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Saugus Gardens in the Fall

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Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable


By Laura Eisener


Astronomical fall begins tomorrow, September 23. Other indications of fall include the departure of birds for more southerly locations. Charlie Zapolski reported this week “The hummingbirds are gone as of yesterday.” He had noticed the last week or so that they seemed to be feeding more frequently, a sign that they are getting ready for the energy demands of migration. Ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) visited his feeder frequently throughout the summer so their presence will certainly be missed. Meanwhile, we may see some less familiar visitors as other birds travel through town on their southward journey. Several people have reported hearing and seeing a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) at the Iron Works this past week.

So far so good as far as our hurricane season goes in Saugus. The thunderstorm that held off until after Founder’s Day wrapped up on September 9 dropped a bit of hail in the Saugus Center neighborhood, and Hurricane Lee brought some strong wind and a little rain Friday night and Saturday morning, but nothing even close to the ’38 hurricane, sometimes known as the Great New England Hurricane, which swept up the Atlantic coast on September 21 and caused much damage 85 years ago. Phyllis Brown remembers that day when, as a little girl, she saw many tall pines (Pinus spp.) in her family’s yard on Appleton Street felled by the storm. The sole survivor was a pine on the edge of Appleton Street. It became a landmark on the street as it towered over hemlocks and other trees at the pavement’s edge. It marks the end of an era as this tree must soon be removed.

In Cliftondale, Anita Parajuli has planted a beautiful garden around her home. Containers line the front steps to welcome visitors, and the front gardens are full of blooming French marigolds (Tagetes patula), dahlias (Dahlia spp.) and hollyhocks (Alcea rosea). Every tiny space is full of flowers in exuberant colors, and passersby can’t help but smile. The unusual colors of the dahlias – a large dark purple and a smaller peach and yellow bicolor dahlia – add drama to the flower combination. Some of the flowers, especially the hollyhocks, seem to be growing out of very narrow crevices in the pavement, but there they are, blooming away.

Dahlias are tender plants, unable to survive our winters, so they require extra maintenance for those who want to enjoy their showy flowers. To enjoy the same plants for a second summer, the tubers need to be lifted in the fall before the ground freezes, although the below-ground tubers can usually tolerate a light frost. Gardeners may find that the tubers have multiplied over the summer, so they can expect more plants next year. The tubers need to be stored in a dry location where they will not freeze and replanted outdoors in the late spring. To avoid the tubers rotting, they should never be stored in plastic bags or unventilated containers, and they need to be kept in a location where the humidity is low.

Like other members of the aster family (Asteraceae), wild dahlia species have disc florets and ray florets. There are over 40 dahlia species, most originating in Mexico. Breeders have been very busy – with many hybrids and new varieties being named each year. Many popular varieties are fully double, which means they have no disc florets and are covered with ray florets, so cannot reproduce by seed, but only by division of the tubers.

As late season bloomers, they are among a small group of plants in a competition category in the Topsfield Fair’s flower pavilion later this month. Large-flowered varieties like Anita’s purple ones are often referred to as dinner plate dahlias, as the flowers are 10 or more inches across. They make spectacular cut flowers, as it only takes one to steal the show in a bouquet. Dahlias come in almost every color of the rainbow except true blue, and many dahlia varieties have petals that may have more than one color, and the patterns can include contrasting borders on the tips of the petals, interesting soft washes of color or even speckled patterns like the red and yellow ‘Neo’ variety.

The American Dahlia Society classifies dahlias based on several characteristics, including flower size, shape and color. Single flowered dahlias have visible disc flowers, so they somewhat resemble a colorful daisy. Cactus dahlias have long, pointed petals that are slightly rolled inward along their sides, so they appear spiky. Some dahlias have long petals with split ends, called fimbriated petals. Dahlias with small, rounded heads and slightly incurved petals are known as pompom dahlias, and larger ones with a similar shape are known as ball dahlias. Some appear to resemble other popular flowers, such as anemone, peony-flowered, orchid and waterlily dahlias.


  Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.


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