14 November 2016
In praise of the dahlia
This year has been particularly good for the dahlias at
Allt-y-bela. This time last year we took stock of the range and
performance of our dahlias in the cottage garden and decided make
some changes. We got rid of them all except for two cultivars:
Dahlia 'Cafe au Lait' and D. 'Naples'. We then
put together a plan to improve the late season performance of the
cottage garden. We asked a local nursery to propagate and bring on
our dahlias early in the season (space is at a premium at
Allt-y-bela) then when they arrived and were planted out, we set
about feeding them weekly and watering them profusely throughout
the summer. The autumn display has not disappointed and we've had a
constant supply of dahlias for the house without it ever seeming to
have an impact on the garden display. I have been ruthless with
deadheading though, as soon as a flower begins to fade I've removed
it, and these dead heading patrols have been as close to daily as I
can manage. Never before have I managed dahlias so intensively and
never before have I had such fantastic results!
On the 2nd November I set out on my usual dead heading round and took some pictures of the display which was still showing no signs of slowing. The next day I came in to find a light frost over the garden, walking up to the cottage garden I didn't expect any real damage on the dahlias and at first it looked like all was well, and then I looked more closely; every flower had been damaged and a good proportion of the leaves showed the slight darkened transparency which means that the dahlias are finished. I really couldn't believe it, it seemed so unreal. For the next couple of hours I worked around the garden, hoping that the damage wasn't as complete as it looked, but it had to be faced. By the end of the day all of the dahlias were lifted, cleaned and drying ready for storage with the notable exception of the Dahlia merckii which is still going strong. It's no secret that I've become a Dahlia merckii convert this year and its relative hardiness is just another string to its bow.
We're now in the rather strange position that our sweet peas that we left to set seed are flowering on after the dahlias have gone! It's been a great year for the dahlias and I've certainly learned a lot about how to get them going and keep them flowering. Now it's all over for another year I am rather sad to see them go, it's another sign that winter is closing in!
Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela
Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer