers about five inches deep, with the eye facing upwards, after the last frost. For best results, incorporate a couple of spadefuls of compost into the soil, when you plant dahlia tubers. Thereafter, feed them only with fertilizers low in nitrogen and high in phosphorous and potassium.
Water dahlias lightly after planting (too much water can cause rot). Thereafter, ensure they have water at least once a week. To encourage good flowering, do not allow them to dry out during blooming season.
Pinch your dahlias for more compact plants and deadhead them regularly. The more flowers you cut, the more flowers the plant will bear!
To overwinter the tubers, wait until frost has blackened the foliage and then dig deep beneath the clump. Lift the tubers carefully avoiding possible damage to the neck near the crown. Each tuber can yield as many as 10 more by autumn.
Use a sharp knife to slice the young tubers from the crown. Discard the "mother" along with any baby tubers showing signs of damage. Bring the tubers indoors and wash the soil from the tubers. Allow them to dry for 24 hours. Label the tuber and wrap them individually in plastic wrap. Place them in plastic shoeboxes and store them in a dry place above freezing temperatures for the winter.
Me, I prefer to get my dahlias at the market. (Less work and all the glory!)
I think going local means more than buying fruit and vegetables grown in your area.
I say, support your local flower grower and bring home a bouquet of fresh flowers just for you! Place them somewhere you pass frequently, like a hall table or put them on your desk at work. Go on! You desire it (and you help support your local farm family to boot)!