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 be 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 the 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 Llandaff, 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 the 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 constant work in progress, so do come back again and see how it’s coming along.
Dahlia ‘Josudi Andromeda’
What a cutie this dahlia is! Perfect little sea urchin flowers in an elegant shade of blush pink. Plants produces exceptionally long stems, making ‘Josudi Andromeda’ ideal for cutting. The blooms would be outstanding for wedding arrangements. I can’t see myself ever wanting to be without this variety.
Dahlia ‘Normandie Wedding Day’
Being a more-is-more kind of guy, I am drawn to dahlias with fringed (fimbriated) petals. ‘Normandie Wedding Day’ is at the more reserved end of the scale for fimbriated dahlias, many of which are pretty wild when you combine both colour and form (see ‘Myrtle’s Folly’ further down this page). ‘Normandie Wedding Day’ is subtle, pretty and makes an exquisite cut flower.
Dahlia ‘Johnnie Ellis’
This handsome semi-cactus dahlia was named in memory of The Beau’s late husband who was Senior Curator of Higher Vertebrates and Horticulture at London Zoo. Tall, sturdy plants produce an abundance of white flowers that beg to be admired. A very fitting tribute to a man who loved life. Alas, until The National Dahlia Collection is back on its feet, this cultivar is unavailable commercially.
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 ‘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.
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.
Dahlia ‘Normandie Frills’
The floral equivalent of a sea anemone, ‘Normandie Frills is new for us. The petals are finely fimbriated (fringed) and a soft peach-pink over pale yellow – real sunrise colours that are guaranteed to melt one’s heart. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how floriferous this variety is, to the extent that that our plant is smothered in blooms. The flowers stand up to rain well too. What’s not to love?
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.
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 ‘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.
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 ‘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 ‘Westerton Gatehouse’
If you like your dahlias neat, tidy and mathematically correct, you’ll love ‘Westerton Gatehouse’.
Dahlia ‘Penhill Dark Monarch’
Whenever this dahlia catches my eye, I start to hear Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly singing ‘True Love’:
Honeymooners at last alone
Feeling far above par
Oh, how lucky we are.”
I think it’s the tousled petals and devil-may-care colour combination that sets me off! ‘Penhill Dark Monarch’ is a seriously large dahlia with flowers often exceeding 12″ from tip to tip. Absolutely scrumptious and very easy to fall in love with.
Dahlia ‘Edith Jones’
Dahlia ‘Carolina Moon’
We often select dahlia varieties specifically for picking and arranging in certain rooms of our house. Our library being painted a shade of brooding heather purple, this kind of colouration works really well against that as a background. As a cut flower ‘Carolina Moon’ works nicely with ‘Eveline’ (below) which typically has the faintest hint of lilac at its centre. The only drawback so far is that the flower stems are not particularly long.
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.
The centre of each bloom is typically flushed with soft lilac, but most of our blooms are emerging pure white. Perhaps it’s because we grew ‘Eveline’ from a tuber? Perhaps the colouration is more pronounced when grown from cuttings? Maybe we just have a duff plant? Time will tell. Regardless, this is an easy-peasy, romantic dahlia for the late summer border and a lovely companion for other dahlias in a vase.
Dahlia ‘Vivian Russel’
A simple, very open waterlily type dahlia which blends well with yellows and pops with red. A lemon centre quickly fades out to white. We have it growing next to ‘Doris Day’ (see below) which is a terrific combination. Waterlily dahlias are among the easiest of dahlias to incorporate in a border since the flower shape is a little more casual and relaxed than some others.
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.
Dahlia ‘HollyHill Serenity’
This waterlily dahlia is so improbably perfect that it could have been fashioned from silk. I am totally in awe of the flowers’ beautiful presentation, borne aloft long stems in great profusion. I am unsure why it’s not more commonly grown, but you can buy cuttings from Halls of Heddon in the early spring.
Dahlia ‘Orange Pekoe’
This is a terrific dahlia for the border or for cutting. ‘Orange Pekoe’ has very pleasing, seaweed-green foliage offset by, sunset-coloured blooms on long stems. One of our favourite discoveries of 2020 and a good all-rounder for the garden.
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.
A long time favourite of mine. The perfect dahlia for a container as it rarely exceeds 70-80cm in my experience. The first blooms tend to appear very low down in the foliage, but the flower stems extend in length as the season goes on.
Dahlia ‘Polventon Kristobel’
One of the most extraordinary qualities of the dahlia family is the ability to produce flowers in a seemingly infinite spectrum of colours, many of which are impossible to describe. ‘Polventon Kristobel’ is a the epitome of this – a kind of rosy-crocus, or should that be mauvy-pink, with a shot of peach and gold highlights. Whatever colour it is, it’s just beautiful.
