Dahlias give you parrots and sunshine in your garden

First published by Rattan Direct on 14 August 2016.

What are dahlias and where do they come from?

The dahlia is the national flower of Mexico. It was introduced into Europe at the end of the eighteenth century and is named after Anders (Andreas) Dahl (1751–1789), a Swedish botanist. After a few decades out of fashion, dahlias are popular again.

Dahlias give you parrots and sunshine in your garden, at the very least

Summer dahlias near Botloe's Green, Gloucestershire.
Summer dahlias near Botloe’s Green, Gloucestershire.
© Jonathan Billinger and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

Well, that’s the view of James Alexander-Sinclair speaking at the 2014 Kelmarsh Hall Dahlia Festival:

Dahlias. More colourful than a bucket of parrots and more exotic than a tropical sunset.

Dahlias come in warm vibrant colours and a wide range of flower types from simple to pompom. In your garden, they will certainly give you colour (and how!) from the end of the summer and on into October. They are good for bees and other pollinators (we’re very keen on that) and you can cut them for flower arrangements. You can grow them in pots or use them to plug any gaps in your borders.

Dahlia beds (detail), Heddon Nurseries near Heddon-on-The-Wall, Northumberland. Dahlias
Dahlia beds (detail), Heddon Nurseries near Heddon-on-The-Wall, Northumberland.
© Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

Are dahlias really difficult to grow? Are they hard work?

It depends on your garden, the weather, how much time and storage space you have and the depth of your purse.

Dahlias are tolerant of most soils and like full sun. The Royal Horticultural Society tells you more here but in brief:

  • Plant tubers from May to early June. (You can also grow them from seed.)
  • Protect them from slugs and snails.
  • Stake them as they grow and before they flower because the flowers are quite big and heavy and the plants can be quite tall.
Dahlias staked before flowering at Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire.
Dahlias staked before flowering at Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire. Sarah Buchanan
  • They flower from mid-summer to autumn. To ensure more flowers, keep cutting the flowers and deadheading. Feed with tomato feed every two weeks until early September.
  • Straight after the first frost, around November, either dig up the tubers, leave to dry in a cold greenhouse, brush off the soil, trim and put in a box of dry compost in a shed ready for planting next spring.
  • Or leave them in the ground, mulch thickly and hope that the frost and cold weather don’t get them. Buy more if they succumb and die.

Read more in Ambra Edwards’ interview with Nick Gilbert, who runs a dahlia nursery in Romsey in Hampshire.

Go and have a look

Intrigued? Go and have a look at the ‘hot’ beds and borders in local parks and gardens. Dahlias are just coming up to their peak now.

Nick Gilbert says that his dahlia field in Hampshire (you can see it from space, according to Ambra Edwards) will be at its best in 2016 from the end of August to the beginning of September, a little later than usual because of cold and wet conditions in May and June.

The Bishop’s Palace at Wells in Somerset has a bed of all the dahlias called ‘Bishop of … ‘  (Bishop of Llandaff, Bishop of Canterbury, Bishop of York, Bishop of Auckland and so on).

The dahlia fields at Halls of Heddon in Northumberland are planted out in the second week of June with almost 6,500 plants in nearly 350 varieties. They are open for viewing from mid August to the end of September each year.

In Northamptonshire, Kelmarsh Hall’s 2016 Dahlia Festival is on 18 September 2016.

Dahlias at Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire. Sarah Buchanan.
Dahlias at Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire. Sarah Buchanan.

I shall be out there looking too. That’s because (full disclosure) I’ve blocked dahlias for years, mainly for slug-related reasons. It will be good to explore the meaning of dahlias beyond (1) Bertie Wooster’s favourite Aunt Dahlia who, interestingly, has a reddish-purple complexion and (2) Raymond Chandler’s night club in The Blue Dahlia.

Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd in trailer for "The Blue Dahlia" (1946). Dahlias
Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd in trailer for “The Blue Dahlia” (1946)
Public domain

 

 

 

 

 

 

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