Eric Greene grows fabulous dahlias, among other wonderful plants, but says he is “the laziest gardener in the world” but he really means he is an efficient gardener. He doesn’t want to work any harder than necessary.
His lazy techniques result in an amazingly large garden that shares his in-town property with a swimming pool enclosed on two sides by shrubs, enormous vegetable and flower gardens, a gigantic compost pile and a small front lawn.
When I first visited the Greene garden during the Greenfield Garden Club Garden Tour I was amazed by the long dahlia allee, and the dahlias weren’t even in bloom yet. I quickly made a date with Eric Greene and his wife Jeanne to find out how the ‘world’s laziest gardener’ handled all those dahlias which grow from tender tubers that need to be dug after the bloom season and stored until the spring.
His long history and love affair with dahlias began when he was given a white dahlia decades ago. That dahlia taught him about exponential growth. When he dug it up in the fall that one dahlia had produced five new tubers. When he planted those tubers the following spring he harvested 25 tubers in the fall. You can see where this story is going. Those white dahlias were planted and replanted and bloomed all around the swimming pool he had at the time. At this point he has 100 varieties of dahlia, and only keeps two tubers of each one in the fall. “I always have plenty of dahlia tubers to give away to friends,” he said.
Amazingly he loved the white dahlias so much that it was many years before he considered color. Nowadays he has a rainbow of dahlias from pale to brilliant colors. Many are bought from Swan Island Dahlias in Oregon.
Greene happily explained the dahlia routines he has followed since moving to his current house 14 years ago. He begins by ordering a load of compost from Martin’s Compost Farm every year. His soil is heavy clay which is not hospitable to dahlias.
On the first weekend in May he digs all the planting holes on both sides of the walkway, removing the soil and placing it where he needs more soil. Then he fills each hole to within three inches of the top with compost, and puts an extra pile of compost off to one side. When all the holes are dug and prepared he begins planting his tubers. The eyes of the dahlia tuber must face up. If there are long tender white roots, put out during winter storage, he removes them. Any green shoots growing from the eyes of the tuber have to be planted so they are fully underground and protected from a frost.
According to his own records his frost free period usually is from May 1 to October 15.
After the tuber is planted he puts a tomato cage around it, and pounds a wooden stake outside the cage. He ties the cage to the stake as extra support because his tall healthy dahlias are heavy and need that strong support. He waters the dahlias after planting, and then as needed. “Dahlias are thirsty,” he said. “I try to make sure everything in the garden gets an inch of water every week.”
In September, when he knows the bloom season will soon be ending he takes his woodsman’s tape and identifies each plant by type, size and color. The names are not as important to him as knowing what they look like.
Frost will kill the dahlias in the fall. He leaves them in the ground for a couple of days and cuts off all the foliage, leaving about two inches of stems. Then he digs them up and lets them sit in the sun all day. He shakes off the loose soil but never washes them.
The identifying tape follows each clump into a grain bag. The woven plastic grain bags do breathe and protect the tubers. All the grain bags then go onto wood pallets in his basement where temperatures stay in the low forties or less. It is essential to keep the tubers cool all winter.
In mid to late April Greene goes through the clumps separating and cutting off the tubers that have at least one eye, and attaching an identifying tape to each separated tuber. The identified tubers then go into boxes, separate boxes for each variety. That way he can easily share particular dahlias with friends. Many tubers are also donated at plant sales.
The dahlia walk is just a part of the gardens on the western side of the house. Tall sunflowers, majestic red cannas, airy cleome, small calla lilies and zinnias. The garden is a veritable bouquet. Jeanne keeps the house filled with bouquets, artful arrangements of a floral mix, or single dahlias in separate vases but lined up together on a windowsill.
Greene is a man with many strings to his bow. While he had his first garden as a 10 year old trying to grow corn next to the driveway, he also fell in love with crystals and minerals. After enjoying careers as a sculptor, an art teacher, and manager of companies that mined Herkimer diamonds, he and Jeanne now own and operate Treasure Mountain Mining, an online company selling crystals from all over the world. I have to think there might be some connection between the brilliant beauty and variety of the dahlias in his garden, and the sparkling beauty and variety of the minerals and crystals he sells online.
Between the Rows August 27, 2016
This Post Has 4 Comments
Ooooh, pretty! One of these years, I’m going to grow some Dahlias. They’re amazing cut flowers, as you show in your first photo!
Thanks, Pat, great to hear what temps dahlias need over the winter. Did you ever see the dahlia border that Agatha Christie had in England? It’s in a video about her life. A stunning, long border!
Beth – I had to run out and buy some after I talked to him in June. Mine are doing pretty well, too.
Sandra – how good to hear from you. I never saw Agatha Christie’s dahlias, but I remember some movie with Maggie Smith talking about them being vulgar. I wouldn’t even care if that were true. Of course, Dame Agatha wouldn’t care about Dame Maggie’s view.