Darling Dahlias by Stacy Tuttle

Dahlia Thomas Edison
I am quite a recent convert to Dahlias. My previous impression of them was weird spiky plants in garish colours, probably memories of some plastic ones which my Gran had in a vase. But times have moved on and so have Dahlias.

Originally native to Mexico, these tubers are grown in this country as annuals. Not for them the delicate display that the Busy Lizzie or the Lobelia exhibits, these are the extroverts of the annual plant world which will flower until the first frosts.

I think what puts a lot of people off growing Dahlias is the fact that they feel it is a high maintenance plant. I don’t really agree with that perception. It is true that after they have finished flowering they are best lifted and stored till the next year but it is relatively simple to do and means that you don’t have to spend out year on year.

When the frost has blackened the stems, cut off the top growth to around 3cm long. Lift the tubers and leave them to dry for a few days in a frost free place such as a shed or garage, keeping them out of direct sunlight. Once dry carefully remove excess soil from around the tubers and put them in a plant tray for storage. Some people put them on a bed of dry sand or vermiculite but I have kept them loose on the tray before. It is best to check them now and then to make sure they are not rotting or damaged in any way. If they look like they are shrivelling you can mist them lightly with a water spray. Once the weather starts to warm up in the spring you can pot them up and start growing them again.

To my mind, the more difficult task is choosing which ones to grow. Dahlias are divided into 10 different classifications horticulturally but for most of us it is easier to look at them as small, medium and large. With flowers of around 25cm in diameter, the large Dinner plate Dahlias are my favourite. The stems need to be staked to support the impressive large flowers they produce so not such a low maintenance option. However they look glorious in a perennial border and there are so many different colours to suit your planting scheme- D. Café au lait has a creamy brown tone with a hint of peach, for the white border there’s D. White Perfection, D. Sir Alf Ramsey has a lavender purple flower while D. Thomas A. Edison with its deep purple flowers works well with both blue, purple and white borders and hot oranges or lime green planting.

This year, as well as D. Café au Lait, I am also growing old favourites D. Bishop of Llandaff (scarlet flowers) and D. Bishop of Canterbury (hot pink flowers). Both grow to a metre tall but don’t require staking. New to me this year are D. Waltzing Matilda (coral coloured flowers with almost black foliage), D. Soulman (Gothic red ruffled flowers) and D. Purple Flame ( more simple purple flowers on a dark stem).

As with all annuals, the best display is achieved if the plants are dead-headed regularly to encourage new flowers. The stems can be cut once the flowers have opened and taken indoors for the vase and the petals are edible so can be included in a summer salad.

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