January 2022: Anne Barnard on Dahlias

Anne Barnard from Rose Cottage Plants nursery in Essex has many years experience of and is a specialist in growing dahlias, as well as exhibiting widely including at RHS shows. Dahlias, which originate in Mexico and Central America, come in a wide variety of colours from pastel to rich reds and mahogany.

Anne described how planting dahlias in summer beds can transform them and suggested how to choose and use them to best effect. Anne said they provide an outlet for personal creativity, style and artistic expression. She used her own garden, field displays in Holland and Chenies Manor as illustrations.

Dahlias had gone out of fashion, but in recent years there had been a revival of interest in them.  Their rich colours were particularly attractive and ‘jewel’ gardens had become common.  Many new and more popular and often exotic looking varieties had been developed. Many originate in Holland and she visited several important and influential growers. She said after bulbs, tulips and alliums have flowered by June/July,  gardens begin to look tired and dahlias wide variety and rich colours give life to the garden and make a good display right up to the first frosts.

Anne went on to describe a wide variety of dahlias:

1) IMPERIALIS: the giant bell tree dahlia which can grow several metres high. She said taller dahlias like this come into flower much later than the short ones as they need more time to grow.

2) SINGLE FLOWER: e.g. ‘Bright Eyes’,  ‘Dahelgria’, ‘Dovegrove’. She said they were very good pollinators as insects were attracted to single flowers.

3) BALL SHAPED:  e.g. ‘Jowey Winnie’, ‘Frank Kalka’, ‘Boom Yellow’, ‘Gipsy Night’. Very good as a cut flower.

4) CACTUS: e.g. ‘Urchin’, ‘Sophia’ ‘Hollyhill Spider Woman’.

5) ANEMONE: e.g. ‘Blue Bayou’, ‘Platinum Blonde’, ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Mambo’.

6) DECORATIVE: e.g. ‘American Sun’, ‘Crème de cassis’, ‘Crème de cognac’. Some have mixed colour petals which are very attractive.

7) GIANT PLATE DECORATIVE: e.g. ‘Café au Lait’, ‘Penhill Dark Monarch’, ‘Great Hercules’.

8) WATERLILY: e.g.  ‘Karma’, ‘Pink Perception’, ‘Irene’. Lily petals are long lasting.

9) COLLARETTE: e.g. ‘Kelsey Sunshine’, ‘Famoso’, ‘Swan Island’. Dahlias which have both an inner ring of petals and an outer ring which are attractive to bees and butterflies.

10) ORCHID: e.g.  ‘Honka Rose’, ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’, ‘Destiny’s Teachers’, ‘Crazy Legs’.

11) THOSE WHICH DO NOT FALL INTO ANY CATEGORY: e.g. ‘Mexican Black’ (which is a hybrid cross with chocolate Cosmos), ‘Bishop of Llandaff’.

Citing Chenies Manor as an example, with regard to planting up borders, Anne pointed out planting scheme fashions had changed  over the years. Previously borders had been more formal and structured. Now their style was much looser. Examples of plants, both annuals and perennials, that made good partners and contrast to dahlias included Verbena bonariensis, Cosmos, Nicotiana, fennel, castor oil, Salvia ‘Amistad’.  She said mixing blue flowers with coloured dahlias in borders should be avoided as they make them look more purple. White dahlias also did not make good companions to other dahlia colours and suggested instead those that had a more cream tone should be used. If planting tulips in the same border she recommended following on with the same coloured dahlias. She left her dahlias in the ground over winter and cut them back in January and mulched the crowns. She intermingled, for example, bulbs, tulips and Fritillaria persica with them.

Anne said that she started her dahlias off in pots, and when planted out they need fertile soil, regular watering, moist but not waterlogged soil and sunshine. She mentioned that she provided buyers of her dahlias with cultivation instructions.

For further information look at Rose Cottage Plants website: https://www.rosecottageplants.co.uk/
They are having an open weekend during August Bank Holiday (27- 28 August 2022) at their farm Bay Tree Farm, Epping Green, Essex. CM16 6PU. Opening times: 10am-5pm. Mobile: 01992 573 775. The RHS website also provides useful cultivation instructions.


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