Pictured above (clockwise, or scroll through) are:
Top row: Penhill Dark Monarch, Burlesca,Totally Tangerine (middle), Isabel, Purple Bottom row: Waltzing Matilda, Blue Bayou (picture credits: Sarah Raven), Purple Dream, American Dawn (with Purple Dream in the background).
Dahlias are quite possibly the most rewarding plant to grow for the novice gardener. They might need some initial cossetting, but they’re not exactly high-maintenance when you consider that all they’re asking for is a bucket-sized pot of compost in March, to be kept away from frost for a couple of months, and a little drink of water every couple of days. There’s a bit of pinching out of tips (ouch) and then planting out. They repay you with bucket-loads of flowers from July to the first frosts. You have the daily delight of dead-heading and upending the lot into the compost: a new work of art every day.
There is a dahlia (or ten) to suit everyone. They come in every colour except blue or green. You can make a rainbow of dahlias if you so desire (add blue consolida and green nicotiana). You can have whirligigs, lollipops, pompoms, firework explosions, neat little globes of geometric perfection, or huge great tousled bed-hair confections.
I grow dahlias in a raised bed. That way I can water them all together if they need it, and dead-head at the end of a working day (very therapeutic). I upend a bucket of compost over each of them in the autumn, once they have collapsed with the first frost. I don’t bother with lifting them: the compost acts like a snuggly blanket and they re-sprout in March.
Dahlias make the best cut flowers. Try single stems each in a bottle or jam jar. Or mingle them in a jug or bowl. Add galdioli or nicotiana or consolida for arching spikes. Give them all away to friends and family, neighbours and delivery people before you go away on holiday: they will keep on flowering as long as you keep on dead-heading.
I fiddle with my collection of dahlias every year. This year, I’m going for a vintage silk look. The colours are slightly sun-bleached at the edges, with one colour fading into another. Shabby chic, if you like.
All of these varieties are from Sarah Raven, but other suppliers are available!