I think dahlias are sadly underused. I mean, what’s a gardener supposed to do, once the showy June perennials are finished, but the oriental and trumpet lilies are not yet going? Sit around admiring the rudbekia and the monarda and other virtuously-applied natives? I don’t think so. Not in my silly city yard. I’d way rather look at a five-foot tall dahlia with blooms as big as a baby’s head in some outrageous color and utterly artificial shape.
But particularly under-used are the shorter dahlias, because they have an important function, which is replace the tulips. While I love tulips, their aging foliage is admittedly ugly, especially since the fancy kinds I plant almost never reward forbearance by appearing a second year. So I treat tulips like annuals and yank out the leaves as soon as the last colorful petal drops.
You have to do something with the holes, however. I know that Elizabeth, another bulb fiend, fills in with interesting annuals. But I have super-sandy soil and no time in the summer to be out with a hose watering a bunch of shallow-rooted fuss-budgets. I am much too busy visiting friends who very conveniently own waterfront houses.
The answer for me is a short, single, drought-tolerant dahlia named ‘Roodkapje.’ The timing could not be more perfect. When the tulips are done in late May, ‘Roodkapje’ goes in and then works its head off all summer, producing an endless supply of cheerful, single, scarlet blooms. Then, when a frost cuts down ‘Roodkapje,’ it’s time to lift the tubers and put in the tulip bulbs. If only everything in life worked so neatly.