The sizzling colours, the enormous range of colours, differing heights and sizes of flowers (from dinner plates to dainty delicate blooms), varieties of form; spikey flowers, pom-poms, balls, ones that look like orchids or waterlilies, all in a complex layer of petals - there’s a dahlia for everyone.
Dahlias originate from the mountain regions of Mexico and Guatemala, and were used by the Aztecs for food (the tubers like potatoes) and medicine (in the past for the treatment of diabetes and epilepsy but nowadays extracts from dahlia tubers are used in different tests to analyse liver and kidney function).
They may require a bit of looking after, and slugs and snails love the tender young shoots, hence the doting diva image – combined with the flouncy showy blooms. They do need deadheading or cutting so that they continue to flower throughout the summer – from July until the first frosts arrive. So, they need a little care and attention, but what plants don’t? Having said all that they will grow in almost any soil and simply keep on giving.
As cut flowers they really come into their own. My mother, seen here with her dahlia cutting bed, loves them – but tends to go for the less brash colours - gentle pinks, reds and whites. She uses them for flower arranging for the local church or for weddings, and they do add a splash of colour to any event – no wonder they are a favourite of brides, and gardeners.
At Ashridge Nurseries we grew dahlias in our polytunnel last year and here is the enormous Cafe au Lait Royal flower completely covering the head of one of the nursery staff.
Andy Houghton, our Head Nurseryman, loves dahlias and here’s a video of him giving a few quick hints and tips on how to look after your dahlia tubers. Pot them up, water and put in a frost-free environment, once the risk of frost is over then plant them out – keep an eye out for more videos of Andy on how to look after the little darlings, including how to take cuttings in the near future.
Dahlias were brought into Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Lord and Lady Holland were given seeds and planted them at Holland House in Kensington. Lord Holland being so enamoured of the flowers (and his wife) that he wrote this verse:
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
These dazzling delights, bold blooms and symbols of elegance and dignity are a story for any garden, but are also loved by bumblebees, honeybees, hoverflies and butterflies.
Andy Houghton also says, “We’ve got some beautiful dahlias available as tubers, but the only way to get the ones you want is to order them early”.