Bright and bold dahlias are having a renaissance. These botanical favourites are filling Instagram feeds and the fact they’re back in fashion means there’s more variety than ever to choose from.
There’s no bigger fan of dahlias than florist and plantswoman Sarah Raven. Every year the gardens of her Sussex home Perch Hill are filled with masses of these brilliantly coloured blooms.
Eminently attractive to bees, dahlias have dark foliage that is an excellent backdrop to other shrubs and flowers both in the border and in bouquets.
‘Dahlias are getting bigger and blowsier year on year,’ says Sarah, ‘with colours soft and romantic to go with it. And in perfect contrast, the dark port-wine reds are always popular, stopping any combination from becoming sickly-sweet.’ Dahlias will keep flowering as long as you keep picking them, so there’s no better excuse to fill your house with either single stems or big bunches as the mood takes you.
Sarah Raven’s favourite dahlias
‘I couldn’t be more proud of this collection,’ says Sarah. ‘Chosen from vast trial fields to bring home to Perch Hill, to grow, trial and evaluate, these varieties have out-performed all others.
Not just in terms of beauty, but in vase life and general ease of growth and productivity. I truly love all eight.
Mango Madness Dahlia Collection
‘Sweet, but not too sweet, with a good waft of smoke and crimson richness to stop this fruity-coloured collection from ever becoming cloying.’
Café au Lait Dahlia Collection
‘Morphs from ivory to peach, coffee to cream. A popular choice at the moment, and can often be seen in summer bridal bouquets. The soft, creamy blooms can reach 25cm across – they look equally spectacular in the border and the vase. A true crowd pleaser.’
Parisien Chic Dahlia Collection
‘A beautifully well-turned out bunch of dahlias, in crisp, clean colours, like a posse of catwalk beauties, a little distant and cool, but undeniably alluring. You will see these bursting into bloom from the beginning of July.’
‘A bizarre and hugely pretty dahlia in all its stages, from bud to fully open flowers. Rings of flattened petals encircle a denser central group of shorter, tubular petals.’
‘I first spotted this in a Dutch friend’s garden five years ago, but we could not get enough tubers until this year. Very pointy petals give a spiky appearance to this cactus variety.’
‘True Venetian velvet pompoms, a dahlia cut flower and border classic, which has been around for years,’ says Sarah. ‘You will get months of flowering, five to be exact, out of these bright red pompoms that are ideal for vases.’
‘Part of the bumper Ascot hat brigade, Omega is head-turningly beautiful growing in the garden and picked for a bowl or vase.’
Dahlia ‘Thomas A. Edison’
‘Dahlia ‘Thomas A. Edison’ is a true show-stopping dahlia and one of my long-standing favourites. Mix with other dahlias, or plant with veg.’
Sarah Raven’s tips for caring for dahlias
Dahlias, which grow fresh from tubers every year, aren’t very good at pushing up through herbaceous plants, so the easiest way to grow them is to give them their own bit of space. There are also some that are perfect for growing in pots.
1. Stake medium-to-tall dahlias using bamboo canes placed in a circle around the plant, and wrap with twine.
2. Water during dry spells and feed with a high potassium fertiliser, such as tomato or comfrey, every week or so.
3. Deadhead regularly for best results.