2016 My Year of the Dahlia

Red dahlia

Every year I choose a new plant to have a go at growing. I felt quite overwhelmed when I first got into gardening. There are bloomin’ (forgive the pun) thousands of different plants out there! I wondered if I’d ever learn the common names of more than just a handful, let alone the Latin names and how to grow them. But I’ve found that if you add just one or two new plant groups to your lexicon and armoury every year, you soon feel much more knowledgeable and confident. You really learn about those plant groups, and focus on how to grow and care for them in the first year. Then, in following years, you can tweak and improve the way you grow them.

Last year, for example, I grew lilies for the first time. It was much easier than I expected; I simply planted the bulbs and they grew! One easy lesson I’ve learned was that it’s best to grow them in pots (photo below). The ones in pots suffered far less munching by pests, compared with those in the borders, and I could move the pots into gaps in the borders and around the garden when they were in bloom and looking splendid. This year, I’m going to plant other bulbs in the pots with the lilies, so the pots can fill gaps in spring as well as summer.

This year, I have decided to grow dahlias for the first time. I’ve always felt rather intimidated by dahlias. They have struck me as fairly challenging plants to grow. The traditional advice is to lift dahlia tubers and store them over winter. I don’t like making extra work for myself in the garden, and mostly avoid growing tender perennials because I hate the faff associated with digging up and cossetting them to get them to survive through to spring. And anyway, I don’t have space in a suitably frost- and damp-free shed in which to store dahlia tubers.

However, I have recently discovered that some local gardeners simply leave their dahlias in the ground over winter and the plants come back quite happily, year after year. I imagine it’s because of the free-draining, sandy soil we have up here in Norfolk. Many tender plants suffer more from being water-logged over winter than simply by being too cold. Okay, the tubers might not do so well if we get a particularly wet and cold winter but I figure if that happens, I’ll just buy some new ones. It’s not like they cost the earth. And it doesn’t do to be too precious about plants if it’s putting you off ever growing them in the first place!

I’ve also been put off growing dahlias because I associate them with serious, competitive growers, usually older men, who have rows of dahlias with huge blooms on their allotments that they treat with obsessive care and enter into flower shows. I don’t want to grow dahlias for shows or for cutting. I just want to grow them in my garden because dahlias are quite stunningly beautiful. They are unsubtle, glorious, richly coloured, jewel-like flowers with countless, closely packed petals. They’re so alive, they seem to shout at you from a garden border. I imagine them as the flowers who talk to Alice when she goes into Wonderland. A dahlia personified would have the voice of Ethel Merman and the body of Jane Russell! And they are incredibly floriferous, bearing a multitude of blooms on one plant, if you keep deadheading, making them great value. I can’t think why I haven’t grown them before!

These are the dahlias I have ordered:

Aren’t they gorgeous? I’m really looking forward to the arrival of these five bare root plants and the start of a new gardening experience.

I’ll be posting updates as and when I have any news about my dahlias, about how they’re growing and any problems that I will undoubtedly face. And I’d like to invite you to join me in my first ever grow-along. I’ll share my progress on the blog and facebook page, using the hashtag #dahliasgrowalong, and I’m looking forward to seeing your photos and progress too. Comment below if you might like to join in.

Red dahlia plant

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