Cafe au Lait Dahlia Floret Flowers

I am probably late to the party, but a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across ‘Café au Lait’ dahlia. Have you grown this cultivar before? Holy cow! The colors are exquisite. The best way to describe them is like… a café au lait. I take my coffee black but my wife, Carrie, has to have a bit of milk and a spot of cream in her coffee. The color of coffee with milk and cream is dreamy. I remember as a kid seeing my parents’ coffee and thinking that it must taste like a caramel square. After one sip, I realized otherwise, although I did like to dip vanilla wafers into their coffee.

There is something about that soft, caramel color that draws us into thinking about sweet smells, gingerbread, and now this magnificent dahlia. Everywhere I read about this plant, people rave about it. The center color of this dinnerplate dahlia can range from the a fore to mentioned cafe au lait into shades of tawny peach. Towards the outer parts of the petals, the flowers transform into a near white. Over the course of the summer, these plants can reach a height of nearly 4 feet in height. As summer heats up, these gargantuan flowers are borne on long stalks. This combination of color, large flower, and long stalk makes Dahlia ‘Café au Lait’ a hit for floral designers. The lovely Floret Flower Farm blog has a wonderful post on harvesting these beauties as cut flowers.

Dahlia Cafe au Lait Stanford

As with most dahlias, do not plant the tubers until June when the soil really warms, making sure to lift the tubers again in the fall before frost. If you live in warmer parts of the country, say USDA zones 8 and higher, then you are probably ok leaving dahlias in the ground. During the winter, store the tubers in a cool, dry spot, being sure they do not freeze or get too wet.

Admittedly, I am starting to go through a dahlia craze phase. These beauties produce enormous flowers in late summer into fall which serves as the perfect juxtaposition to the wicked winter we are inching our way from. I am dreaming of walking past our Café au Lait dahlias with a cup of coffee from our local coffee shop. A slight fog wrestles with the sun in a yen and yang morning, while the dahlia blossoms stand erect, like a victory flag. We have conquered winter and our victory is summer! What better way to celebrate than with a gigantic dahlia flower. I plan on cutting the blossoms and scattering jars of them among the garden’s buildings at CMBG for all to revel and enjoy.


Images: Floret Flower Farm, Stanford

This summer at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, we are focusing our educational programming on pollinators. We have some fun and vivacious plants scheduled for the gardens. One of the ideas we had was to plant an entire area of Cleome or spider flower. We just adore these summer annuals from South America as they draw in swarms of butterflies, bees, and birds.

Cleome-Senorita Rosalita 1

(Ok, I have to hit the brakes… I’m only kidding. This was my response to Rochelle’s post on Cleome yesterday. We do have a small patch of C. ‘Senorita Rosalita’ on the drawing board.)

Begonia boliviensis

Now onto my real plant of the week which is also a flowering machine from South America. (Please, please, please, Rochelle do not hate this one as well.) I was looking for a plant that could provide a bright punch for a slightly shaded border near the front entry doors of CMBG. My boss wondered if I had considered a Begonia. I was using Begonia ‘Whopper Red’ nearby so another Begonia would be a nice fit. After some digging, we came up with Begonia boliviensis. We had used B. boliviensis ‘Bonfire’ in the past so I started searching for other cultivars. This is when I came across B. ‘Santa Cruz Sunset.’ Oooh, I was sold at the name. My spiritual animal is a California surf dude like Jeff Spicoli so sunsets over the Pacific from Santa Cruz sounded appealing, especially during this Maine winter.

Begonia boliviensis in general, likes the soil and air to be warm in order to really grow and flower. We will not plant ours out until well after Memorial Day. By then, hopefully, the soil temperatures will be above 65 and our night temperatures will not be below the mid-low 50′s. As the summer warms, these plants do take off like a bonfire, producing large, 2″ long, tuberous flowers until frost. B. ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ appears to be a heavier flowering selection with more red in its flowers. B. ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’ is a seed strain so it can be grown directly from seed rather than cuttings. And like Rochelle’s beloved Cleome, Begonia boliviensis is a hummingbird magnet.


