It's been five decades, but Marysville resident Dick Westfall's relationship with some high-maintenance beauties is still going strong.
Westfall is president of the Greater Columbus Dahlia Society.
More than one gardener has fallen under the flowers' colorful spell; Westfall first tried growing them in the early 1960s.
In that pre-Internet era, he couldn't find any advice, so he just planted them and watched them start to grow. Returning from summer vacation, he found that all of his dahlias had fallen over.
Lesson No. 1: Stake them; the tall varieties can top 6 feet.
And despite the extra effort required, Westfall was hooked. Nowadays, he grows dahlias to compete at exhibitions.
"There's a multitude of different colors and forms," Westfall said, adding that individual flowers can reach up to 15 inches in diameter.
Linda Laine, a member of the society who lives in Westerville, said she used to garden contentedly without dahlias.
"I never had any interest in them," she said.
One year, an acquaintance insisted she try some, and she, too, caught dahlia fever. Now, they are the stars of her garden in late summer and early fall.
"The most attractive feature to me is that they bloom all summer, clear until frost," Westfall said. "Some start in late June or early July. They'll be at their peak from here on."
Although casual gardeners can raise dahlias with little special care, growers of the diva variety for competitive shows follow a demanding regimen. The experts carefully fertilize, remove unwanted buds and watch for pests and diseases.
Evoking that competitive streak, the names of some varieties resemble those of racehorses, Laine said: Outta Da Blue, Bumble Rumble, AC Dark Horse, Bristol Fleck and Lucky Ducky.
When asked to name his favorite varieties of the thousands from which to choose, Westfall didn't hesitate.
"I like the ones that win. I'm an exhibitor."