Sparrow and Finch Gardening Dahlias in abundance with ceramic artist Frances Palmer

Dahlias in abundance with ceramic artist Frances Palmer

Frances Palmer’s Connecticut garden is a nonstop harvest. The ceramic artist’s garden is a constant harvest from the first spring bulbs to the last asters of fall. Frances Palmer, a ceramic artist from Connecticut, has a constantly producing garden. From the spring bulbs to the last asters in the fall. Dahlias are the most prominent flower in Frances Palmer’s beds, and each year she grows hundreds.

Frances Palmer has been a ceramist, gardener, and author for over 20 years. She is also the creator of the popular Instagram page. She also shared some of her favorite dahlia varieties and sources, as well as her tips for growing them.

Plus, Comment in the box at the bottom of the webpage to be entered into a drawing for her book “Life in the Studio – Inspiration and Lessons on Creativity.”

You can listen to my podcast and public radio show for May 8, 2023, using the player below. Subscribe to future editions of my podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher , Spotify and Stitcher . You can also browse the archive here.

Dahlias and frances palmer

Play this episode Margaret Roach: Hi, Frances. Did you come from the garden to speak?

Frances Palmer: I did. It’s pouring down rain, but it’s still a good day to be a duck.

Margaret: Just a few days ago, we worked together on an article for the “New York Times”. It was about your amazing garden. When we worked together on the Times article, you shared with me something I hadn’t thought of before. You told me it was ceramics and the desire to photograph your pieces that led you to the garden. Please tell us about yourself. How did you become a gardener?

Frances, First of all, I would like to thank you for the invitation. It’s great. My mother had a little garden. In Morristown, New Jersey, where I was raised, she had tomatoes and peonies, but nothing elaborate. When we first moved to Connecticut, I wanted a garden. But we lived in a ’40s cantilevered glass house on shady hillside. We moved to the property 30 years ago, where we had plenty of land and sun. I was reading books and kept seeing these dahlias. I couldn’t believe that there was a flower in the world that looked so similar.

My husband, who is originally from San Francisco, used to take me and my children there every summer when they were young. The Dahlia Society of San Francisco maintains an extraordinary Dahlia park in the middle of a San Francisco park. They were very committed. When I first went there, it was on the day of the Dahlia show in the exhibition hall.

I remember just leaving the children and everyone in the car. I was just blown away. I said, “I’m so sorry, I must go.” Everyone there generously shared their resources, Swan Island Dahlias and Ferncliff, which you mentioned in your article. Since then, I have been placing orders with them.

Dahlias are easy to grow because they don’t require much attention. The success was easy. It was exciting.

 Margaret: I believe you told me that you were already making ceramics and selling them. But you realized that you wanted to record them. You began to take photos. These incredible flowers, which were sculptural, vivid, and whatever else, became the props for that.

Frances, they did. When I moved to this property, I had already started making pottery. From the beginning, I documented everything because, as I explained, the work is functional, and I want people to use it. Therefore, it will leave the studio. I would buy flowers at the 28th Street Flower Market and then bring them home.

Margaret in New York City. Right, right.

Frances : But, as you know… Of course, everything has changed so dramatically since 30 years ago. The flowers you bought were grown commercially. Many people now are flower farmers and sell their flowers, but the flowers have an authenticity I could not find when I started to grow. I found out that the flower you grow, its lifespan, and how it behaves are so different than something you buy at a wholesale flower shop. No offense intended.

Margaret: No, no, no. You’re correct; that has changed. The local aspect that world of flowers has. But not 30 years ago. There was a more limited choice: formal roses, tulips, and whatever.

Frances, I would read all the English garden books and your book. But I would order the seeds from Thompson & Morgan because I could have them shipped from the UK since I couldn’t get those varieties in the US.

Margaret: Right, right. After speaking to you recently , I admit that I ate a few Dahlia tubes. You got me going. You mentioned Swan Island Dahlias. I believe Ferncliff Garden.

Frances: Yes. Yes.

Margaret: So that we can catch up on shouting on a few, there is still plenty of time to start almost anywhere in the country.

Frances, I just received this lovely message from Bear Creek Farm (in Bangall, NY). You can visit them. You’d be amazed at the variety of flowers available. We’ve talked about staying attached to a specific dahlia.

Margaret: Let’s talk about it in a moment. Old House Gardens is one of the places you recommended to me. It’s funny because I knew them for a long time but didn’t realize they were a Dahlia supplier. But you can learn about their history and discover all the antique varieties.

Frances: Yes. I know. I know. I love it.

Margaret: Swan Island Dahlias have over 400 varieties listed [laughter], Swan Island Dahlias. They’re the largest provider of Dahlias in this country.

Frances: Yes, they are of excellent quality.

Margaret: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was incredible.

Frances, This is the good news. [Below, ‘Bodacious’ dahlia.]

Margaret: I did a little homework after we talked. How many dahlias are there? Swan Island alone has 400 dahlias, and the American Dahlia Society told me nearly 11,000 registered. You’ll find even more if you visit the Royal Horticultural Society and other international societies. Over the years, tens and thousands of plants have been listed.

Frances: Right.

Margaret: That’s a lot.

Frances When I teach that class at NYBG, I remember that in that slide show, it stated that there were 700 Dahlia exhibits in 1825 where people could showcase their…

When I started growing them, people used to say, “Ew! Dahlias!” but that’s not the case anymore.

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