Plants In Detail – Dahlia ‘Akita’

One aspect of gardening in a small space that I enjoy most is that no detail goes unnoticed. Whilst this counts equally for annoying flaws and moments of near-perfection, there is as much joy for me in the emergence of a new leaf or the opening of a single flower bud as there is in the spectacle of a long vista or a meadow in full bloom. A small garden offers one the reassurance of knowing precisely what is going on, even if it’s not necessarily what one hoped (and it generally isn’t!).

Returning to the opening of a single flower bud, waiting for Dahlia ‘Akita’ to bloom has been like the proverbial ‘watched pot’. I planted the tubers a little late, having purchased them when the National Dahlia Collection were clearing their decks in early April. I planted them all in one pot as they were not particularly large. I have been waiting patiently ever since. Six months later the first bud is now open, revealing a flower of unique and intriguing beauty.

What first attracted me to Dahlia ‘Akita’ was its extraordinary, chrysanthemum-like flowers. I had never seen a dahlia with such unusual blooms and every image on the Internet looked slightly different, so naturally I felt compelled to see it for myself at The Watch House. I generally steer clear of dinner-plate hybrids since their flowers seem so vast and incongruous in a garden setting. However, ‘Akita’ struck me as exotic enough to work in my Rousseau-inspired Jungle Garden, where rules are made to be broken.

Two features of Akita’s flower are particularly striking. First of all the dramatic colouration, which sees cinnabar-red petals tipped and backed with cream, blending through to yolk-yellow at the centre. This fiery combination of red, yellow and cream lends each flower a distinctly oriental appearance, further accentuated by a slight cupping of each petal. At different times of the day the bloom takes on a remarkably different appearance. In the yellow light of morning, as above, it is all ablaze, some of the redness fusing into magenta and plum. In the cooler light of evening the flame highlights are gone, leaving the red and cream to form a stronger contrast. None of these photographs, taken with my iPhone X, have been altered, so as to illustrate the striking differences I’ve observed.

Subtle cupping or incurving of the front petals reveals more of the cream reverse when viewing the flower from front and side. This in turn illuminates each petal as if it were a hot flame reaching into cooler air. Tightly furled, they create a pronounced, pale centre, full of anticipation. As more and more petals unfurl, those towards the back of the flower start to roll or ‘recurve’, producing a bloom that looks less like a dahlia and more like a chrysanthemum. Flowers are carried at roughly eye level, in my garden at least, inviting deliciously close scrutiny.

Over the last few days the first bud has transformed from a tight, acid-yellow fist into a blazing supernova of a bloom. It’s so arresting that I can’t help looking at it every time I go outside. It does not matter that there are not tens of them, because that one single bloom tells me everything I need to know. Two further buds promise to swell the ranks and continue the display well into September. There will be more if the snails don’t outwit me. Even if they do, I already feel I have had my money’s worth.

Growing Dahlia ‘Akita’ has taught me three things, first that taller dahlias might not be such a bad idea in my garden, where they need to compete with towering gingers and soaring cannas; second that patience is a virtue; and third that great clumps and swathes of planting are not fundamental in creating a garden of genuine beauty and interest. A single, fleeting bloom can hold the eye and excite the mind as readily as any Brownian landscape. TFG.

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24 thoughts on “Plants In Detail – Dahlia ‘Akita’

  1. You must come down to Cornwall often, purchasing from Exotic Plants and the national Dahlia Collection. I don’t even have any outside space at home but have an allotment. Thanks to you I bought a ginger lily a couple of weeks ago and am now planning an exotic area as well as edibles. Keep up the good work, it’s very encouraging..

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    1. I go to Cornwall as often as I can, which isn’t nearly enough unfortunately. It is a very good place to source exotics, but not the only place.

      A ginger lily should love the rich soil on an allotment. Water it well and mulch over winter and you should have a cracking plant there.

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  2. I grow dahlias for the first time this year and in my lot, Akita is by far the most interesting ! It was late to start emerging, the plant itself wasn’t as big and vigorous as others but, oh my, what flowers ! I am glad to see you love it too. There was a beautiful dahlia in your garden on the open day, pink with a yellow centre, that I would love to grow, could you by any chance tell me the variety ?

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  3. You are like a botanic painter only you paint with words with highlights of pictures. It is nice to know there is someone else that keep such a close eye on their garden. This is a lovely presentation of Dahlia ‘Akita’. A good name for this dahlia. This fluffy dahlia reminds me of an Akita dog which is fluffy. The colors of the dahlia are deeper. Quite beautiful in every aspect.

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  4. What a fabulous flower! You’re making me think that I should find space for a little exotic, jungly area so that I can grow dahlias there…

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  5. Beautiful dahlia and photos. Try Rebecca’s World, lovely wine and white coloured flowers. Some just wine coloured. I think you would love it in your garden. I grow them in pots and overwinter the tubers in my greenhouse.

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    1. Ahh, yes, I have seen ‘Rebecca’s World’ somewhere. Variable flowers like ‘Twyning’s Smartie’. Very interesting. Sadly I am lacking sun in my garden so I only have a couple of locations where dahlias perform well. We do have allotment ambitions though ……

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  6. Your description is absolutely wonderful…I am going to phone my aunt who loves gardening but sadly has failing eyesight and read this to her…I agree about the joys of a smaller garden.

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