Dahlias

Historical beauty grown across the West
Kathleen N. Brenzel and Jim McCausland

During the 19th century in England, winning dahlias fetched hefty cash prizes in competitions, motivating breeders to produce a steady stream of larger, increasingly exotic varieties.

In The English Flower Garden (1883), English landscape designer William Robinson called the large-flowered varieties "monstrosities," prompting breeders to work on smaller single-flowering types to be used as bedding plants. Today, Westerners grow both. Named varieties, many of them magnificent in bouquets, number in the tens of thousands.

OUR FAVORITES: 'Anatole' has white flowers streaked with crimson and grows to 31/2 feet tall. 'Bashful' (21/2 ft. tall) bears deep purple blooms with lavender tips and golden yellow centers. The flowers of 5-foot-tall 'Chilson's Pride' are pure pink with white centers. 'Pink Gingham' (to 41/2 ft. tall) has petals of bright lavender-pink with white tips. 'Siemen Doornbosch' bears lilac blossoms with creamy pincushion centers on stems to 11/2 feet tall. On 'Wheels' (to 31/2 ft. tall), red petals and a yellow fringe surround the center disk.