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Growing Dahlias

American Dawn Dahlia and Cosmos Purity

I have a hard time choosing a favourite flower, but dahlias are up there in the top.

For a few reasons, firstly their spectacular show of cut and come again blooms, it’s hard to find a plant that provides so much bang for the buck. I also love them for their late summer timing, just when you think summer is dwindling away, these babies shine and keep blooming well into November if we are lucky with frosts. And finally, they come in so many different shapes, colours, sizes, there is surely a dahlia for everyone.

From the firm favourite, the dreamy and creamy Café Au Lait, to the pink flamingo, over the top Islander, perfect pom pom ball heads of Jowey Winnie or the perfect for pots Totally Tangerine. I promise you will find a variety you like. (If you want to get really technical, the reason there is just so much variation in dahlias are due to their genes, they are octoploids, which means they have eight sets of chromosomes, compared to most flowers only having two.)

If you want to grow dahlias, there are a few things to know first.

  1. They aren’t hardy, and will die and turn black at any frost. Which is fine in October/November when you have had your fill of flowers (is that even a thing? We will pretend it is.) But in Spring it means starting them off under cover or with frost protection, otherwise you won’t be seeing any dahlia blooms until August!

  2. They are late bloomers, and if you want them in a garden, you’ll want to find something to take their place from Spring-July unless you want an empty patch in your border.

  3. They are huge, they’ll need staking, especially in the wind we seem to be getting every year.

  4. They grow from tubers, which are similar to bulbs, but they look like bundles of sweet potatoes. (Speaking of which, the entire plant is edible, and some Mexican cultures eat these tubers, just like we would eat a potato! It also means the petals are great for decorating cakes and salads.)

  5. Slugs and snails love them. I recommend growing in pots until they are big enough to endure a slimy slug invasion.

The most important thing to know is the frost tenderness, which means they take a bit more care in Spring and Winter. Leaving the tubers in the ground is risky, as if it gets too wet and cold, the tubers can rot and die. So I dig mine up. But that’s a story for another day!

Today, what I wanted to focus on, was the varieties and how beautiful they are in their glory days. Mostly because it’s the best way to convince you to grow some next year!

In our courtyard I’ve put dahlias in galvanised tubs that I’d used for tulips in the Spring. This works well for me as I can let the tulips die back in April and May and then end of May I dig up the bulbs and let them dry out in the garage and transplant dahlias I’ve been growing under cover, to the tubs. This year I also added loads of cosmos everywhere, I think they make a great pair. The dahlias in pots are Totally Tangerine, Rockstar and Jowie Winnie. The pot to the left also had some panicum grasses and cherry brandy Rudbeckia added.

In the main garden, despite having grand plans to add a proper border and replace a fence, March’s lockdown quickly changed our plans when we couldn’t get ahold of any garden and building supplies. So instead we dug out an arc in the middle of the garden and created a dahlia bed. I don’t know if we will keep it going forward, but for this year it was a place to plant the tubers and was so nice to see from outside the studio. The varieties grown here are Hamari Gold, Downham Royal (although it has reverted to a single flower, it should be a double), Labyrinth, Islander, Thomas Edison, Johanna Luca and a Café that failed to flower (I think it was diseased!).

This corner is my absolute favourite. A mix of dahlias, amaranthus and cosmos. The dahlia is a new favourite, called American Dawn, it just produces so many blooms, has beautiful foliage and is such a star performer. A must grow if you like coral, pinky, watermelon blooms. The amaranthus with it was hot biscuits, love lies bleeding and green giant (which is now taller than me!). Here's some more of those luscious American Dawn blooms!

And finally I leave you with a gallery of individual blooms, something for everyone!

I’d love to know if I’ve convinced you to grow dahlias next year, let me know!

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