With Hurricane Florence bearing down on North Carolina, Bullington Gardens director John Murphy was a man in motion on a recent afternoon, working to get the Hendersonville botanical garden prepped for potential stormy weather. Of particular concern was Bullington’s dahlia garden, star of its annual Dahlia Daze tours and upcoming third annual Wine & Dahlias fundraising event.
“No telling what high winds — even just winds — will do to dahlias,” he said. “They’re finicky plants, for sure.”
Grown from edible tubers that yield striking, spiky-petaled blooms, dahlias take center stage in many a fall garden in Western North Carolina. But Bullington’s annual display offers an expansive celebration of the colorful blooms.
Dahlias can range in color, says Murphy, from pure white to a dark red that’s nearly black. “So, there are lots of purples and yellows and oranges and reds, and then combinations of those. We have some that look like they’re splattered with paint,” he says. “And there are some that have yellow in the middle then turn to orange then red as [the petals] go out. There’s just a whole range of colors with dahlias, and we’ve got them all.”
The garden’s 600 dahlias also vary significantly in size, with specimens ranging from adorably tiny 1-inch varieties to some that are about the diameter of a large dinner plate. In order to keep the bigger ones upright on their stems, the garden employs three layers of plastic netting staked horizontally for support over each bed.
Retired commercial dahlia grower Brian Killingsworth and a team of a half dozen volunteers care for the dahlia garden year-round. During Dahlia Daze, Killingsworth leads visitors on educational tours of the garden, discussing topics such as the origins of the plant and its growing conditions and requirements.
Murphy notes that while fall is the time to enjoy dahlia flowers in WNC, spring is the season for planting them. For those who want to learn more about selecting and handling the tubers and coaxing them to produce stunning blooms, Killingsworth offers an extensive program on cultivation each March at the garden.
In addition to the free morning tours of the garden (preregistration is required) that are available during Dahlia Daze, Tuesday-Thursday, Sept. 18-20, the Friday, Sept. 21, Wine & Dahlias fundraiser offers a chance to spend an evening wandering through the dahlias with a glass of wine and hors d’oeuvres. The event will feature a silent auction, wine from St. Paul Mountain Vineyard and Crate Wine Market & Project and hard cider from Noble Cider, along with appetizers made by garden volunteers.
“If the weather’s nice, it’s going to be a lovely evening,” says Murphy. “Something just seems to happen when you have people strolling the dahlias in the evening with a glass of wine.”
WHAT: Dahlia Daze and Wine & Dahlias
WHERE: 95 Upper Red Oak Trail, Hendersonville. bullingtongardens.org
WHEN: Dahlia Daze tours are 10-11 a.m. Tuesday-Thursday, Sept. 18-20. Tours are free, but donations are greatly appreciated. Space is limited and reservations are required. Wine & Dahlias is 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21. Regular tickets are $35; patron tickets are $100. RSVP is required. For details, tour reservations and event RSVP, call (828) 698-6104.