Dazzling dahlias


Isn’t it strange how some flowers just go out of fashion, for no good reason? That’s been the fate of Dahlias but it seems as if they are definitely on the comeback trail.

Perhaps the reason for their return to favour is their drought tolerance; Dahlias originate from Mexico and, in spite of their exotic looks, can take quite severe heat and relatively low rainfall.

The easiest-to-grow of all Dahlias are the miniature bedding Dahlias, those multicoloured edging or border plants that provide a dazzling display of blooms. Unlike the decorative giant Dahlias that have double or cactus blooms, the miniature varieties are best treated as annuals. They can be bought as seedlings in the garden centres and will flower throughout summer until cut down by frost.

Their blooms are actually at their best in autumn, when the weather is cooler. If they receive enough sun (they don’t like shade at all) and enough air (not crowded by other plants) they will produce plenty of blooms. If they become very leafy with few blooms it means that they are getting too much shade. If there is not enough air circulation the plants can get powdery mildew. Use a fungicide like Dithane, Funginex or Copper Count and remove competing growth.

In summer rainfall areas Dahlias like friable, free-draining soil whereas in winter rainfall areas they best survive the hot summers in soil that is more able to retain water. Generally they are not fussy about soil and the best option is to enrich any garden soil with compost before planting. Remember to encourage flowering by removing finished flowers. The miniature or dwarf bedding varieties are available with single or double blooms and generally reach a garden height of about 30cm. Some varieties to look out for are ‘Hello Gorgeous’, ‘Fresco’ mix, ‘Redskin’, ‘Harlequin’ mix, ‘Mignon’ mix, and ‘Unwin’s Dwarf’.

•’Hello Gorgeous’ has large, double blooms that are held close to the neat, compact plants. The colours are a flamboyant yellow, bronze, white, pink, rose and scarlet.

•‘Fresco’ mix also has bold double blooms in a combination of yellow, gold, orange, red, apricot and creamy yellow. It grows to a height of 30cm.

•‘Redskin’ has double blooms but it differs from the others by having bronze leaves and grows slightly higher, up to 50cm.

•‘Harlequin’ Mix is the most attractive and unusual of the dwarf varieties. It is a ‘collarette’ type with multicoloured blooms: the blooms are semi double with an inner circle of differently coloured petals, giving it the appearance of a collar. It also only grows to about 30cm.

•‘Mignon’ mix is the only series with single blooms and large yellow centres, also in warm orange, yellow red and cream.

•‘Unwin’s Dwarf’ is a slightly taller type, that grows 50 to 60cm high and has double blooms.

Dwarf Bedding Dahlias are ideal for small gardens because they always remain compact. Being so brightly coloured they can be used as a foreground to plants that have a more limited flowering period like agapanthus. They can also be used as fill in colour around perennial shrubs and foliage plants or can be planted between roses with a border of white Alyssum.

The Gardener