The mysterious case of the Dinner Plate Dahlias

It has come to my attention that perhaps I watch too many crime shows.

I reached that conclusion after the recent destruction of my prize dahlias.

These lovely yellow flowers produce blooms the size of dinner plates – hence the name, Dinner Plate Dahlia. I am appropriately self-deprecating about the lovely blooms these bulbs produce, acting as if it’s nothing when in reality I have lovingly pruned and fertilized and babied these beauties.


“Oh, it’s nothing,” I have said, smiling smugly.

Well, in reality, it is nothing, because not only did I just toss these bulbs – which my friend Cynthia gave me – into the flower bed outside my side door but I also did that in spring 2012. Yes, these bulbs should not have made it through the strange winter of 2012-2013 to bloom another summer.

But they did. And they are miracles. And I will take all the credit, which is, after all, the American Way.

Now these dahlias reside, along with some other miracle plants like the Gerbera daisy of 2003, which comes back year after year, and last year’s annual purple salvia, in a small flower bed outside my side door, next to my driveway. Also taking up space there are a couple grape tomato plants because it’s the only consistently sunny spot in our yard.

Anywho. The basketball goal also is in the driveway, as basketball goals are wont to be. This has been a bone of contention for many years.

Often I have found the tomatoes threatened by a wayward basketball, or the rudbeckia Goldsturm west of the door along the driveway bent down by a playground ball or hastily discarded basketball.


In early August, in fact, I completely embarrassed my 17-year-old son and his soccer friends by frequently interrupting their basketball game to warn them about the consequences of messing with my flowers.

Mama has a long fuse, but it ain’t that long, people.

So on the evening before the first day of school, the hubs and I took the kiddos to eat their last supper before heading back to the salt mines. We got home about dusk.

As I approached my side door, I saw this:


And this:


I stopped and stared. Each of my children gaped, wide-eyed, at the carnage, then turned slowly to look at me. Almost in unison, they declared their innocence.

Well, of course, they didn’t do this. We were gone. And when we’d left home at 5:45 p.m., the three dahlias stood tall, their ginormous blooms smiling at me.

Now, they were bent toward the driveway, their sturdy stalks bent and broken.

There were several suspects, most of them relatives. I grabbed my cell phone and started dialing.

It was so strange. Each of my three nephews had been playing basketball on the driveway, they said, but none had seen anyone trampling the flowers. Unless it was the two little neighbor boys. Yeah. It could have been them. But maybe not. Gee, they were sorry.

It was a case for Unsolved Mysteries. Or maybe Dateline: NBC. Or Major Crimes. Or Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

The next morning, my youngest and I headed to my parents for the annual back-to-school breakfast my mom prepares. She’s done this for years, sending her grandkids in grade school back to class with a hearty breakfast in their stomachs. This year, there are only two youngsters left who don’t leave before 7:30 a.m.: my younger son and my youngest nephew.

He’s a genial sort, loquacious to the nth degree. If you want to find out any scoop on anyone who lives on our block, you just ask this fellow the right question, and BOOM! You know about it. He’s like our own personal town crier.

So I pulled my best Brenda Leigh Johnson and prepared for some answers.

As my nephew gobbled up his French toast, I made small talk about first grade and recess and what have you. Then I pounced.

“Hey,” I said, “you know those giant yellow flowers that grow by my driveway?”

“Yep,” he said, shoving a forkful of syrupy bread into his mouth.

“It’s so weird,” I said. “When we got home last night from dinner, those flowers were knocked over. Broken. And I found a green-and-purple rubber ball stuck back in the tomatoes.”

“Hmm….,” he said, continuing to eat.
I paused. You have to let the silence do its work.

“Say,” I said, “what do you think happened?”

Fork in the air as if he were thinking really hard, he puckered his forehead. Then he looked at me.

“I know,” he said.

YES!! I thought. I KNEW I could’ve been a cop.

“You do?” I asked, all Brenda Leigh-like.

“Yep,” he said, picking up a piece of bacon. “It was the wind.”

Yeah….only there wasn’t any wind.

But I didn’t bother.

Each day after that, my flower bed suffered assaults, all mysterious, all without witness. It’s as if there’s a vandal specifically targeting my side flower bed for destruction.

My family tires of my complaining about such a first-world problem. One of my elders suggested that perhaps I should move the dahlias. Others maintain that someday, there will be no kids playing in my driveway and I can grow all the darned flowers I want there.

Sure, they’re right. I certainly don’t want to go all “GET OFF MAHHH LAWN!!!” on any young ‘uns.

However, when a body has asked and asked if the kiddos will be more careful and the basketball goal is MOVABLE, for Christ’s sake, I think I have a right to be upset when my flowers are destroyed.

So today, I struck first. I grabbed my pruners and cut most of the plants waaaaaaaayyyy back. Then I watered the bejesus out of them.

And I hid all the basketballs. For now.