Whilst visiting my family in Cornwall this week, I decided to take a trip to the National Dahlia Collection at Varfell, near Penzance.
Situated on the South facing, fertile and well draining slopes overlooking Mounts Bay, the dahlia beds were looking stunning in the sunshine, despite the torrential rain the day before.
In the background St Michaels Mount the home of the St Levan family across Mounts Bay can be seen
I always think that Dahlias are a bit of a “Marmite” plant – you either love them or hate them, and I for one love them!
Bold and brazen they are not for the faint hearted!
Dahlias were very popular in the 1950’s and no late season horticultural show would be without some of these blooms arranged on the show bench for the judges scrutiny.
Falling out of favour for many years they do seem today to be making a comeback again, especially those with dark coloured foliage.
Lovely dark foliage contrasts well with the almost Day-Glo coloured blooms… but it is also a great foil for other plants
There are probably more different forms of dahlia than there are adjectives to describe them, Decorative, Cactus, Waterlily, Pompon, Ball, Collerette, Dwarf, to name but a few of the 14 forms recognised. Here at the National Collection it is like a sweet shop with over 1600 varieties to choose from!
Originating from Mexico, where the Dahlia pinnata is their national flower, dahlias are a useful addition to any garden as they can be grown in most soils and situations. They also grow well in pots so are useful plants for the smaller garden, and flowering late into the season until the first frosts, they provide late season colour and interest.
Whilst lacking fragrance Dahlias are great flowers for attracting pollinating insects as witnessed today. Happily for the gardener the lack of scent is compensated for by the wild colour variations of the plants. The whole spectrum with the exception of blues can be found in the Dahlia’s various forms.
The origin of the name is a matter for debate, but it is widely accepted that it stems from Anders Dahl, a student of the famous Swedish botanist and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus in the late 18th century when the plant was first introduced to Europe.
Butterflies like them too!
I met up with one of the staff who was working in the borders measuring the heights of the plants in order to classify them. I asked what a particularly large plant in the border was and he explained that it was a Tree Dahlia… Dahlia imperialis, which can grow to several metres in height but even here in the mild south west is unlikely to flower well.
Head and shoulders above the rest… a Tree Dahlia!
At the National Collection most of the propagation is done by cuttings in the early spring. I have always done it by lifting tubers after the frosts have cut the foliage down, then kept them frost free over winter, before splitting and planting them up when the first shoots emerge in the spring. However the cutting method sounds easy so I will give it a try next year.
So if you are a fan of Dahlias and you find yourself in the far south west of Cornwall, then do call in to the National Collection to see the amazing different varieties on display.