Dahlias are the chief attraction in gardens during the cold weather across the plains of North India. Most people in the Dooars manage to grow a few every year, regardless of where they live: town, tea garden or busti. They have the luxury of space, which city dwellers lack.
Dahlias are easy to grow, but anyone wanting to grow blooms of good size and shape has to make a special effort. Dahlias are propagated from cuttings taken from tubers, or bulbs. This has to be done in the first week of September. The little seedling plants are carefully nurtured and protected from rain for about six weeks until they're ready to be transplanted into well manured and aerated soil. Here we have to be extra vigilant at the time, because of freak storms that strike in late October and early November.
Once they're in their beds, the plants have to be fed carefully. Sunlight and water are the chief 'food' of the dahlia plant, and regular manuring is required. The flowering season begins in December and carries on through March. Dahlia plants could grow up to six to eight feet in height.
The largest of blooms could grow up to a foot in width, while the smallest could measure just two inches across. There are thirty six species of Dahlia, and the variety seems endless.
The one that has flourished in my garden this year is the miniature hybrid variety. These plants are not grown from cuttings, but from seeds. The seeds were sent to me by my brother Raja, from Delhi.
The tallest plant is no more than a foot and a half in height and the blooms vary in size from two and a half to three and a half inches across.
Strictly speaking, neither plants nor blooms are 'miniatures'.
There are many colours in the lot and some flowers are bi-coloured too. Some have a single layer of petals while others have multiple layers, almost looking like lotuses.
What sets them apart from everything else in the garden is the perfection of each flower. Here are some pictures of this year's beauties. Sitting among his flowers is the proud 'Dahlia artist', Mithu Oraon.