A farmer in Al-Hammam Al-Gharbi gives up her yard for dozens of dahlias

A farmer in Al-Hammam Al-Gharbi gives up her yard for dozens of dahlias

By Aurelia C. Scott
Photos by Hannah Hoggatt
From the September 2023 issue

Principal and retired teacher Judy Stallworth believes teachers never stop learning. So, in May 2012, I was thrilled to receive a box of dahlia tubers from a neighbor. “I'd never tried to grow anything before, but I thought, 'What fun!' Let's plant it!'' She dug it into a sunny perennial bed and, two months later, was rewarded with a rainbow of abundant flowers that bloomed until the first frost. “Then I found DAHLIAaddict, and that was it,” Stallworth says. “Dahlias last a long time in a vase, and in the garden deer won't eat them. Can't you love them?” Today, more than a hundred sunflower relatives bloom from June to October next to the modern West Path home she shares with her husband, Ernie.

Covered in soft gray clapboards and clapboards, the house sits on the edge of a pine forest on Winnegance Bay. The garden, designed by now-retired landscape designer Jackie Barrett, thrives in the 800 square feet between the house and the water. A crazy quilt of color surrounded by grassy paths, includes three kidney-shaped dahlia beds and three other beds of dahlias planted with other perennials, including irises, lambs' ears and peonies.

“My garden is disappearing and my garden beds are growing,” Stallworth says with a laugh. “So, if you want to mow as little as possible, give in to dahlias. Plus, you'll have all the variety you want in one plant. Dahlia cultivars range from 10 inches to four feet tall, with flowers ranging from 2 to 10 inches in diameter. There are The flowers are in every shade except blue, and take many shapes, from loose mop to solid balls to a single row of sunflower petals.

Organized more or less by color, Stallworth's dahlias dance in the Gulf breeze. This year, she's particularly thrilled with Ivanity's arching burgundy petals and the velvety crimson petals of Black Satin. Willy Willy's star-shaped ivory flowers resemble orchids, while the feathery tartan blooms are painted burgundy and white. Emory Bull's pinkish-purple flowers are the size of dinner plates and Elijah Mason's small pale orange flowers are speckled with red. On a bright morning last September, Stallworth leaned over a cup of Café au Lait's delicate pink heads. “Brides love this stuff,” she says.

Dahlia grower Judy Stallworth suggests planting the tubers in June, when the ground temperature is 60 degrees or warmer, and digging them after the first hard frost. Rinse, pat dry, and prune individual tubers from the central 'mother root' that will sprout weak-stemmed flowers before storing them in a cool, dark place for the winter.

Stallworth grows more than 50 varieties of dahlias to ensure there is always something thriving to give away. She cuts bouquets for visitors, weddings of friends and their children, and for Portland restaurants owned by her son, Harding Lee Smith. She is a member of the Bath Garden Club, and gives presentations on growing dahlias with Susan Bushnell, of the Harpswell Garden Club. In the fall, she stores tubers for friends and garden club fundraisers, passing on the gift that started her dahlia journey.

May 2024, Down East MagazineMay 2024, Down East Magazine

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