Updated: Sep 12, 2021
As I write, hurricane Ida is sending several inches of rain our way in an all day downpour. I'm hoping that all the staking and tying up of dahlias, zinnias, cosmos, delphinium and many more, will hold up. Our dahlia bed includes a large section of 'Cafe au Lait' dahlias this year, a favorite of brides and wedding designers--and they are just about to start really putting out flowers, from now until frost. I picked several buckets last night ahead of the storm.
This slow rainy day and a bucket of dahlias makes me think of how I came to be a cut flower grower. It must have been about ten years ago that I stumbled upon Holly Chapple at a flower market in Leesburg, VA and was absolutely enchanted by the flowers she had on offer. David Austin roses, peonies, lilacs, sweet peas--all of my favorite old-fashioned flowers for sale in make-your-own bouquets! I couldn't believe it--what luxury. I chatted with her and the women at her booth about what they did and the flowers they grew and later signed up for a dahlia workshop at her farm studio. Participants toured the garden of the president of the local dahlia association--an amazing place with the most serious deer fencing I'd ever seen and shade cloth over the entire growing area to protect the thousands of varieties he had growing in his backyard garden. This is where I first met 'Cafe au Lait'. I'd never seen a dahlia like this. So rich, so pale, almost pink, but yet not quite. The name kind of says it all. He told us this was the most sought after flower in the weddng industry. Oh my, I was hooked and went straight home to order tubers for the next spring. I was a casual provider-of-flowers for friends and had helped with the flowers for a number of weddings over the years so I thought it might be best to have a flower brides adored. I didn't yet have a place in my life to be a flower farmer, but I certainly had a place in my life for 'Cafe au Lait'.
Then several years later a friend mentioned that I should take a course that she had read about which taught about growing cut flowers called Floret. I learned a lot about how to produce cut flowers, but the teacher, Erin, was a serious dahlia grower and I was very tempted to get into dahlia growing in a bigger way (she has recently published a book on dahlias). Within a few weeks of beginning her class I decided that I would start a cut flower farm, put in a big wholesale order for dahlia tubers, and set about beginning to do all that was involved in transforming our property into a farm. I had been a very serious gardener for many years, but enjoyed the idea of growing flowers for others and as part of a rural farming community enjoyed the thought being a small part of that world.
'Cafe au lait' has been with me every year since that tour ten years ago and our little bed of dahlias is ready to start seriously putting out the blooms. (I think we have about 600 tubers in the ground, a small bed for a grower, but I lost almost all my tubers a couple years ago in a winter storage accident and have you tried to get your hands on dahlia tubers recently?)
Labor Day weekend marks the beginning of the fall wedding season and dahlias are in demand. We can't wait to get our flowers out and into the hands of all the talented designers who work their magic.