Dahlia Disaster Averted – The National Dahlia Collection Finds A New Home

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When the National Dahlia Collection announced its closure in September 2020 The Beau and I were bereft. This little patch of dahlia heaven was not only what brought us together, but was also the home of a dahlia The Beau had named after his late husband, the beautiful white ‘Johnnie Ellis’. Apart from that, it was also our favourite source of new dahlia varieties every spring, arriving in the form of rooted cuttings. Our enquiries about the future of the collection went unanswered: we had to sit tight, like everyone else, and see what would happen next. It would seem that the collection had become part of a commercial business, Winchester Growers, which then changed hands a few times before someone high up asked why on earth they were subsidising a field of dahlias in Cornwall.

Salvation came in the form of Louise Danks, a former production manager at the National Dahlia Collection, and the Kehelland Trust. Together they have moved the collection from Varfell Farm near Penzance to the trust’s 16 acre site near Camborne. The relocation appears to have been a great success, with over 1700 cultivars and 22 species all settled into their new home and flowering beautifully just 12 months later. It can have been no mean feat. Hats off to all involved, including the team of enthusiastic volunteers, for rescuing an important part of Cornwall’s recent horticultural heritage. At the present time we don’t know whether the Kehelland Trust, a charity which supports young people and adults with learning and physical disabilities, will start to sell tubers or cuttings again. For now it’s enough to know the collection is in safe hands and open for the public to enjoy..

The National Dahlia Collection’s new home is nicely sheltered by alder hedges and neatly laid out in rows. It’s a little tricky to find – our sat nav led us a merry dance – but there’s ample parking next to the field. At the time of our visit, about a third of the cultivars were labelled with their names painted on to smart grey slates, a few more could be looked up using reference numbers, and the rest could only be identified from a planting plan. Being eager to know the names of countless dahlias, it was a tad frustrating that they were not all named, but we’ll be more than happy to return next year to see if progress has been made with labelling. This new enterprise is clearly in its infancy and will develop over time. 1700 cultivars sounds like a lot, but it’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dahlias, of which there are perhaps 60,000 or more registered varieties. It’s just as well there’s space on all sides for the collection to expand.

Should you be in Cornwall this October, the National Dahlia Collection hopes to remain open on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the month. Check the National Dahlia Collection Facebook page for details and directions. In the meantime, here are a few of our favourite blooms. TFG.

Categories: Cornish Gardens, Cornwall, Dahlias, Flowers, Perennials, Photography, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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16 comments On "Dahlia Disaster Averted – The National Dahlia Collection Finds A New Home"

  1. That is unfortunate that this even becomes a concern. Some collections are not so fortunate. The Heritage Rose Garden in San Jose, which was the most complete collection of Old World roses in the World, was a grand concept, but ultimately became partly abandoned, without a curator. I do not know the present condition of the Collection. Horticulture is not respected like it should be anymore.

  2. A very big undertaking. I’m glad to see from your excellent pictures that the dahlias are in such good hands and just wish Cornwall was closer.

    1. Don’t we all! Although it didn’t seem to stop a lot of people going down there this summer. I think it’s been slightly hellish for the residents.

      I’m glad you liked the pictures. We went in the evening and were very fortunate with the beautiful light. Dan

  3. Oh my! So much beauty! You are so lucky to have this “in your backyard”, so to speak. I live in Montreal, Canada, and am a huge fan of dahlias. I wish we had the choices of this beautiful flower that you have. It is so heartening to read of people doing their utmost to save the years and years of work put in to cultivate a collection such as this.
    Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

    1. My pleasure Nadia. We have a lot of nice varieties here and across Europe thanks to all the enthusiasts, breeders and growers. There seem to be even more in the USA, but perhaps I am imagining that. I follow Floret Flowers and Santa Cruz Dahlias for the latest developments across the pond. And in Australia there seem to be different varieties again. Some of the varieties at the dahlia collection are not commercially available but it’s good to see them well grown nevertheless. Dan

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