The leaves on Begonia boliviensis differ than what might first come to your mind. The leaves are long and narrow, with slightly wavy edges. If you plant these plants in late spring/early summer, expect an 18-24″ mound by the end of summer. Their drooping growth habit works well in a container or hanging basket. Also, you can dig these plants up in the fall and store them in a cool, dry shed or basement, as you would a canna or banana. Let the plants go totally dry and dormant and they should emerge the following spring. Begonia boliviensis is native to high altitude areas of the Andes in Bolivia and Argentina so they can survive periods of a dry dormancy.

Have you grown ‘Bonfire,’ ‘Santa Cruz Sunset,’ or any of the Bolivian begonias before?


P.S. – sorry, Rochelle, for the Cleome jab.

Images: University of MinnesotaBenary Seed

As the winter drudges on, my patience for a lack of greenery has started to come to a head.  I don’t think I mentioned that the polar vortex did some real damage to my over-wintering porch plants.   Normally, things don’t get so cold in the back porch that I can’t keep my citrus, a few orchids, and some succulents alive in a sort of mock greenhouse, but this year while everything took a hit, my poor succulents an cactii  got the worst of it and turned to a limp soggy messes after some of the bitterest days.


Feeling deprived of my ‘green room’ I thought I would gather some bits and pieces into a table top garden (that isn’t in the porch) to take the edge off.   I know I might be abnormal when it comes to having things just laying around, but if you become a regular gatherer, you will find that you too might be able to whip up something like this pretty easily.   At the very least, you might have to take a short hike to gather the bulk of the materials.

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Lavandula Phenomenal
There are two songs that I have been playing over and over this winter. One is by Andy Grammer and the other is by Ben Howard. The refrain from both songs is “Keep Your Head Up!” It has worked wonderfully until last week. I have been loving this winter with all of its snow and cold even though many are complaining about it. I know there is nothing that I can do about the weather other than keep my head up. What has put this mantra to the test is what we found after coming back from a wonderful vacation to Raleigh, Atlanta, and Walt Disney World. We drove down in mid January to see my mother in Raleigh. It was great to see her and catch up on things in my hometown even though the snow and cold followed us southwards. Then, we went over to Atlanta for the Junior Theater Festival. What a wonderful time and event. If you have children from late elementary to high school age, seek out and get them involved with junior theater. I could go on about the benefits but we love seeing what our kids are doing. After the fantastic festival, we headed south for a long-awaited family vacation in Walt Disney World. Carrie and I wanted to take our kids down as they are at that perfect age and we also wanted to celebrate the fact that we met at Disney as horticulture interns some 20 years ago.

The reason I am telling you this (I am getting to the plants, I promise), is to set up what awaited us when we got home. One day near the end of vacation, we called a friend to check in on our home. He called and said, “Whoa, it is really cold in your home and the water does not work!” Shoot! Turns out, the circulation pump on our boiler burned out and so our home had lost heat for several days. As we were waiting for the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios, I am on the phone with the boiler repairman. Well, he fixed our boiler but the freezing of the pipes caused two sections of pipe to burst above our dining room. The water break occurred in the ceiling above our fan, which we had left on for air circulation. The ceiling fan acted like a water sprinkler and spread the water all over the dining room, living room, and into parts of our kitchen.

This week, we are living in a neighbor’s summer home as contractors repair our floors, walls, and ceiling. At the same time, we are tracking down all of the things we lost or were damaged (Carrie’s framed painting from David Armstrong that had a personal note to us on the bottom had water damage to the matting but hopefully, we can get the matting replaced). Every little thing, is gonna be alright, to quote Bob Marley.

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Why Slow Flowers? from debra prinzing on Vimeo.

Over the new year I had an amazing opportunity to learn first hand about the cut flower industry in the state of  California.  I haven’t had the chance to compile our adventure into a few posts (I can’t wait to share!) but suffice to say, in all my efforts to support and help my own community, local farmers and growers (through the Harvard Farmers Market), I never fully considered the cut flower industry as I have local food producers. Read the full post

Yes, I am opening this week’s blog with a line from that famous 80′s hit by Men at Work. He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.

