Why dahlias are today’s hottest trend.
Love them or hate them dahlias are all the rage these days. It is astonishing that not so very long ago dahlias were regarded by many as flowers in the worst possible taste. It is thanks to the likes of the visionary Sarah Raven www.sarahraven.com that they are once again in vogue. And are even
in some circles as ultra chic. These days dahlias are to be seen sprouting out of every garden blog, magazine feature, florist stand and garden – dash it all they are now the crème de la crème of autumn flowers. The National Collection of dahlias can be seen on the wonderful blog www.bibleofbritishtaste.com
If you are near www.rhs.org.uk/gardenswisley I recommend you pop in and look at the extensive dahlia trials currently underway in the Portsmouth field. A huge variety to inspect, some blowsy, others refined, but all charming in their way.
Any why not? Just as the days begin to draw in with many gardeners turning their minds to next year as they avidly scan the bulb catalogues (a sure sign of autumn arriving) dahlias bring a final hurrah to the garden injecting a welcome splurge of colour. Not all are characterised with the ‘reddish-purple complexion’ of Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Dahlia in P. G. Wodehouse’s delightful Jeeves novels. Some are delicate shades of cream with the subtlest tints of colour whilst others are delicate dwarf plants such as the diminutively named ‘Keith’s Pet’ or ‘Tiny Treasure’.
One of the many attractions of dahlias is their long lived flowering season. Unlike that other glorious flower, the peony, which blink and you miss it, dahlias, as long as you regularly deadhead them, flower for weeks if not months on end until the first frosts. They can be used in a variety of ways, I have seen them grown as single plants staked in terracotta pots in India, or as a staple of allotment gardening, tucked in amongst shrubs and herbaceous perennials in mixed borders, in cutting gardens, or for adding rich blasts of colour in a tropical style planting such as the Hot Garden at Great Dixter. ‘We revel in dahlias at Dixter’ wrote the late Christopher Lloyd of www.greatdixter.co.uk in his excellent book ‘Exotic planting for adventurous gardeners’ BBC Books.
For those of you, like me, who love the giant dinner plate dahlias, there is even a ‘Giant Decorative’ named after Christopher Lloyd’s mother, ‘Daisy Lloyd’.
The dahlia hails from Mexico where it was declared the national flower in 1963. The Aztecs used them to treat epilepsy and used the long hollow stem of dahlia imperalis for water pipes. In the late 18th-century various distinquished European botantists sent dahlia seeds home. In 1798 the Marchioness of Bute, wife of the English Ambassdor to Spain obtained some seeds from Antonio Jose Cavanilles, the Director of the Royal Gardens in Madrid and despatched them to Kew. Alas, after flowering the plants did not survive. It was Cavanilles who gave either seeds or plants (it is not recorded which) to Lady Holland when she was in Madrid in 1803. Again the plants did not survive. The Hollands’ kept trying clearly eventually with success as Lord Holland sent his wife the following charming verse in 1824:
‘The dahlia you brought to our isle
Your praises for ever shall speak;
Mid gardens as sweet as your smile,
And in colour as bright as your cheek’.
All dahlia lovers will drool over the beautifully illustrated new book ‘The Plant Lover’s Guide to Dahlias’ by Andy Vernon published by www.timberpress.com It is a delightful book brimming with refreshing American enthusiasm – ‘I think it’s important we get this right from the start. I don’t just like dahlias: I LOVE THEM’. The captions are wonderfully engaging, describing ‘Totally Tangerine’ – ‘I’m becoming more and more enthralled by anemone dahlias, and this one is fantastic’.
Whilst this glorious Indian summer lasts seek out dahlias and enjoy them. Have fun.