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The stolen dahlia

Perhaps garden flowers are to be shared with others, after all.

STUNNING: Dahlias are esteemed for their full, colorful blooms.

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Of course, it was absurd that I spent any time in New Zealand taking photographs of flowers common here in New England. However, in late February when we traveled to New Zealand, our local landscape had gone brown and leaden.

Arriving in the country was like arriving in Oz, an abrupt transition from sepia and gray to vibrant color. There were flowers everywhere, and in the public gardens my favorites were the dahlias.

At home on Cape Cod, we live near the water, and each gust of wind that crosses our front lawn is laden with salt. It defies logic to plant dahlias in front of our house, but we justify each new planting as an experiment and blithely forge ahead.

Two years ago, taking advantage of the rock fortress that my husband built for me on the corner of our lot, I set out some dwarf dahlias where they would be protected from the salty blasts.

They thrived. (Of course, it helped immensely that my husband hosed them down after particularly brisk and salty breezes passed over them.)

Last winter, I succumbed to catalog temptation, ordering a special collection of dahlias: ‘Café au Lait,’ a pale peachy-beige; ‘Thomas Edison,’ a show-stopping electric purple; and ‘Kelvin Floodlight,’ lemon yellow – all predicted to grow four to six feet. Incredibly, they grew – but did not attempt to reach their full six-foot potential.

With dahlias, I have learned that the fancy ones open over a period of days, holding back for full drama and effect. At last, one morning on my way to work this past August, I noticed that 'Café au Lait' had opened.

But I was late and hurried by on my bicycle, looking forward to enjoying it on my return in the afternoon.

When I got home, I stashed my bike and rushed out to examine my glorious dahlia. And it wasn’t there – just a ragged, broken stem where the first bloom had been.

I was devastated, incredulous. My husband told me what had transpired: A woman on a bike, headed out toward Penzance Point and its fabulous estates, had stopped and grabbed that flower.

He’d leaned out the window and yelled at her. She had shaken her head and yelled back that she “didn’t know” and pedaled off.

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