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.