We are both gloriously giddy about dahlias. They are easy, uncomplicated, rewarding perennial plants that bloom for a long period from midsummer until late autumn. Okay, so the same could said for many flowering plants, however, few could claim to be as thrilling. Dahlias are bold, flamboyant, colourful and varied – the birds of paradise of perennial world. Of course there are a few aberrations. These are the result of overenthusiastic hybridisation by those who don’t know when to stop, and nurserymen who want to make a fast buck out of ‘novelty’ blooms. The more freakish cultivars are easily avoided given there are tens of thousands of alternatives to choose from. Anyone starting out with dahlias could not go far wrong with single-red ‘Bishop of Lladaff’, tangerine-orange ‘David Howard’, port-red ‘Karma Choc’ and primrose-yellow ‘Glorie van Heemsteede’. Each of these has stood the test of time and earned an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Despite Mexican ancestry, dahlias find themselves very much at home in the UK and can be grown everywhere from the south to north provided their growth cycle is managed correctly. Dahlias are also popular in mainland Europe, North America, Canada and Australia where there are clubs and societies that promote their cultivation and help share knowledge between members.
Even non-gardeners will be aware that dahlias are a favourite repast for slugs and snails. Vigilance is needed, especially when dahlias are starting into growth in spring. This is when they are especially vulnerable to chomping. Once they reach a reasonable size they are less of a nuisance unless the weather is wet, in which case a slimy army of molluscs can demolish a plant before your very eyes. Some folk also struggle with earwigs. So far we have never found one on our dahlias. Perhaps I have spoken too soon!
For sources of excellent information about dahlias and their cultivation, and for a list of UK nurseries, see the foot of this page.
Below are a few of the cultivars we grow in our garden or on our allotment. Do leave a comment if you have a favourite dahlia that you think we should be growing. I have tried my hardest to provide as interesting and accurate pictures and descriptions as I can, but the nature of dahlias is that they are variable, so your experiences may be different from ours.
NOTE – this page is a work in progress, so do come back again soon and see how it’s coming along.
Dahlia ‘Black Narcissus’
A thoroughbred ‘black’ dahlia with bright, emerald-green foliage. The spikey flowers are beautiful at every stage of development from bud to overblown. Darker than my image suggests and long-lasting. We were still picking blooms in late November 2020.
Dahlia ‘Jowie Winnie’
A ball dahlia with the same smoky terracotta-pink colouration as my favourite dahlia, ‘American Dawn’. I love the glowing, sunset colours which make each bloom so multi-dimensional. Produces neat blooms on long stems. Needs plenty of sunshine to bring out the richness of the colour.
Dahlia ‘Love of my Life’
I adore this dahlia for its name and its chunky neatness. The plant is stocky, growing to around 70cm, and the flower stems are not really long enough for cutting. However each bloom is immaculate and incredibly long-lasting. The foliage is a gorgeous British racing green with almost completely black ribs and stems, setting off the clear apricot blooms perfectly. Not commonly available but worth seeking out.
Despite being my long-time favourite dahlia, I still find it difficult to describe its unusual colouring. The open petals might be best described as Florentine terracotta with a purplish-rose reverse. I can only suggest to grow it and correct me if you disagree. Tall, strong and proud plants which will benefit from staking to stop the hollow stems from splitting. Often sells out when it’s offered for sale.
Dahlia ‘Lake Tahoe’
One of a gang of dahlias that remind one of a holiday sunset, the sky burning with deep rose, orange and yellow. Like it’s cousin ‘Lake Ontario’ it’s not especially tall, reaching a maximum of 1m on our allotment. Not widely available but try H.W. Hyde and Son (see below). Good choice for the front or middle of a border.
Dahlia ‘Lake Ontario’
We grew ‘Lake Ontario’ from a cutting, anticipating lemon-yellow blooms where every petal would be edged with blood-red. As the first flowers opened we were dismayed to find they were smudged and flamed red, rather than beautifully outlined as they ought to be. After a few weeks a new flush of flowers came good and all was well. Dahlias can be very variable, to the extent that even weather conditions can influence their colour.
If dawn on a searingly hot day could be captured in a flower, Dahlia ‘Seattle’ would be its living embodiment. Just looking at the flowers makes one feel the white heat starting to build while the coolness of morning flees into the shadows. The inner tip of each petal is the colour of raw egg-yolk, assuming a richer, more ‘hard-boiled’ orangey-yellow as it ages. Not too tall so just right for the front or middle of a border.
