Dazzling dahlias for gardens
Words: Graham Rice
Dahlias are enjoying a bright revival. Partly as a result of their bold use in the Tropical Garden at Great Dixter and partly because so many impressive new cultivars have appeared recently and good cultivars are easier to find. In particular, it’s dahlias for the garden – rather than for exhibition or cutting – which are being grown much more widely. Here are 10 Award of Garden Merit winners for summer mixed borders.
Dahlia ‘Ann Breckenfelder’
This cheerful dahlia brings single flowers about 7.5-10cm (3-4in) across, each with vivid slightly orangy-red outer petals which are streaked in yellow on the backs. Around the golden eye is a ring of shorter, slightly twisted, pale-yellow petals lightly streaked in red. Bright in the border and good for cutting. Named after an enthusiastic supporter of the Dahlia Society of Wisconsin.
Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’
This is the dahlia that started the current enthusiasm, though developed in Cardiff and introduced in 1924. Its blackish, bronze, sharply-dissected foliage is the perfect background for the vivid red, 5-7.5cm (2-3in) flowers. Each flower is single, almost semi-double, with an extra row or two of petals giving it more substance. The eye begins bronze and becomes more yellow as the season progresses.
Dahlia ‘Clair de Lune'
A lovely dahlia in a happy harmony of colours. The broad outer petals, in a single row, are pale lemon yellow, slightly darker through the centre of each, and the short petals held in an irregular ring around the honeyed eye are a slightly paler shade. The fresh, green foliage sets the flowers off nicely. A softer shade for more subtle plantings, and good for cutting. 90cm (3ft)
Dahlia ‘David Howard’
Bronze-tinged, slightly purplish foliage on well-filled, bushy plants makes a lovely combination with the fully-double flowers. Each 10cm (4in) flower is a soft bronze orange shade, richer and darker in the centre, and is ideal with cannas. A prolific seedling of ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, raised and introduced in the 1950s by Norfolk nurseryman David Howard.
Dark-leaved dahlias are often more effective in borders than those with green foliage, and in ‘Fascination’ the bronze foliage really helps the flowers shine. Each flower is about 15cm (6in) across and a bright, intense pink with two or three rows of petals giving it a more substantial, semi-double look. It’s especially lovely with upright Verbena bonariensis and arched with Persicaria orientalis.
Dahlia ‘Gallery Art Nouveau’
The Gallery Series, from Holland, includes dwarf plants with a prolific display of fully double flowers and eight of them have been awarded the AGM. ‘Gallery Art Nouveau’ has rather open, 10cm (4in) double flowers with the outer petals bright-pink, streaked with red, and the centre more a deep purplish-red. Good in containers or the front of the border. 30-45cm (12-18in)
Dahlia ‘Gloire van Heemstede’
Combining brightness with an unusually elegant flower form, the clean-looking, lemon-yellow flowers of ‘Gloire van Heemstede’ have relatively few petals but they are noticeably broad. They sit in attractively flat flowers about 12.5cm (5in) across. Set appealingly against fresh-green foliage, this is a lovely dahlia in the border, and also bright in the house. 1.2m (4ft)
An extraordinary flower in the border or in a vase, the seven or sometimes eight slender petals form a distinctive star about 12.5cm (5in) across. In addition, the sides of each petal are rolled inwards for most of their length creating a unique and striking shape. Each flower is held well clear of the foliage on a long stem. 90cm (3ft)
Bright and softly fiery, the prolific 7.5cm (3in) single flowers are bright yellow, softened with slightly peachy overtones. Towards the centre each petal shades to vivid orange-scarlet around the dark eye which becomes yellow as the flower matures. ‘Moonfire’ is ideal in containers or at the front of borders, the flowers set brightly against richly bronzed foliage. 90cm (3ft)
Dahlia ‘Twyning’s After Eight’
A triumph of the plant breeder’s art, in any plant the combination of bronze foliage and white flowers is both desirable and almost impossible to obtain. Mark Twyning did it: the foliage is almost black, the flowers white with a few faint, reddish streaks. Best as a garden specimen where the colour contrast is obvious. 1.2m (4ft)