Dahlia ‘Christopher Taylor’
The most exquisite waterlily dahlia, ‘Christopher Taylor’ produces watermelon-red flowers suffused with neon pink aloft aubergine-purple stems. The effect is mouthwatering.
Dahlia ‘Fire Mountain’
Fans of ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ will appreciate the charms of ‘Fire Mountain’.
Dahlia ‘Hillcrest Royal’
This fabulous, medium-sized cactus dahlia needs little introduction since it’s already an established garden favourite. The flowers’ long petals are an operatic red with electrifying hints of magenta at their tips. A beautiful cut flower and splendid in the border, where it will make oranges and violets pop.
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.
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.
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,
Dahlia ‘Classic Rosamunde’
Ahh, fair Rosamunde, what a pretty picture you paint! This is a superb cottage garden dahlia, strong enough to hold its own visually, but not so much that it draws attention away from everything else. The semi-double, bright pink flowers bear some resemblance to a zinnia or even a double Japanese anemone. It’s the deep-bronze foliage that really marks ‘Classic Rosamunde’ out as something special. I’d team it with orange crocosmias and a dark penstemon such as P. ‘Raven’ for a bit of late summer pizzazz.
Dahlia ‘Purple Explosion’
There is nothing in the least subtle about this dinner-plate dahlia. The plants are stout and, in my experience, a little too short. The flowers are enormous, sporting white petals liberally swished with magenta pink – I am not sure I could call it purple. Colouration is highly variable, with some blooms appearing much whiter and others more of a solid pink. It’s a marmite kind of dahlia and for me better on the allotment or in a vase than in a garden setting.
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). The blooms are relatively short-lived, but they keep on coming and coming. ‘Honka Fragile’ makes a very decent-sized tuber. As a cut flower it’s lovely – watch out for the copious amounts of pollen produced. It does not stain like lily pollen but it can be a nuisance.
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 ‘Glorie Van Heemsteede’
An absolute garden classic, ‘Glorie Van Heemsteede’ has graced our gardens since 1947. It’s the architypal cottage garden dahlia with waterlily shaped flowers and long stems for cutting. Its main attraction is its colour – providing you like yellow of course. The blooms are a translucent, almost liquid, acid yellow which can be both shocking and easy on the eye. Awarded an AGM by the RHS, no summer garden should really be without it.
Dahlia ‘Bishop of York’
The ‘Bishop’ series of dahlias is dominated by the ‘Bishop of Llandaff’. Deserved though that may be, other bishops are available. ‘Bishop of York’ shares the same bronze foliage but sports completely single, golden-yellow flowers. Bees adore them. We have found this cultivar to be especially prone to mildew, appearing when every other dahlia remains completely healthy. Otherwise, this is a cheerful little dahlia with lots of good uses in the garden.
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.
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. . In any case, ‘Mango Madness’ is a very alluring coral-coloured dinner-plate dahlia that works well with dark reds and deep purples.
Dahlia ‘Myrtle’s Folly’
Occasionally words fail me and photos have to suffice. Quite simply, ‘Myrtle’s Folly’ has it all going on. Fine petals twist and turn revealing shades of yellow, peach and rose-pink. I’ve seen the colouring described as ‘rhubarb and custard’, which is fair, but not reflective of its loveliness. A single bloom displayed in a simple vase is enough to illuminate an entire room.
Dahlia ‘Feu de Joie’
An aptly named dahlia with its coat of scarlet fringed with white. ‘Noel’ is classed as a fimbriated (fringed) dahlia on account of the petals being split at the tip. A very jolly dahlia which could perhaps be softened by a cloud of white cosmos. If you’re not thrown by such brazen colours, go wild and surround ‘Noel’ with marigolds and fuchsias to recapture the bedding schemes of yesteryear.
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’.
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 ‘Purple Pearl’
A real stand-out dahlia.
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 ‘Jowey Frambo’
‘Jowey Frambo’ was introduced to me as substitute for another variety I had ordered. I would not normally choose a dahlia of this form and colour combined, but it’s certainly worth growing. Like many of the ‘Jowey’ dahlias it produces perky little ball-shaped flowers that are perfect for cutting and arranging.
Dahlia ‘Ken’s Rarity’
With blooms the colour of an explosion in a highlighter pen factory, ‘Ken’s Rarity’ certainly stands out from the crowd. The waterlily-shaped flowers and bright colouring somehow make it feel like a rather modern and youthful flower. Perhaps it would work well with pink anthuriums and yellow orchids in a modern bouquet? One of my favourite discoveries of 2021.
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