Many Faces

A couple of days ago I posted about our visit to The Salutation garden, in Mischief Managed. I took so many photos that there were far too many for one post.  I have saved the dahlias for today.

The Salutation is the best garden I know for dahlias.  That is not to say there aren’t others dotted about the planet.  I would love to know your favourite!

I adore dahlias.  They are incredibly easy to grow.  I order them as tubers in the winter and they arrive as unpromising straggly tubers in March.  They are potted up, watered a little, and put in the greenhouse.   In two or three weeks, there will be one or two little shoots pushing up out of the compost.  In a couple more weeks, when there are a dozen or so leaves, I will pinch out the shoots, to encourage them to bush out.  And then, when they are nice and plump and the danger of frosts has passed (late May for us) I plant my dahlias out into my raised beds.

I love dahlias for their diversity.  You have practically every colour except for blue.  You have pattern, with striations and picotee edges.  But most of all, it is the diversity in flower form that I love.  You can have single, star, anemone, collarette, cactus, ball, pompon, waterlily and decorative dahlias.

This is a ‘single’ dahlia.  Dahlias are part of the daisy family, Asteraceae.  Other members of this family include helenium, rudbeckia and echinacea.  These flowers all have ‘disc florets’ at the centre of the flower, and ‘ray florets’ (what we think of as the petals) on the outside.  The disc florets at the centre are actually lots of individual flowers, and this is where the fertile parts of the flower and the nectar are found.  These open at the outer edges first.  Bees and other pollinators love them.  You can see iridescence in the outer ray petals in this single dahlia.


This is a ‘star’ dahlia, though I want to call them whirligigs, or windmills.  The petals are curled tightly inwards to give this pointed effect.


There are some semi-double dahlias, sometimes known as ‘peony’ dahlias.  These might have more than one row of petals, but still have the disc florets in the centre.  Some have a more frilly or coiled inner row.  These are the ‘collarette’ dahlias.  The disc florets of ‘anemone’ dahlias are coiled into tubules.  ‘Totally Tangerine’ is one that I grow and you can see it in these posts: Club Tropicana and Oasis).  I have been remiss and have not photographed any collarettes, but you can see a photo here on this link.


This is a ‘ball’ dahlia.  It has been bred so that it no longer has disc florets, but has many more ray florets.  Its petals spiral from the centre, being tightly coiled at the centre, but retaining an inward curl towards the outer edges.  The colour is deeper at the centre where the petals are tightly packed.  These dahlias almost turn themselves inside out as they open.  When there is no more room, the outer petals start to let go, and the dahlia is spent.  When dahlias are perfect globes and the ray florets are very tightly coiled, they are known as ‘pompon’ dahlias.  Again, I haven’t photographed any true pompons today, but you can see one here.


This is a ‘cactus’ dahlia.  The petals are longer, and as they mature they stop curling inwards, and instead flatten and then curl the other way.  This gives them a slightly spiky appearance.  There is still the lovely contrast between the tightly-packed inner petals and the looser outer petals.  The striations can be more pronounced on cactus dahlias, and there is often a variation in colour between the upper and lower sides of the petals.


The Salutation holds one of the National Collections of dahlias, and they specialise in single dahlias.  These often have very dark burgundy foliage, with handsome, deeply cut leaves.  Here is a bed of them in the vegetable garden.


This is a magnificent dark-leaved dahlia.  I think it is ‘David Howard’  I love the contrast between foliage and flower, like flames against volcanic rock.  You can see how the inner petals are so tightly coiled and will gradually unfurl.  You can also see the difference in colour between the peachy upper side of the petal and the darker underside.


I think that this is a ‘peony’ dahlia because it still has its disc florets at the centre, but it has many layers of ray florets.  This is where it can start to get confusing.  Whatever its classification, it is a lovely ball of sunshine, even more magnificent with the planets of orange and maroon dahlias orbiting around.


You can see how much the bees love the single dahlias in this next photo.


I often neglect the pale colours in my photographs, but I did take one!  I like the diagonal arrangement here.


My stepdaughter liked this combination of colours.  This is the nearest you get to blue in a dahlia.


Which is why I photographed a giant thistle!  This one has a bumblebee asleep inside it.  Sshhh…


‘Waterlily’ dahlias tend to be larger and flatter than the ‘balls’ but their essential structure is the same.  They have a profusion of inward curling petals.



