I know dahlias are now super trendy things but I count myself in that group of devotes that have been growing them all along, through thick and thin. Why? Because they always show up, flower for you even if it is a terrible summer. They remind me of the past. I am nostalgic and a hopeless romantic so I’ll be growing them forever.
How to choose your dahlia’s
This year I have decided to invest in another plate dahlia – Penhill Dark Monarch. This isn’t any old random choice mind you. I’m sure everyone does this but I “stand on the shoulders of giants” to curate my dahlia selection by looking at the choices of the good and great including Floret, Green and Gorgeous, Wildbunch, Sarah Raven, as well as growers closer to home like Carol’s Garden.
I drew up lists of my favourite dahlias to create that wild just picked look from those carefully selected flower farmers. I pared it back to only those described as robust growers. After all, the British weather in summer can be a wee bit unpredictable. Another critical consideration was stem length and longevity so only those with long stems and a long vase life made the cut. Next it’s colours and shape but to be honest the key consideration for me was to grow dahlias with colour palettes that could be mixed successfully – I doubt I’ll have them all flowering perfectly at the same time so it was important that all the dahlias could be combined successfully with each other.
Cafe au lait – I grew this for the first time last year, well everyone was talking about it. I staked them well and fed them all summer. Even though I got the tubers going fairly late, it flowered like a wild thing. Yes, they are large flowers and you loose the buds when you want a tall stem but they are a gorgeous shade of peach/apricot/buff and are just totally wow. Gasps all round whenever I’d appear with one or a bunch and definitely gives a bouquet that wild just picked look. Worth it even if they don’t last for ages. Fleeting and fabulous.
At a low point last year I found myself watching youtube video’s of dahlia growers. Such generous souls who shared all their best secrets for growing the perfect dahlia to win the coveted top prize in dahlia competitions up and down the country. I was humbled by their enthusiasm and desire for the perfect flower. While I’m not after totally perfect blooms, I can highly recommend viewing. The top tip that I’ll be employing again this year is to start the tubers off with heat at their base – marvellously effective. Mind you, half my kitchen floor was taken up with pots so I’ll need to be extra nice to my other half just before.
The other varieties I have plumed for this year are::
- Labyrinth – I’m hoping this is going to be another large “just wow” like cafe au lait but with a more colour
- Cornel Bronze – a favourite of Floret – need I say more
- Karma Choc – great for cutting and for that shot of burgundy when you need it in the summer
- Jowey Winnie – a warm ball of peach and looks perfect for providing contrasting texture and a monochromatic colour with the others
- Linda’s Baby – light pink and I am hoping lives up to its reputation as a good cutter
- Mexican Black – I can never manage to overwinter chocolate cosmos in my wet cold North West garden so this seemed like the perfect substitute
- David Howard – not grown by the great and the good but a good old fashioned British variety of soft orange that flowers extremely well
A word on David Howard, as it is a precious find for me. I was always having things left outside the gate of my old allotment in Nottingham by the other allotmentiers – all chaps of a certain age who were looking to encourage the only girl who was less than half their age with none of their knowledge – I loved them all! A box of tubers appeared one day. I adored their dark leaves and bronze orange flowers them but lost the lot when I moved to Cheshire so I am really thrilled to have him back again.
I drew up lists of my favourite dahlias then pared it back to only those dahlias that are robust growers with long stems for cutting and a bias to a long vase life.
This year, I have ordered from Rose Cottage Plants but in the past I have ordered from Sarah Raven and J Parkes, all good tubers. It is both practical as well as aesthetic considerations inform the varieties chosen. One of the most important consideration is the colour palette. I wanted to be able to combine any and all of the varieties together to create a harmonious effect, albeit to achieve that wild just picked look. Different textures are provided by the varying shapes of the varieties be that pom pom, waterlily, decorative or cactus. And one final thought – I think that you need to love them too.
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