Another Day, Another Dahlia
If you’ve seen dahlias on the tables of Sweet Basil and 195 American Fusion or in a bouquet from Hollyfield Design, they have likely come from the garden of Alex Rowland.
What started as a hobby for the owner of All-American Mattress and Furniture is now a part-time job for him and his assistant, John Boyer. Alex grows everything from banana trees to passionflower vines on his 150-year-old Robbins homestead, but dahlias can be hard to come by in the South. They don’t like the heat and they love water, and they don’t hold up well when shipped in from cooler climates. So they’re often in high demand.
“You get bang for your buck,” Alex says, like a true mattress salesman. “You can grow all these different flowers but with dahlias, one plant is constantly producing. They just keep coming in, and the varieties can’t be beat.”
Alex’s garden has evolved over 20 years into a flowering mass that’s “wild by design,” which means he doesn’t have time for neat and orderly rows. Many of the dahlias he clips from plants that tower above his head; others snake along the ground. His secret? Dirt nourished with literal tons of compost and double ground oak mulch, and lots of weed pulling (no herbicides).
“We’re not super technical,” he says. Still, his dahlias take home top honors at the North Carolina State Fair — 31 ribbons last year.
- Want to see the competition? Stop by the flower tent when the fair opens to the public on Thursday. Here’s one of this year’s entries.