I’m currently executing a planting plan for a large garden, with a lovely client who likes architectural planting and flowering plants in hot colours, which is very exciting for me. I’m having to rein myself in from going too crazy.
She cited Dahlias as being something she particularly liked. Now, I don’t usually put these in planting schemes. They are fiddly in as much they require quite a bit of careful handling. They are half hardy and generally where you have frost, the tubers will require lifting and storing out of the ground over winter, in cool dry conditions. Most people forget to lift them and the tubers rot. As plants, they are also prone to powdery mildew and require treating to prevent. And if the mildew doesn’t get them then the aphids and spider mites can! So as a self-professed lazy gardener I tend to steer clear.
But as the client likes them, I thought I’d check them out. The plants come in a dazzling array of shapes and sizes and jewel like colours. From palest pink to deepest crimson, to hot orange to moonshine yellow. From singles to doubles to pom poms. From giants to dwarf varieties. The foliage can be just as varied, ranging from spring green to deepest black stems and leaves. Very beautiful and obviously worth the extra attention. The plants in themselves are quite easy to cultivate if planted in well drained soil with plenty of sun and can provide beautiful flowers for cutting throughout the summer. With the right conditions one plant can provide up to a 100 blooms. I’m quite a convert.
The plants were first discovered on Mexico in the 1520s by the Spaniards but weren’t collected as specimens until the 1570s. They were used as a food source by the indigenous people and the Aztecs used them to treat epilepsy as well as using the long hollow stems as water pipes (Dahlia imperis).
Above is the Royal Horticultural Society’s list of their top 10 Dahlias with the Award for Garden Merit. A good starting point for those unsure about where to begin with the vast array of plants available but by no means the prettiest.
If you have been a good gardener and lifted your tubers now is a good time to examine your stored tubers and plunge them in a bucket of tepid water over night if they are shrivelled. Cut away portions of tuber that have rotted and dust the cuts with sulphur in readiness for re-planting in the spring.