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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Sep 29

Missed Opportunity?

Posted on September 29, 2017 at 10:10 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Plants and gardening have been a part of my life since I was a toddler. Back then, my godfather Pete would take me by the hand every evening after he came home from work and walk out into the garden with me. I would admire the beautiful flowers lining the planter closest to the house, or watch him spade the rich soil, snip back errant growth and sometimes prune back spent flowers. My favorite time was when we planted seeds for the vegetable garden. This was an opportunity to get my hands into that rich, black earth—the proverbial dirt under my nails that remains to this day.

There are a few things I remember that are still as fresh today as they were almost 70 years ago. Pete grew the biggest dahlias I have ever seen. When ads proclaim dinner-plate-size dahlias, I bear witness—they really exist. As a child they almost seemed tree-size—surely five or six feet high! It was the flowers that took my breath away. The colors were blood reds, rusty oranges, intense yellows—all the color of autumn contained within that sunny spot in the garden.

Autumn flowers are not nearly as abundant as summer color. Oddly, in all these years, I have yet to find myself planting dahlias. The flower, the color, the brilliance and magnitude are the essence of fall. It makes me wonder why I missed that opportunity. And now, living in Lassen County, it is a true miss as it is considered a tropical plant that only thrives in USDA zone 7 or better—in other words, Marin! 

If you’re considering dahlias, be forewarned these show-stopping flowers can be labor-intensive. They are tubers that are planted in the spring, require excellent soil and drainage, need about an inch of water per week, and necessitate some serious support to carry the weight of the stems and flowers as they emerge. After the plant is spent, the tubers need to be lifted from the soil and stored in slightly damp peat moss during the winter months. This isn’t a plant for the casual gardener and speaks volumes about my godfather's dedication to his garden. 

 Sedum Autumn Joy
 Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
With dahlias not an option for me here in Lassen, I have experimented with other flowers for fall color. This year, much to my delight and surprise, I found Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ to be just that—a joyful mass of soft pink flowers that emerge into deeper shades of pink as they grow. They thrive in colorful pots lining the stairway and seem impervious to harsh winter climates and intense summer heat.

A missed opportunity? Perhaps, but also an avenue opened for exploring other colorful flowers in autumn. The spring catalogs will be arriving in a few months. Are you willing to give dahlias a try? Or will you opt for easy-to-care-for Sedum? Or have you found another favorite to fill the fall floral void in your garden?


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