Vick’s Nineteenth Century Dahlia Field

Last weekend  I drove to North Kingston, Rhode Island for a dahlia show, sponsored by the Rhode Island Dahlia Society. This is an annual late summer event that I thoroughly enjoy.

Here is one of the flowers I saw that afternoon. This dahlia’s called ‘Merluza’. [below]

Dahlia ‘Merluza’ at Rhode Island Dahlia Society’s Dahlia Show, held last weekend

The beautiful show of dahlia blooms there reminded me of nineteenth century seed company owner James Vick’s love for dahlias.

In providing seeds for his customers, spread around the country, Vick cultivated acres of various flowers and vegetables, including dahlias.

You would have found his field of dahlias about five miles north of the Rochester city limits.  [below]

Vick’s Seed House and Mill at his trial farm, located north of Rochester, New York. History of Monroe County, New York, 1877

Once the editor of the Illustrated Christian Weekly visited Vick’s dahlia field and wrote an article about his visit.

The editor’s article appeared in Vick’s Illustrated Monthly  of September 1879.

He wrote, “Mr. James Vick, of Rochester, N. Y., was the pioneer in the systematic growing of flower seeds, and without doubt the most extensive grower in America.”

That was quite the praise for Mr. Vick at a time when the seed and nursery business was growing around the country.

Then the editor raved about the blooms of the many dahlias he saw in the rows devoted to this flower at Vick’s seed farm.

He said, “Perhaps the largest field devoted entirely to one kind of flowers, at the time of our visit, was one filled with Dahlias, and containing six or more acres. It was supposed to include every variety known of real merit, and the display was gorgeous.”

What a sight that must have been – to see six acres of nothing but dahlias.

The Rhode Island Dahlia Society’s Show expressed that variety in what growers had on display. I was especially impressed with the prize winners.

In a room off the central area you could see dahlia flower arrangements.

This is the where you could experience the creativity demanded in flower arranging. The top winner for the category called the ‘Dining Room’  deserved the prize. [below]

Notice the brilliance of the dahlias in this table design.

First place in the category ‘Dining Room’ arrangement.

Vick grew many dahlias. As the editor stated in his letter, Vick cultivated almost every variety known at that time.

Today there are thousands of dahlia varieties available on the market. The Rhode Island Dahlia Society’s show last week offered just a few of them.  Many however were new to me.

I am sure that Mr. Vick himself would have been proud to attend the Rhode Island event.

 

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Nurseries Made Dahlias Popular

Nurseries Made Dahlias Popular.

Plants enter our gardens usually through the portal of the green industry like seed companies, nurseries, and growers.

That was the case with the dahlia.

Originally from Mexico, the dahlias appeared in Spain in the eighteenth century.

The dahlia reached England in 1803, and America a few years later.

Boston nurseryman Charles Mason Hovey (1810-1887) became an early advocate for the dahlia. In his publication Magazine of Horticulture in 1835 he called the dahlia the “King of Flowers.”

In 1838 he wrote, “They [dahlias] have become one of the greatest and most valuable ornaments of the garden.”

Then he also said, “We believe the time is at hand when our own gardens will produce dahlias equalling the English.”

Hovey won Best in Class I for his twenty-five dissimilar dahlia blooms at the Flower Show sponsored by  the Massachusetts Horticultural Society on Saturday, October 1, 1842.

Thus his writing about the plant and also growing it, and, of course, selling it contributed to gardeners planting it in the garden.

Hovey was only one of the early nurserymen to encourage the dahlia.

Today we have a company like American Meadows which still encourages gardeners to grow dahlias.

This image [below] is from the AM company website.

American Meadows dahlia image

Dahlias  [courtesy of American Meadows]

Hovey wrote in 1840, “Some seedling dahlias have been raised, which equal the best productions of the English garden.”

American dahlia growers can stand up to the best.

Today there are 57,000 varieties of the dahlia. This flower has come a long way, with no small thanks to the American nursery business.

 

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Dahlia Book Highlights Numerous Plant Varieties

Dahlia book highlights numerous plant varieties.

It’s fall and time to think about how much dahlias add to the garden. They bloom till Thanksgiving here in New England.

Leaning about dahlias has just become easier, thanks to a new book, The Plant Lover’s Guide to Dahlias.

plant-lovers-guide-to-dahlias-coverAuthor Andy Vernon takes the reader on a journey of dahlia history and growing dahlias, and then fills the rest of the book with photographs of dozens of dahlias in all their glorious color. Vernon, a BBC TV garden show producer and horticulturist, has been growing dahlias for fifteen years.

He says, “I love propagating dahlias, growing them, collecting new varieties and giving friends excess plants I’ve grown from seed.”

This book is part of the series from Timber Press called “The Plant Lover’s Guide To”, and in this case, it’s dahlias. It is published in cooperation with Kew, England’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

That origin tells the reader that there will be lots of information here about England’s fascination with the dahlia. The reader is not disappointed.

We read about dahlias at Great Dixter House and Gardens, where the modern craze in dahlias originated in the 1990s with Christopher Llyod’s display of the dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff.’ [below]

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' [Courtesy of White Flower Farm]

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ [Courtesy of White Flower Farm]

Then there are nurseries in England as well as Vernon’s own garden to provide various dahlia varieties. Of course the Hampton Court Flower Show and the Chelsea Flower Show also receive credit for their annual exhibits of dahlias.

Many novice dahlia gardeners hesitate to plant dahlias because of the fear of having to dig them up and store them for the winter. Vernon provides clear, simple advice here.

England’s Victorian and Edwardian eras used the dahlia extensively whether in a garden bed or in a container.

In the nineteenth century there were dozens of varieties of dahlias on the market. Mid century England experienced a dahlia mania, which Vernon compares to the tulip mania of the sixteenth century. Gardeners could not get enough of this flower.

Vernon provides a clear description of the various forms of the dahlia flower, which can be confusing sometimes. He lists them simply as anemone, collerette, ball, pompom, and cactus.

As anyone who grows dahlias will admit, there are hundreds of dahlias on the market. They are improving. Vernon says, “Times have changed, and dahlias are being re-invented for more modern gardens and tastes.”

Whether you plant dahlias in beds or containers, you will find much value in this book. Vernon even includes a list of forty-eight perennials and biennials that grow well with dahlias.

At the end of the book he includes a list of nurseries where you can purchase dahlias. The majority in the US are located in Oregon and Washington.

Vernon’s enthusiasm for this flower comes through from the very first page. For anyone seeking to learn about the dahlia and how easy it is to grow, and see dozens that are on the market, this book will provide the roadmap. He says, “It really is an exciting time to discover these plants.”

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dahlia-ketsup-and-mustard

This red and yellow dahlia flower of ‘Ketchup and Mustard’, I saw at September’s Rhode Island Dahlia Society’s annual show in Wickford, R.I. It was only one of dozens of old favorites on display at the show which is also a chance to see the newest in the world of dahlias.

 

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