Dahlia ‘Ornamental Rays’
Another beauty. Delicate, slightly downward-facing flowers resemble a rather coy sea urchin. I am a sucker for any peachy coloured dahlia, but, believe me, ‘Ornamental Rays’ really does glow like a setting sun at the end of a perfect summer’s day. Alas, it appears the only supplier in the UK was the National Dahlia Collection, which closed in 2020. We had better keep our tubers safe!
Dahlia ‘Veronne’s Obsidian’
Sometimes referred to as ‘Honka Black’ this dahlia produces deep red, almost black petals around a golden-yellow centre making it irresistible to bees and other pollinators. Each petal rolls in on itself, forming a pointed quill. This lends the flower an elegant, star-like quality. Like all darkish flowers, ‘Veronne’s Obsidian’ benefits from a pale background or lighter, brighter companions, otherwise the flowers tend to recede into the background.
Dahlia ‘Downham Royal’
There is something very regal about this little ball dahlia and my photograph doesn’t do the colour any justice. Each bloom is a good, deep magenta which works well with pinks, purple and white. With long stems it’s excellent for cutting too.
It’s impossible not be beguiled by this fiery little dahlia. Petals the colour of smouldering embers are held just above bronze-tinted foliage. Each bloom is slightly disorderly and classed as ‘peony’ rather than ‘single’. Each plant produces copious, short-lived flowers. Dead-head regularly to keep flowers coming.
This dinner-plate dahlia is a firm favourite for it’s size, stature, emerald green foliage and crimson, swept-back petals. Although our first plant was supplied as a tiny cutting, four months later it was a handsome beast putting its neighbours in the shade, quite literally. A sport, named ‘Bohemian Spartacus’ produces the odd petal that is splashed or striped with gold. We hope to grow this cultivar in 2020. As with most dinner-plate dahlias, best planted in a border rather than a pot.
Occasionally colours defy accurate description. Yes, this dahlia has magenta flowers, but the exact shade of magenta is something to behold. When newly opened the dazzling flowers seem to be almost shot through with electric blue. Perhaps it’s the way the sheer, pleated petals are offset against bronzy leaves, almost black stems and fuzzy-wuzzy golden stamens? The best decision you can make is to grow it and decide for yourself. Sometimes scarce and notorious for making pathetic tubers. Somehow they still produce stately plants. RHS Award of Garden Merit,
I purchased this dahlia as a plant quite late in the 2020 season so it only began flowering on the allotment in October. Large flowers are a very cheery shade of lemon-yellow that would partner perfectly with a vibrant blue Salvia such as S. guaranitica ‘Black and Bloom’. I love yellow so I find this variety very easy on the eye. Others may disagree.
If you are a lover of untainted white flowers then this is a good dahlia for you. There’s a glimmer of green at the centre of each waterlily bloom but no hint of cream or yellow to sully the ice-white petals. Being white it does work well with other white flowers, reds and purple foliage, depending on how dramatic you are feeling. At 4ft it’s not too tall and will grow perfectly happily in a pot.
Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’ AGM
For many this is the ultimate dark-flowered, dark-leaved dahlia. It is certainly very good, hence an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS. Each bloom is a smouldering, operatic red with a wonderfully lustrous sheen. Dark foliage and stems provide the perfect foil. The Karma series of dahlias were bred to produce long-lasting flowers with generous stems, making them perfect for floristry. An amazing companion for orange flowers such as Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ or Abutilon ‘Hot Lava’.
Dahlia ‘Honka Fragile’
This pretty single dahlia is magnet for bees. Each plant produces hundreds of white flowers, each petal edged and brushed with cherry red (the amount of red seems to intensify with hotter and drier weather). Each bloom is relatively short-lived but they keep on coming and coming. Makes a very decent-sized tuber.
Dahlia ‘Bright Eyes’
Can you imagine a more apt name than ‘Bright Eyes’ for this sparky single dahlia? Each bloom positively radiates sunshine, attracting bees and other pollinators to its central disk of golden stamens. Produces gazillions of flowers on long, wiry stems making it ideal for planting among grasses and other free-form perennials. Green foliage.
Dahlia ‘Mango Madness’
We have found this cultivar to be a little variable in terms of colour and flower form, but this could be due to the tubers we purchased or the prevailing weather conditions in 2020. Swipe left or right to compare two blooms on the same plant taken at different times. In any case, ‘Mango Madness’ is a very alluring coral-coloured dinner-plate dahlia that works well with dark reds and deep purples.
