My five favourite dahlias

by James Alexander-Sinclair

There was a time when the dahlia was persona non grata in our gardens and was banished to the vegetable garden where it was grown purely as a cut flower or for competitions.

Deep purple-red flower of Dahlia 'Chat Noir'I love early September: the sun is still hot but the nights are not stifling. The majority of plants have flowered and faded away but there are still some, particularly the dahlias, that are flowering their little heads off. There was a time when the dahlia was persona non grata in our gardens and was banished to the vegetable garden, where it was grown purely as a cut flower or for competitions. Dahlias were they garden equivalent of battery hens. Now they range happily through our borders bringing joy to the late summer. These are my five favourite dahlias for this year: as always I reserve the right to change my mind at any moment.

Dahlia 'Chat Noir': I have planted this in other gardens before but this is the first time I have grown it myself. It has truly spectacular flowers with big heads about six inches across. It contrasts rather well with a short kniphofia called 'Nancy's Red'.

Dahlia 'Honka': I found this in the plant centre at Coton Manor Gardens this summer. It is quite short (about 40cm) but the pale yellow flowers have a rather charming twist. Good for pots and the front of borders.

Dahlia 'David Howard': reminds me of the finest chunky cut marmalade. The orange is quite strong but very cheerful. I grow it with the second flush of flower on Rosa 'Penelope'.

Dahlia 'Hillcrest Royal': not a pink for the fainthearted. It is a full-bottomed swaggering pink that can really enliven a dowdy corner where the other plants are suffering from a bit of post-summer tristesse.

Dahlia merckii: close to the wild dahlia (which grows in Mexico where it scrambles around the edges of jungles and has tiny mauve flowers) and much taller and more sophisticated than her flashier cousins.

Dahlias are pretty trouble-free, although because the flowers are quite big and heavy some sort of staking would be advisable. Keep deadheading through the flowering season and dig up and store the tubers immediately after the first frost. By store I mean put them in a box of dry compost in a shed then they will be ready for potting on again next spring.

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Gardeners' World Web User 14/09/2010 at 22:47

Thank you for the dahlia tips, we have beautiful cherry red and lemon yellow ones at the moment, in big pots on the patio. Such cheerful flowers.

Gardeners' World Web User 17/09/2010 at 13:56

As you can tell from my blog name I'm a big fan of Dahlia's. My love affair started many years ago with the Bishop of Llandaff, dark leaves and bright red flowers he was so handsome I could not resist taking him home from the garden centre, but then I discovered there were many more Dahlia's to choose from and I could not stay faithful for long. I now have over 20 different varieties in assorted colours, with single, semi double and cactus flowers, some grown from seed, my latest love being Twyning's After Eight another dark leaved beauty with white flowers. I'm sorry James, but I just don't like the big blousy Dahlia's that need staking, I have tried to, but I think these should only be grown on allotments by grumpy old men in cloth caps(Ha Ha). You have to be a dedicated gardener to grow Dahlia's and be prepared to dig them up every winter after the first frost, I used to pot mine up and place them on their sides in the greenhouse ready to start back into life in early spring, however, despite my greenhouse being bubble wrapped, last winter was so bad most of my Dahlia's died including my beloved Bishop. So this year, to make sure, I will dry them off and store them in a box in the cupboard under my stairs until next spring, but I'll still be sowing more Dahlia seeds, you can never have too much of a good thing.

Gardeners' World Web User 22/09/2010 at 21:23

I have a Chrysanthemum in my garden with one side orange and the other side red. The colours split the flower bloom completely down the middle. Is this rare? I have a photo of it.

Gardeners' World Web User 27/09/2010 at 07:25

Sue J: It is very uncommon to have such a chrysanthemum: according to this article it only happens about five times a year.( Gardenbabe: Hibiscus like sunshine.If you have Hibiscus syriacus then they are perfectly hardy in most parts of the country. DahliaLover: Good for you. The big headed Dahlias work well in mixed planting where the surrounding plants and a bit of subtle staking keep them in place. iloveflowerbeetles: Thank you for commenting, enjoy your plants.

Gardeners' World Web User 05/01/2011 at 10:19

I'm coming to this thread a bit late given the weather we've just experienced. James: the garden shed is a really bad place to keep tubers over winter, unless it is heated, as sheds and garages are not frost free and especially so with the intense cold of the last few weeks. Over-wintering dahlia tubers is the most difficult aspect of growing these fabulous flowers. Too cold and they rot, too hot and they shrivel and dry out; 4 - 8 C is ideal. They should also be inspected regularly and any damaged parts removed. Dusting with flowers of sulphur is a good plan. If you like Chat Noir you should try Black Wizard for its very dark, velvety centre. It is a semi-cactus so not so spikey petalled but a truly fabulous dahlia and very striking if planted with an orange such as Gwynneth.

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