There was a time when dahlias were firmly out of fashion. Deemed far too frumpy for modern gardeners, they were grown only by enthusiasts intent on showing perfect blooms.
Yet to ignore dahlias is to miss out on one of the stars of late summer. Perfectly at home in either container or border, they inject life into gardens when many other things are flagging and carry the display on into autumn.
Few flowers have quite their range of forms with everything from perfectly symmetrical pompon dahlias to blousy, over-the-top dinner plate blooms.
Choose a two-toned dahlia for a touch of drama.
When it comes to colour they fit all moods with soft shades of baby pink and pure white right through to searing scarlet and moody purples. Plant them en masse and you have a rich tapestry of colour and texture.
When buying tubers, choose those that are firm and not shrivelled – if buying online choose a specialist supplier.
Plant them in the spring in good quality, peat-free compost. Water and keep in a frost-free place.
The full blooms of 'Cafe au Lait' are popular with gardeners and florists
In the early days, slugs and snails are your greatest foe so guard well against them. Growing plants on until the foliage has lost its early days’ delicacy can help.
Once the risk of frost has passed and plants have got to a reasonable size you can put them out in borders or plant up in their final containers.
Keep them well watered and feed once a week – seaweed or comfrey feed are ideal.
Pompon and ball dahlias have neat, symmetrical flowers
Do keep on top of dead-heading to encourage more flowers or, best of all, pick flowers for the house.
Once the first frost has blackened the foliage, it’s time to lift the tubers, cutting off down to the tuber, cleaning off soil, and storing them in sand or old compost in a frost-free place. Alternatively, in milder parts, leave them in the ground and protect with a thick mulch.
Perhaps the most difficult thing about dahlias is deciding which to grow. The choice is vast and every bloom is tempting.
The striking flowers of anemone dahlias
For cut flowers, ball or pompon varieties are neat and often have long stems making them easy to use in a vase.
When it comes to drama in the border, little beats the spiky form of cactus dahlias. More elegant are the single varieties while the anemone dahlias have unusual rings of flat petals topped with a cluster of florets in the centre.
Truly something for every gardener and every garden.