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 our the cultivars we grow in our garden or on our allotment. Do leave a comment if you have a favourite dahlia which you think we should try.
31.12.2020 NOTE – this page is a work in progress, so do come back again soon and see how it’s coming along.
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 ‘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 ‘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 ‘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 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 ‘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.
New for 2021
- Dahlia ‘Crème de Cognac’
- Dahlia ‘Brown Sugar’
- Dahlia ‘Maxime’
- Dahlia ‘Brown Sugar’
- Dahlia ‘Daisy Duke’
- Dahlia ‘Myrtles Folly’
- Dahlia ‘Don Hill’
- Dahlia ‘Nick Sr.’
- Dahlia ‘Terrie Bandey’
- Dahlia ‘Thomas A. Edison’
- Dahlia ‘Noel’
- Dahlia ‘Nenekazi’
- Dahlia ‘Cheyenne Chieftain’
UK Nurseries specialising in Dahlias
- Halls of Heddon, Northumberland – specialist in Dahlias and Chrysanthemums for gardens and exhibition
- 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