To follow-up on that song which you will now have stuck in your head throughout the day, let me introduce you to a fantastic evergreen, perennial plant from the land down under (an annual in our climate). Kangaroo paw or Anigozanthos, is a wonderfully showy and somewhat exotic flowering plant from southwestern Australia. From what I can tell, Anigozanthos has been grown in California for sometime as their climate is the most similar to Australia’s in the continental United States.

Anigozanthos flower

I first encountered this plant while touring nurseries in California and in the conservatories of Longwood Gardens. The foliage consists of green, strap-like leaves that emerge from the base of the plant. In the spring and again in the fall, plants produce a flowering stalk up to 6 feet in height. From these flowering stalks, the plants earn their nickname from the tubular flowers that resemble a kangaroo’s paw. The flower buds are coated with tiny hairs that give them a rather unique appearance. They somewhat remind me of candied fruits. The flowers are brightly colored in shades of red, yellow, orange, and green along with the more unusual white and black. Once the buds open, they have small, 6-petaled flowers. The flowering stalks also work well as cut flowers in floral displays but truth be told, I would have a hard time cutting the flowers because they are so unusual.


What’s really cool is that a couple of nurseries are now offering Anigozanthos cultivars as annuals for us here in the eastern United States. I noticed today that both Sunny Border and Landcraft are listing kangaroo paws in their 2014 availabilities. Most of these plants are hardy down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit so they are just fine with a late spring or early fall frost. Grow Anigozanthos in full-sun, well-drained soil, with moderate water and nutrients. If the plants dry out too much in a hot summer, they will go dormant. Summer dormancy is an adaptation to survive in their natural habitat.

I am adding Anigozanthos to my plant list for this summer’s displays. I am hoping to combine it with darker Phormium and maybe complement it with a Black Madras ornamental rice. Have you grown kangaroo paws before?


Photos:, UBC Botanical Garden

Last week, one of our staff, Will, called me in to show a new plant he had found. As I was first entering his office, I could see a plant on his computer screen that looked a bit like a small, pastel colored Gladiolus. He described to me a new plant that he wanted to try called Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame.’ Wow! It looked beautiful but I had never heard of the plant before. Turns out that this is a relatively new bi-generic hybrid combining Digitalis purpurea with the non-hardy Isoplexis canariensis. We had grown and killed many Isoplexis canariensis while I was at Longwood Gardens so immediately I became skeptical of the plant. Isoplexis is a gorgeous, shrubby plant with orange flowers from the Canary Islands. It is not hardy along the eastern United States so it was grown in the conservatory. Even there, the summer humidity of the mid-Atlantic region was too much for Isoplexis to thrive.

Digiplexis close-up
That said, Charles Valin from Thompson and Morgan in the United Kingdom, had the notion to cross Digitalis purpurea with Isoplexis canariensis back in 2006. He was able to make a gorgeous bi-generic hybrid with bi-colored, foxglove-like flowers. The resultant plant had a lot of wonderful characteristics: foxglove flowers in unusual colors (orange throat with pinkish purple outside), dark green foliage, bushy habit with multiple flowering spikes, and it flowers from May until September. That’s right, flowers from late spring until early autumn. No foxglove can do that.

Illumination Flame Digiplexis
The one drawback is that it is only hardy to USDA zone 8, which for us along the east coast of the United States would mean from the southern coast of Virginia and points south. It has shown to be vigorous (a grower’s guide recommends growing in a 2 gallon pot) so it might make for a fantastic annual for us here along the Maine coast is USDA zone 6a. The ultimate size of the plant should be around 30″ in height and slightly less in width.
Look for Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’ to be the plant to get for 2014. It has already won the Chelsea Flower Show Plant of The Year in 2012 and Greenhouse Grower’s 2013 Editor’s Choice award. What other plant do you know of with its own website and Facebook page?


Images: greenhouse product news, random acts of gardening