I have saved the best til last.  There has been an upsurge of interest in the ‘decorative’ dahlias in the last couple of years.  ‘Café au Lait’ took the flower-growing world by storm, and now there is a plethora of huge, curly whirly-petalled dahlias.  This is my current favourite, ‘Labyrinth’.


I love that combination of peach and pink swirls.  It reminds me of peach and raspberry ice-cream.  Or a silky summer skirt.  I love the way the buds are more fuchsia pink.  I love the curl of the ray florets.


It is a slightly insane dahlia, and I love it all the more for that.


These were pretty huge too.  Shall we just indulge ourselves in a moment of pink?


Let’s have profusion!


You could lose yourself in these swirls.


It’s that ombre again!  The drift from lilac-pink to peach.


I can’t stop photographing this delicious dahlia.


This is a fabulous time of year to visit The Salutation. It is one of the most joyous gardens I know; it is a garden that has had more than its fair share of adversity, having been flooded by sea water just a few years ago: proof that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Through adversity comes a greater awareness of joy

If you have enjoyed this post, then consider pushing the ‘Follow’ button at the bottom of the page.  I aim to fill your life with dahlias, roses, peonies, tulips and other delights from the garden.  I occasionally stray into bees and butterflies too.

27 Comments Add yours

  1. Christina says:

    The trouble is I want them all!

    1. Ali says:

      This is why I visit other gardens! I can grow about 10 varieties, but at the Salutation I can enjoy a couple of hundred.

      1. Christina says:

        That’s what I miss about not living in England, being able to visit wonderfully inspiring gardens everywhere.

      2. Ali says:

        We are really lucky. I was thinking about this today.

  2. pommepal says:

    My favourite flower, I drooled over this post. How unusual is that star dahlia, I’ve never seen one of those before

    1. Ali says:

      They are a lovely shape, aren’t they? There is a whole series of ‘Honka’ dahlias in different colours.

  3. janesmudgeegarden says:

    Thank you for my dahlia education, Ali. I didn’t know there were so many different kinds. And what sumptuous flowers they are. I immediately wanted one of those show-offy ones! Now where can I fit some in my garden……

    1. Ali says:

      We all suffer from the same affliction, don’t we? Though let’s call it a gift!

  4. Such gorgeous dahlias. I love the dinner plate size beauties. The colors are outstanding. 💗😊

    1. Ali says:

      I love their wiggles.

  5. bcparkison says:

    You have sold me. In my ‘new’ garden there must be dahlias. there will be paper ones too as soon as a new order goes in for dies.

  6. A lovely set – favourites of mine, too

  7. Rupali says:

    They all are so gorgeous.

  8. All fabulous faces Ali. I enjoyed both this post and your previous one. Do you think that the Salutation Garden will still be dripping with dahlias in late September?

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, definitely. They will last until the first frost, which is late October, but sometimes early November.

  9. Eliza Waters says:

    I love dahlias and there are an insane amount of hybrids. When the catalog comes, I want them all. 🙂 While I admire dinner plate size, they are too big for my garden and I can only imagine the staking they’d require. Waterlily and cactus usually win, but singles, particularly against dark foliage sway me. The best thing is to have a garden to visit like the Salutation Garden, so you can enjoy a lot of them without the work! 😉

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, and when I have grown an enormous one, it was difficult to combine in a vase with others! Good for enjoying in a bigger space.

  10. gaiainaction says:

    They are indeed very beautiful flowers Ali, I also love them and what a variety of colours! Beautifully photographed by you. A joy to look at them – thank you.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you 🙏

  11. Ali, I have mentioned this several times, but your blog and your beautiful flowers have really helped me to start paying attention to nature. On my walks recently, I have suddenly really become aware of plants and flowers. And I don’t know what they are called yet, but I have suddenly decided that I am going to start learning plant and flower names, and I know your blog is partly responsible for this. Thank you so much! Also, I loved the variety of colors, shapes, and patterns you captured here. Amazing.

    1. Ali says:

      This is lovely to hear, Shelly, thank you! I hope you have fun identifying plants; common names are often as delightful as the flowers!

      1. I think I will! I am pretty excited to start learning all these plants. My goal is to learn all of the common native plants in Kentucky.

      2. Ali says:

        I look forward to hearing about it, Shelly! The more you delve, the more interesting flowers become!

  12. Gorgeous! Dahlias are some of my favorite flowers too. I’ll have to look for a swirly one!

  13. susurrus says:

    I’ll be looking out for ‘Labyrinth’ – it’s a new one for me, as is the garden. I’ve added it to my (rather hopeful) to visit list as it’s quite a long haul drive from where I am.

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