When I was a boy, most dahlias looked a little like D. ‘Lady Darlene’. They were bold and brazen, not afraid to be bi-coloured or brassy. Their flowers were either big, top-heavy confections or perfectly pert little pom-poms perfectly designed to hide earwigs. The dahlias of my childhood were the drag queens of the floral world, all loud and artificial, the rude girls in the garden. Is it any wonder that I adored them? And now they are back, perhaps not in the mainstream, but creeping into connoisseurs’ collections and creating a buzz again.
At The Salutation on Saturday, Head Gardener Steven Edney shamelessly confessed his love for these buxom beauties, even admitting that his girlfriend described his taste in flowers as ‘a little bit gay’. Here in the 3.5 acres surrounding one of Lutyens’ masterpieces there’s room enough for all persuasions. Steven’s passion for dahlias extends from shy singles to the kinkiest of colarettes.
Accompanied by a chorus of tithonias and cannas Dahlia ‘Lady Darlene’ put on quite a show. Her Phoenix-like petals would not look out of place on the Eurovision stage or in Shirley Bassey’s wardrobe. Quieter, but not a lot, was Dahlia ‘Babylon Lilac’ (above), her gorgeous, swept-back lavender-pink petals carried on plants of supreme stature. How fitting that she was bejewelled with raindrops. And then there was her sister D. ‘Babylon Gevland’, with apricot flowers slashed across with tangerine-orange.
These dahlias are fierce flowers, not afraid to be out and proud. They’ve been there, done that and thrown the t-shirt in the bin.
Rather like real drag queens, such diva dahlias are fun to spend the evening with but perhaps not what you’d take home to meet the parents. They are still too kitch and outrageous for most of us to integrate into our gardens. Time will inevitably change that view and in a few year’s time we’ll all be trying to out-do one another with our new fabulous friends. You heard it here first.
The Salutation Dahlia Festival continues until September 15th 2015