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.
A few more peachy tones? A ‘cactus’ this time?
I love the combination with Melianthus major.
Do you need sobering up?
Before we go, I think we need some cherry reds. These were my first love, and will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Especially when there is a tinge of plum.
Or fading a little at the edges.
Lilac! We must have some lilac!
And more tangerine!
I am sorry that I haven’t labelled these dahlias, but I was just too busy enjoying them. I think sometimes you have to lose yourself in the pleasure of the moment. Don’t you agree?
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.
What are your favourite flower shapes of dahlias? Are you tempted by any of these? What are your favourite gardens for dahlia loving?
The title of this post was inspired by my very favourite band, James. They have sung me through life. They have a song on their new album and the chorus goes like this:
There’s only one human race
Many faces, everybody belongs here
A song for our times.
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.