Thursday, September 17, 2009


Not too long ago the downtown streets were bleak and colorless; now hairdressers, restaurants, real estate offices, and bars are swaddled and bunted with flowers. Why did businesses decide to put out plants? To increase business? To celebrate beauty? Perhaps a bit of both. Burgeoning pots appeared during the flush days before the recession, and I'm glad to see they have not disappeared with the downturn.

Before the current fashion, a gardener in East Arlington delighted us with his dahlias, which are easy to grow if you have full sun but not easy to grow on for the next season. In cold New England they must be dug up before frost, making sure each stalk has at least one "eye," the incipient bud that will sprout the next year. The clumps must be allowed to dry, then separated and stored in a cool, dry place, in sand or vermiculite. Forty degrees fahrenheit is the ideal temperature for storage, not an easy climate to find in a suburban house.

Every spring for years the dahlia gardener puts out his wintered-over plants. They're in full bloom now. He maintains his place with ferocious order, but beyond the black asphalt driveway, tight lawn, and straight-edged beds close to the house, he lets the dahlias luxuriate against the chain link fence separating his property from the sidewalk. The flowers break through and reach us. I've never seen him.


  1. I like your unseen gardener best.

  2. Yes, that's the best part for me too. While the flower boxes and pots are colorful, they have a florist-arranger look, while the unseen gardener gives us a wild profusion completely his.

  3. I find it remarkable that this flowering has occurred in Boston and New York. I didn't notice when it started, but started to notice it when I went to New York for a few days in late August for four or five years some time ago.

    My grandfather used to take in his dahlias and he brought them when he and my grandmother moved east to help after my mother died. His dahlias were extremely plain, purple, and put into a small patch near the tiny garage in that Levitt house that my father moved us all to after he sold my mother's house. And my grandfather planted a garden around the fence in the tiny backyard. When i went away, it was nothing. And when I came back, it was glorious. I realize how that it was just nasturtium and zinnias, probably marigolds..and have always wanted to replicate it, but never have. He was magic...and that way of keeping something, taking it with you, planting it because you have to plant, was a lesson...

  4. Purple dahlias are very vigorous and long lasting. I'd love to hear more about your grandfather's garden.