The great floral designer Jennie Love, who I am fortunate to count as a friend, recently remarked that dahlias don’t belong in arrangements. She said this as we were gazing over her beautiful fields at sunset, glasses of sangria in hand. Long rows of dahlias, destined for wedding bouquets and celebratory arrangements, were spread out before us. “Dahlias should just be in a vase. By themselves.”
Her comment reminded me of my uneasiness with dahlias. Even a rose person like myself has to admit (reluctantly) that the dahlia may be the true queen of flowers. The clarity and saturation of its colors are unsurpassed. The size of the blossoms demands absolute respect, even genuflection.
Thank goodness dahlias have no scent, or my roses would be quaking in fear for their leggy, defoliated lives.
But like seashells taken home that never look as beautiful as they did on the beach, often when these breathtaking blossoms are cut from the stalk they seem to lose a little of their magic. Their charisma flags further in a mixed bouquet.
And so when I cut them, I’ve begun to keep them segregated from the zinnias, salvia, and ageratum in the vase on the kitchen table. Much better.
Instead of finishing an article that was due, I began looking at dahlia paintings on the internet. It appears that still life painters have long known the Rule of Dahlias.
If I were an art collector, I would start by building a collection of Russian flower paintings, like this one by Ilya Mashov, from the early 20th century.
The Impressionists liked dahlias, too. By themselves, in a vase.
Henri Fantin-Latour perhaps appreciated the dahlia the most. In the late 19th century he produced many flower paintings, a number of them portraying vases and baskets of dahlias.
Of course, every rule requires an exception. I may have only recently figured out what the painters knew long before me, and be done trying to get dahlias to fraternize well with other flowers.
But here you can see that nothing is impossible.