Looking Ahead to Spring & Summer of 2012

If you are a gardener, you are an optimist – always looking forward to the better growing year ahead – AND you have great plans on how to do it better! That’s us in a nutshell.

We had a wonderful flower season in 2011 and are very excited about all the possibilities ahead in 2012.

We doubled our number of peony plants for 2012 – adding another bed of fully double whites and dark pinks. The roots have been in the ground since mid-October and we anticipate peonies in bloom this year by May 10. 

 

The Calla lilies were ordered from our supplier January 6 – we plan to have them crated up and started in the sunroom by Valentine’s Day – first bloom is projected to be mid-May.

We loved our oriental lilies in 2011; our favorite of all the varieties we had last year was a very unusual double lily, and it is our pick for 2012. This beautiful flower, “Bella Rosa,” is lightly scented and pollen-free (a plus for many of our customers!). As the flower opens, it transitions from white with green speckles to a beautiful bright white and pastel pink. First bloom – May 15 or thereabouts.

The tuberoses should be in bloom by August – gardenia-like scent and so delicate in appearance.

Dahlias!  Our most favorite flower. We traditionally start planting in the field Mother’s Day weekend and hope for blooms by mid-July continuing until the first hard frost (or first snow, if it’s a year like 2011!).

Hydrangeas are a new endeavor for us – we installed deer fencing and put 86 plants into the ground in the fall of 2011. The plants are 3 years old and we should have some blooms available for fall of 2012.

We will have dahlia plants available for sale at the Leesburg Farmer’s Market the first 3 weeks of May and thereafter will be at the market with our fresh cut flowers every Saturday through the end of October. 

Honey from our beehives should be available after August 1. Beeswax skin creams, propolis soothing salve, and other small-batch, hand-crafted products of our beehives will be for sale at the market and will soon be available for purchase online.

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New residents in the garden

a double-blooming asiatic lilyOur first year for growing oriental lilies has been an adventure! Don grew them in crates — 25 to 30 to a crate — starting them in our sunroom back on March 26. They were moved outside under shade cloth as the weather warmed, and now the last 20 lilies are blooming. It takes almost 15 weeks for them to mature into 36-42″ stems with as many as six  flowers to a stem. They are so elegant and long-lasting in a vase — wonderful flowers!

Regarding some of our other new additions: Tuberoses are just starting to blossom now, and calla lilies are coming up.

Our most favorite flower — the DAHLIA! — is coming on strong. The plants got a good start because the weather was overcast many of the days right after planting, and we have been cutting and taking them to the market for the last three weeks, which is very early for us.

Wishing everyone a relaxing summer; we hope to see you at the market!

Dahlia Workshop at Pharsalia

Pharsalia workshop, April 2011At an April 16 workshop at the lovely Pharsalia — a former plantation and national historic landmark in Nelson County, Virginia — Don discussed “how to grow dahlias from start to finish”: starting plants, taking cuttings, proper care of plants to produce the best blooms, harvest and post-harvest care, and digging and storing tubers.

Take a look at some photos from the event

Photo courtesy of Pharsalia

Spring 2011 is here, and summer will soon arrive!

Don started his dahlia plants February 1 this year. The plants were started by potting up dahlia tubers in 4.5-inch pots and placing them under fluorescent lights on top of heated mats. March 1, Don took his first cuttings and placed them each into a tiny rooting pot – 105 cuttings to a tray – covering them with a plastic greenhouse-type top.

small dahlia plants

After the second set of leaves sprouted, Don placed the small dahlia plants into 4-inch pots and placed them on a tray with other small cuttings (trays of 20), and they have matured nicely.

gathering dahlia cuttings

We have about 950 dahlia plants now. The plants are being moved outside as the weather warms up. In-ground planting begins Mother’s Day weekend. Johnny and Don put up a new shade cloth over the rear dahlia garden.

installing shade cloth

The Dahlia Growing Workshop Don taught at Pharsalia on April 16 was a great success, and we had such a wonderful time with Foxie Morgan and her family and friends at their beautiful home. It was a memorable evening and day for us, and we will long remember the hospitality, food, and beautiful setting.

More about the “etc.” in Don’s Dahlias, Etc.: Don is growing oriental lilies for the first time this year. At an auction during the Specialty Cut Flower Growers’ conference in fall 2010, Don placed the winning bid on a lot of 250 lilies. The bulbs arrived on March 1 and were placed 25 to a crate in about 6 inches of soil.

young lily plants

The first planting has now been moved outside under 30% shade cloth. Peonies are coming on strong; good foliage color and long stems – we have been disbudding the peonies as they mature – this gives the plant more energy and a better bloom.

