It always intrigues me how different plants come in and out of fashion. Dahlias are one such plant that has ridden the roller coaster of popularity over the last century – but right now, they are definitely on the up!
I for one, am glad of their revival. So are the huge numbers of visitors to Anglesey Abbey’s Dahlia Festival, in Cambridgeshire each September. I’ve visited on several occasions with my equally plant-obsessed friend who lives next door, with all kids in tow. In fact, it’s become a bit of an annual event for us all! Each time these magnificent plants astonish me with their vibrant colours and huge variety of flower shapes.
It’s not just the plants that impress me. The gardeners that grow them to perfection deserve enormous credit, and the creativity with which they are displayed is breath-taking.
You might think that taking young children to a flower festival would be a recipe for disaster – I know I did. How wrong I was! In addition to the borders, many of the displays use cut Dahlia flowers placed into test-tube style vases. These can be attached to trees, inserted into lawns and displayed in all manner of other creative ways. It makes for a much more interactive experience which appeals to the children and grown-ups alike.
Sadly we missed it last year, but as luck would have it, my friend was bequeathed an enormous number of rather large Dahlia tubers. They were unwanted by their previous owners. Crazy, I know! So, it was decided … this year she would create our own Dahlia festival!
The Dahlia tubers overwintered in crates in the greenhouse, and she planted them up into large pots this spring. When they emerged from the greenhouse the Dahlia plants looked quite magnificent. They were planted with care, watered well and given a good mulch of manure. Sturdy stakes were inserted in the ground to support them as they grow.
On a side note, if you are wondering what the straw-like material is; it’s just a pile of dead weed and grass that was cleared from the site. When my friend went to remove it we discovered ground-nesting bees had made a home there. Always keen to live and let live, the bees and their nest have been left well alone. These helpful little insects are under threat and need all the help we can give them.
However, there are other garden creatures, that we could well do without. Slugs and snails thrive in our gardens, and unfortunately they have a particular taste for Dahlias!
With the Dahlia festival under threat, it was necessary to take sensible precautions! A combination of slug pellets and copper slug collars has been put in place, and so far there has been very little damage.
By September, there should be a fabulous display of dazzling Dahlias. Whilst not on the same grand scale as Anglesey Abbey, I’m certain that it will still be impressive.
Are you growing Dahlias this year? Let us know how you are getting on at our Facebook page and if you’re looking for guides on how to grow dahlias from seed, check out our dahlia hub page – our one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about growing dahlias.
Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman’s nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online. I have a keen interest in drought resistant plants and a passion for perennials, particularly hardy Geraniums. I previously stood as regional secretary for the International Plant Propagation Society which gave me lots of opportunities to see what other horticulturalists were up to in their nurseries and gardens.
According to Neil Kingsbury’s book on botany, English garden writer Christopher Lloyd highlighted the long-forgotten dahlia and mentioned the variety called ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ in the 1960s and dahlias took off once again. I think we have been in love with these wonderful flowers since then.
I completely agree! Christopher Lloyd re-invented the Dahlia with his vibrant, tropical planting schemes. I visited his garden at Great Dixter some years ago and was blown away by the extraordinary colour combinations. Definitely worth a visit!