A real court jester of a dahlia, ‘Tartan’ is a dinner-plate with twisted, pure-white petals striped with blackcurrant-red, or should that be the other way round? You’ll either love or hate ‘Tartan’. It needs something light and airy around it in the garden. Go all-out and partner ‘Tartan’ with Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ and Cosmos ‘Purity’ and let the neighbours talk.
Dahlia ‘Canary Fubuki’
Dahlia ‘Canary Fubuki’ was introduced to horticulture thirty years ago by Yamaki Ikushuengei of Japan (Fubuki translates as ‘snowstorm’ in English). We purchased a single, shrivelled tuber on a whim and had fairly low expectations. Turns out we should have been more optimistic. In 2020 ‘Canary Fubuki’ was one of the first dahlias to bloom and the last to cease. I’d describe the flowers as white flushed with yellow rather than pure yellow. They are pretty and delicate, pulling other colours together beautifully.
Dahlia ‘April Heather’ AGM
One can only assume that April Heather was a woman rather than an expression of this dahlia’s delicate colouration. Prettier than a porcelain tea-cup or an Easter bonnet, ‘April Heather’ is an easily placed dahlia with stacks of bee-appeal. Would look charming among annuals in a cottage garden or as part of a more sophisticated scheme with billowing grasses and lacy umbels. Looks exquisite in a vase on the kitchen windowsill too. RHS Award of Garden Merit.
I have completely fallen in love with this dahlia. The petals are so exquisitely coloured that they appear to be illuminated from within. Each one is ivory, suffused with pale yellow and rosy pink, which intensifies towards the centre. A delicate and lovely semi-cactus dahlia which flowers prolifically and lasts well as a cut flower.
New for 2021
Lockdown has not been good for our spending on plants. It’s all too easy to get carried away after a glass of wine, and we quaffed a few of those during the winter months. These beauties are currently growing on in the greenhouse or awaiting delivery from the supplier.
- Dahlia ‘Crème de Cognac’ – PA – young plant. Small Decorative, bi-coloured, peach on top and purplish wine coloured below.
- Dahlia ‘Brown Sugar’ – PA – young plant. Miniature Ball, sumptuous terracotta orange.
- Dahlia ‘Maxime’ – PA – young plant
- Dahlia ‘Brown Sugar’ -PA – young plant
- Dahlia ‘Daisy Duke’ – PA – young plant
- Dahlia ‘Myrtles Folly’ – PA – young plant
- Dahlia ‘Don Hill’ – PA – young plant
- Dahlia ‘Nick Sr.’ – PA – young plant
- Dahlia ‘Terrie Bandey’ – PA – young plant
- Dahlia ‘Thomas A. Edison’ – PA – young plant
- Dahlia ‘Noel’ – PA – young plant
- Dahlia ‘Nenekazi’ – PA – young plant
- Dahlia ‘Cheyenne Chieftain’ -PA – young plant
- Dahlia ‘Kilburn Glow’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Bryn Terfel’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Polventon Kristobel’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Purple Pearl’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Normandie Wedding Day’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Carolina Moon’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Josudi Hercules’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Christopher Taylor’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Glorie Van Heemstede – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Edith Jones’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Hadrian’s Midnight’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Megan Dean’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Mayan Pearl – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Josudi Andromeda’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Vivian Russel’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Dilys Ayling – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Rosamunde’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Kenora Macop-B’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Le Feu du Soleil’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Fire Mountain’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Claire de Lune’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Louis Meggos’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Normandie Frills’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Westerton Gatehouse’- HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Hollyhill Serenity’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Josudi Neptune’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Blyton Softer Gleam’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Ken’s Rarity’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Doris Day’ – HH – cutting
- Dahlia ‘Hillcrest Royal’ – HH – cutting
UK Nurseries specialising in Dahlias
- HH = Halls of Heddon, Northumberland – specialist in Dahlias and Chrysanthemums for gardens and exhibition
- PA = Pheasant Acre Plants, Brigend, Wales – specialists in gladioli and dahlias. Supply Dahlias as tubers available from January and as plants (grown in 10 cm pots) from April.
- Gilberts of Romsey
- H.W. Hyde & Son, West Sussex. 95-year-old family business specialising in lilies and dahlias. Chelsea Flower Show gold medalists.
- Rose Cottage Plants