Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Eleanor Perenyi on dahlias


'Lilac Time' Photo credit: Olaf Leillinger


Some people can quote from Shakespeare; I quote from Henry Mitchell and Eleanor Perenyi, two of America's classic garden writers.

Eleanor Perenyi captured the cultural silliness, as well as the deep importance, of gardening. Third in my series of excerpts from her book Green Thoughts (1981) is her frequently-cited reflection on dahlias:

Looking at my dahlias one summer day, a friend whose taste runs to the small and impeccable said sadly, 'You do like big, conspicuous flowers, don't you?' She meant vulgar, and I am used to that. It hasn't escaped me that mine is the only Wasp garden in town to contain dahlias, and not the discreet little singles either. Some are as blowzy as half-dressed Renoir girls; others are like spiky sea-creatures, water-lilies, or the spirals in a crystal paperweight; and they do shoot up to prodigious heights. But to me they are sumptuous, not vulgar, and I love their colors, their willingness to bloom until the frost kills them and, yes, their assertiveness. I do like big flowers when they are also beautiful.

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19 comments:

EB said...

Ah, so they are tall too. Nobody had mentioned that to me. I love quick-growing tall plants. Next year!

Janet said...

Excellant words! I too love big flowers.

Susan aka Miss. R said...

I planted Dahlias for clients for the first time this year--only one hated them...the one most concerned with the opinion of others btw.

Laura Livengood Schaub said...

'Blowzy as half-dressed Renoir girls' I've always loved that line! Thanks for another gem, and for the shout-out about other Eleanor-related blogs in your previous post; we appear to be in good company!

mothernaturesgarden said...

Sumptuous is my favorite word. Bigger is better. :)
Donna

Heather said...

If it wasn't for the dig them up at the end of the season, I would have these beauties all over my yard. Yours are lovely. Question.... how did you link up with Home Depot to give away that gift card? It has intrigued me since you did it. Just wondering because you are not the first one to do it and I am always wondering about all things blog. Hope your day is great!
Heather

Daffodil Planter said...

Emily, Oh it can be a whole production number with the sturdy stakes, the pinching back, the tying up--6 feet tall!

Janet, Nuthin' like a dinner plate dahlia for "big"!

Daffodil Planter said...

Welcome Susan! Yes, dahlias do make a splash and cannot be called delicate. Maybe they were a little too "agricultural" for your client's taste? Mine reminded me of big tomato plants.

Daffodil Planter said...

Laura, She could turn a phrase, and give us great information too.

Welcome Donna! I agree, sumptuous is up there with zaftig.

Heather, Hate to say, that's not my dahlia or photo. Mine had a misadventure with powdery mildew. I think that is 'Lilac Time'. In zone 7 one can feel lucky and leave tubers in the ground. Now, Home Depot--they contacted me out of the blue.

Pomona Belvedere said...

I've been increasingly won over by dahlias though I have yet to have anything resembling a sumptuous flowering; they seem to take their time settling in (or maybe I just don't know what they need yet).

While many dahlias are tall, there are some varieties that are shorter, the modern "Gallery" series being a beautiful case in point. I also lust after some of the gorgeous heirloom dahlias, but alas most are too big for my garden.

Daffodil Planter said...

Ed. note--It is 'Lilac Time' and I have captioned the photo.

Pomona, Dahlias like the cushy life with rich soil and water--not exactly our natural conditions here in the foothills! I wanted b-i-g so only tried the dinner plates. I'll go check the 'Gallery' series you mention. It's wonderful to have late summer blooms.

VW said...

I like the smaller dahlias. When visiting a local dahlia garden, I wondered if some of the plants had come off an alien saucer. I think some dahlias fall into the overhybridized category. Or into the just plain gaudy category. But here I am sounding like a plant snob, better stop! I wouldn't make such comments if I didn't know you were rather saucy at times yourself, DP :-) Any plant that adds a bit (or a dinner-plate amount) of beauty and color must be a good thing, my instincts aside. - VW

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

Loved it. Isn't it funny that everyone's taste runs to different things? I personally love dahlias,and I'm trying a new variety this year.~~Dee

tina said...

Hey, the bigger and more blowsy they are the bigger statement they make. I love dahlias. Mine just began blooming. And you know what they say, "Beauty if in the eye of the beholder." Far be it for anyone to make a judgment about someone else's garden.

Karen - An Artist's Garden said...

Love this post!
This is my first year at trying dahlias, so far, I am loving them - I am growing them for cut flowers and they look fabulous.
K

VW said...

I almost never revisit a comments section, but I'm hoping we're still friends after my differing opinion, DP! Surely you just laughed over my alien comment and muttered something about VW being a plant-snob-in-denial . . .

Daffodil Planter said...

VW, No offense taken! I've just been away at my other job (you know, the one I do under an assumed name, since DP is of course my real name). It would be boring if we all agreed on plants. As long as you don't diss daffodils we'll be fine!

Daffodil Planter said...

Dee, Glad you liked the quotation. She wrote that in 1981 (or earlier) and I first saw dahlias as a groovy flower in Los Angeles about 1990. Good luck with your new variety!

Tina, What? We're not supposed to make judgments about gardens? Where's the fun in that ;-) Dahlias are a kick but I can see people not adoring them.

Karen, A mixed bouquet of dahlias can be so stunning! Good luck with your crop. I bet you chose some dazzlers.

peoniesinthesnow said...

I love it, that is funny! I love my big blowsy flowers if it weren't for dahlias I'd have nothing in my vases in September. The bigger the better!