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Dahlia Daze

Posted On August 7, 2020

The bright blessings of Miss Betty McCall

BY Kirk Moore

Being from south Georgia, as a kiddo I never saw a dahlia flower blooming in full glory.  Just too hot to grow them.

Likewise, I never had a dahlia experience in tidewater Virginia, as I worked at Colonial Williamsburg and dahlias are a 19th-century American garden introduction.

It was in Greene County, Georgia that I fell in love with “daaaahhhhlias” (as it is pronounced in Georgia.)  A dear friend, Mimi Vickers, grew them in abundance at her historic farm, and we used them in the little Carpenter Gothic Episcopal church every summer Sunday.  Leave it to me to quietly marvel that the red painted fairy tale church with its dark ship steerage interior was the perfect foil for the jewel-toned floral confections. And there were always buckets and buckets to creatively wallow in! So! The chancel was a veritable flower show of “dinner plates, pom poms, mignons, cactus, ball, anemones, orchids, collarettes”-all types of dahlias as defined by shape.

Moving to Highlands, the ever-present values of green were so calming, mixed with the heavenly summer temperatures.  Then came the pastel mountain laurel and rhododendron – lovely, but I am a Matisse “cut out” kind of guy.  Give me color and lots of it!  The color wheel be damned!  Prayers were in order. “Dear God, I need a dahlia angel.”  God always delivers.  This time in the form of Betty McCall.

Early one morning in the summer of 2015, I was sweeping in front of Oakleaf, and a little apple doll of a lady walked past.  I spoke and she quietly responded.  My heart skipped a beat.  Moments later she walked back by and I said, “These beetles are going to be my undoing,” whilst pulling the shiny creatures off my hollyhocks. She stopped and told me that I was doing it the right way, “just pull them off and squish them!” We made introductions and I soon found out that she was a serious gardener, growing and putting up vegetables, but her favorite occupation was, as she put it, “working in my flowers.”  The next week, when I got to Oakleaf there were three coffee cans filled with dahlias and a giant cabbage!  It was not long before I had cans and cans of dahlias every week, and we had struck a bargain.  I would have dahlias every week, and in return, I paid her oil bill in winter.

After years of this most special relationship, on a late fall day, Miss Betty walked in with a box of dahlia tubers.  She said, “these are for you, I’m not going to be growing flowers next year.  She looked so tired that I was truly worried, and with cause.  Weeks later, Miss Betty was gone.

My mother always told me that stars were loved ones looking down on us. I now will look up into the night sky for a brilliant, twinkling dahlia shaped star shining on me. And when a “Miss Betty” dahlias ends up in a bride’s bouquet, I always say, ”You have no idea how blessed your bouquet is.”