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Dahlias: back in fashion

Dahlias are in the Pink!

written by

Hilary Collins BSc. (Hons)hort., M.C.I.Hort.

Originally published: March 2013 in The Edge

Dahlia 'Boom Boom White
How could you not fall in love with this perfect Dahlia 'Boom Boom White'?

A decade ago, it was social suicide to admit a penchant for Dahlias.

I will never forget being shot down in flames by a client, for suggesting drifts of white dahlias to fill a difficult border. It was April and they had an August wedding looming. I thought Dahlias were a good choice; quick, inexpensive and robust: my client thought them old-hat!

Left to right: Fiery shades of D. 'Apache', D. 'Bishop of Llandaff', and D. 'Taratahi Ruby'.

The national flower of Mexico is undergoing a renaissance.

At last I feel safe to emerge from the closet and declare my passion for this exuberant plant.

Spring gardens are easy; handfuls of white Spirea, Cherry trees, throw in some early perennials, a thousand bulbs and your display is complete. But without careful planning, by July you may be left with bland borders and frazzled foliage.

Left to right: I also particularly enjoy the chocolaty wine-reds of D. 'Arabian Night', D. 'Dark Fubuki', and D. 'Karma Choc'.

Stately homes and large gardens have exploited the benefits of the Dahlia for generations. With 1000’s of annual visitors flocking to see the gardens of England, large borders need filling with vibrant colour until the close of the season. Summer plants need stamina and Dahlias revel in full sun. Given humus rich soil, they will flower from mid-end July right though until the first frosts of October. They have more variety of flower shape and colour than any other plant and by late August, Dahlias look tremendous teamed with ornamental grasses.

But the fortunes of this tuberous perennial have waxed and waned in the smaller garden. Popular in the ‘60s, they acquired the damning reputation of being an 'allotment' plant and to be viewed in rather stiff displays at garden shows; spectacularly failing to win over budding young gardeners!

dahlia 'La-Recoleta'
Port-coloured 'La-Recoleta'

Nifty breeding, careful selection and good marketing is now bringing the next generation a phenomenal choice. Flicking through bulb catalogues, one realises that the range of colour, shape and type of dahlia is almost overwhelming.

There are some sixteen different groups and every colour available with the exception of true blue and deep black; enough to satisfy the most extravagant taste or sensitive palate. Add in height with tall back-of-border varieties, short front-of-border, ones for patio tubs and the mathematical permutations send you into a spin.

Decisions, decisions!

Dahlia 'Grand Prix'
Zingy Dahlia 'Grand Prix' may be a little too much!

Do you choose the spiky cactus in shades of raspberry ripple or zingy lemon-meringue, paeony-flowered pink marshmallows or pom-poms in chocolate-burgundy, or one of everything? By the time you’ve filled your on-line shopping basket, you have spent a fortune and created a display to rival Carmen Miranda’s hat, which is possibly not a good thing!

For my ornamental borders this year I have decided to simplify things and for dramatic effect, chosen just one colour. Pink! Very out of character for me, but I am going to experiment by choosing flowers of different form, plants of differing height and different leaf colour. Further, they have been selected for border and vase.

My collection will contain:

  • Sandra. Ball flowers of deep rose pink. Strong growing and floriferous. Flower size 3" Height 35"

  • Sugar Diamond. Deep pink, semi-cactus flowers size 6" Height 36-39"

  • Karma Prospero. Decorative elegantly held flowers -light pink, set off by very dark leaves. Flower size 4-6" Height to 43"

  • Stolz von Berlin. Pompon neat flowers -clear pink. Flower size 2-3" Height 35"

  • Gallery Art Nouveau. Popular dwarf variety at only 18” Two-tone lilac-purple flowers arranged in a ‘Catherine Wheel’ formation - excellent for front of the border.

...photographed below in list-order.

However, if I was only allowed one Dahlia, it would have to be the most divine ‘Maldiva’.

Dahlia 'Maldiva'
Dahlia 'Maldiva'

Chatting to Anne Barnard of Rose Cottage Plants, this water-lily flowered Dahlia is new for 2013 and submitted for trials at RHS Wisley. The delicious apricot-pink blooms are softly luminescent, brilliant in strong sunlight and outstanding on gloomy summer days.

'Maldiva' is excellent planted in big drifts, looking completely natural in garden borders. The large flowers 4-5" are carried in profusion, on sturdy weather resistant stems, making this a superb variety for cutting. Maldiva is weather resistance too, surviving the strong storms of last summer, whilst other trial varieties collapsed.

My key dates for Dahlia success are:

April: start tubers indoors in pots

June: plant outside

July (mid-end): flowers until first frosts, then lift and store for the winter.

Incidentally, if you want a first class white dahlia - check out the beautiful D. ‘Nathalie’s Wedding’

Dahlia ‘Nathalie’s Wedding’
Dahlia ‘Nathalie’s Wedding’

For a tremendous selection of vibrant Dahlia flowers and first-class top-sized tubers, visit the website of

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