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A reflection on dahlias

Rodney Eason, CEO

Often, I am asked, “What is your favorite plant?” My response is usually along the lines of, “Well, it depends on the day and which plant I looked at last.”

'Cafe au Lait' at the Abby Garden

I enjoy all plants (even poison ivy from a distance, with its amazing fall colors) but if I had to pick my top summer plants, dahlias would be on the list. Giant and brightly colored, these fleshy, hollow-stemmed annuals are the perfect garden antidote to our five-month-long Maine winters. Strategically planted at the Preserve’s Thuya and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Gardens, dahlias erupt through the borders in late summer with their saucer-sized flowers commanding the attention that they deserve.

I am always on the lookout for things that are new and different so when a tall, simple-flowered dahlia emerged within the Abby Garden borders, it piqued my interest. Compared to en vogue dahlias like the three- to four-foot tall ‘Café au Lait’ with their eight-inch dinner-plate sized blossoms, this unique species, Dahlia sorensensii, is around three inches in diameter while flowering at six to eight feet in height.

D. sorensenii at the Abby Garden

D. sorensenii or Sorensen’s dahlia, is a relatively new species, first described in 1997 by European botanists Hans Hansen and Jens Hjerting. They named this pink-flowering beauty after the noted dahlia expert, Dr. Paul Sorensen, a retired professor at Northern Illinois University. Dr. Sorensen wrote a monograph, or exhaustive description, on the genus Dahlia.

I love how our wonderfully talented team of garden designers and gardeners can tuck a more subtle flower, like Sorensen’s dahlia, into the billowy borders of the Abby Garden and make it flow with the rest of the garden’s composition.

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