Bees! We have been actively working our beehives the last few weeks. We are only fourth-year beekeepers, so this is always an adventure. This is also the first year we actually found the queens with little problem – every other year it has been, “Is that the queen?! … Nope!” We were laughing the other day about how opening up a beehive and looking at all those buzzing bees really helps a person focus on the task at hand. Here are three young queens and their attendants waiting to be placed into their new homes.

queen bees and their attendants

We will be at the Leesburg Farmers’ Market Saturdays beginning (projected!) May 14, from 8 am – 12 noon. During May and June we will be bringing dahlia plants, and then peonies, lilies, and dahlia blooms as they progressively come into season. Beeswax skin cream and honey will be offered as they are available.

We are excited about all the possibilities that 2011 has to offer, and we’ll keep you posted!

Highlights from 2010

Our website hasn’t been updated in a very long time, so as the end of our 2010 growing season approaches we decided to look back and share some highlights of our year.

Lots of changes and challenges!  We had peonies for the first time this spring.  Here Don is holding some of the earliest blooms — we had lots of single peonies at first — which I had never seen before.

Don with peonies

The single peony bloom is less “showy” than the fully double blooms below — still so beautiful in its own way — Don looks happy to be holding the first flowers of 2010!

double peonies

These fully double peonies were taken to the Leesburg Farmer’s Market along with dahlia plants and tubers for several weeks in May. They were a big hit with our customers on Mother’s Day weekend.

And speaking of Mother’s Day weekend…

Don with young dahlia plants

The dahlia plants went into the ground starting Mother’s Day weekend, and in June HOT WEATHER arrived but NO RAIN!  We do have drip irrigation on the plants and it was utilized in all the beds on a rotating schedule, but NOTHING beats a good steady rainfall and we had to wait for rainfall for a very long time.

In July, while still waiting for a good rain (or any rain, for that matter) the first flush of stink bugs arrived!  They chewed up dahlia buds and blossom centers — they are very destructive and no natural predators around — unfortunately birds share our opinion of these pests and don’t consider stink bugs a menu item.  We had to hand-pick these bugs off the plants.

We celebrated July 4th weekend by hosting our 2nd annual “Honey Harvest and Luncheon.”  Don’s daughter Amanda and her friend John both volunteered to assist.  We had a great time together and got a lot of work done.

honey harvest 2010

We harvested over 150 pounds of our own honey (the “Etc.” in Don’s Dahlias, Etc.!).  Amanda is not only our webmaster (mistress) — she also designed our honey bottle labels, and the labels have drawn a lot of attention to our honey.  Thank you, Amanda!

honey labels

Aren’t they great?!

By August, although still waiting for rain, we had enough flowers to supply our brides and outstanding floral designer, Holly Heider Chapple.

September brought some rain to our gardens, and we finally had enough dahlia blooms to attend the Leesburg Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.   What fun to see some of our regular customers again!   We also bring our honey and hand-crafted beeswax moisturizing skin creams to the market.

beeswax moisturizing creams

Don was show chairman again this year for the National Capital Dahlia Society’s 75th annual show held at Brookside Gardens in Maryland.  Don was away a night or two, so our friend Valerie Burton helped Rhonda at the market.

Valerie Burton

It’s October now, and the dahlia plants are producing so many beautiful blooms, but it is sad to realize the first hard frost is getting closer by the day!

We owe thanks to many people for making an enjoyable hobby a successful small-grower business — Holly Heider Chapple, the brides who come out to our gardens to select the flowers for their special day, the customers we see early every Saturday morning at the Leesburg Farmer’s Market, and most of all our thanks to Amanda.  Finally, I must mention the three “assistants” who work daily by Don’s side, helping in all aspects in any way they can.  One could almost say they work like “dogs” …

 

Lydia, Lizzie, and Louis

From left: Lydia, Lizzie, and Louis

It’s been a great year!  Thanks again,

Don and Rhonda Dramstad

Crowd Pleasers

Camano Rascal

Camano Rascal

Don’s Dahlias grows 300 varieties of exhibition dahlias that we sell at farmers’ markets. A few times a season I compete in Dahlia shows and enter blooms for competition with other growers in the Mid-Atlantic region. These are all the same blooms that we bring to Leesburg Farmers’ Market every Saturday morning throughout the season.

With judging for the shows being on Saturdays, the competing blooms are selected the previous Monday for special attention. Umbrellas go up to protect the blooms from the sun and rain, and wooden dowels are clipped to the stems to straighten them and make the bloom as close to perfect as possible. Cutting is done on Friday morning, and the blooms are immediately placed in a holding and transport solution to preserve the optimum condition of the flower. We use a cooler that holds the blooms at 39 degrees for the conditioning period. The dahlias are staged with wooden shims in special containers for showing and then transported carefully to the show for judging and exhibition.

On September 25th, I took 35 entries to the 2009 National Capitol Dahlia Society Show at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD. One entry of Camano Rascal — the red and white cactus dahlia pictured here — won the People’s Choice award as the most popular flower of the show.