Jenny’s Dahlia Garden - September Garden of the Month
Dahlias: larger than life and twice as lovely
Looking for planting inspiration to make your garden shine all year round? Every month we visit a garden which we think has nailed the best trends of the season, then report back with tips on which plants to use and how to recreate the look. This month, we’re in sunny Wigan with prizewinning dahlia grower Jenny Winnard. Dahlias are one of the most spectacular flowers you can grow, with multiple colours, shapes and sizes in more varieties than we can count, but what’s even better is that they bloom right up to the first frosts of autumn and you can fill your vases guilt-free, because the more you cut, the more they produce!
However, dahlias have something of a reputation for being a bit shall we say - demanding, which can put people off growing them. But is this view justified? And what’s the secret of Jenny’s success? When we could tear our eyes away from the flowers, we asked her to talk us through the main types of dahlia and for some pro-tips on how to get great results from yours.
Jenny’s allotment garden
Jenny’s allotment is a celebration of self sufficiency, with fruit, vegetables and even chickens all growing happily together. But at this time of year, your eye is drawn to the beds full of multi coloured dahlias in every size, shape and height, moving gently in the breeze and raising their heads to the sun. (Didn’t I say it was sunny in Wigan?) Jenny’s been growing them for several years now with enormous success. What she enjoys most of all though, is cutting beautifully coordinated bouquets to fill her home and give to friends and family.
As she gathered her prized blooms, we asked Jenny to show us some of her favourites and explain the differences between the most popular dahlia types.
“One of my absolute favourites,” says Jenny, “are decorative dahlias, like the pink and fluffy Cafe au Lait Royal.” Other decorative dahlias include Thomas Edison and Karma Lagoon. “Flowers like these are called dinner plate dahlias,” she explains, “because of the sheer size of the flowers.” She’s not kidding - these flowers are as big as her head. They’re usually fairly flat and wide, and you won’t see a disc in the middle of the flower as there are so many layers of petals.
Jenny’s just started growing cactus dahlias this year. “Their petals are very thin and narrow and I think they’re quite funky!” she says. You can’t miss a cactus dahlia, with their dramatic, spiky flowers and long, pointed ray petals.Cactus varieties like Karma Red Corona and Caproz Josephine are particularly resistant to bad weather, so they’re the best choice for less sheltered gardens.
Pompom dahlias need no explanation - they’re perfect, spherical pom poms which grow singly on stems up to a metre high, making them perfect for picking. “I love the orangey-copper tones of Cornell Bronze,” says Jenny, as she cuts a bunch for today’s arrangement. Other favourites include Souvenir d’Ete, Burlesca and Orange Girl.
Waterlily dahlias are another strong contender for the most impressive type. “This is another new variety for me this year,” Jenny tells us, “it’s known for its multiple rings of petals that are more rounded on the edges.” Some of the best colour blends can be found in varieties like Maxi Salinas, Pacific View and Karma Lagoon. Naturally, they make fantastic cut flowers!
The secrets of Jenny’s success
Here’s what Jenny shared with us while we were admiring her plot!
- Because decorative dahlias are so big it’s really important to remember to stake these early on, in case they get damaged by the wind. I put the stakes in as soon as I’ve planted the tubers in the ground, so as not to damage the plants, then tie them in to the stakes as they grow.
- Keep deadheading the finished flowers - a tip from me is when you’re doing this, cut right down by the stalk. This will make them send out side shoots and form more flowers. The more you deadhead them and cut them for the vase, the more they’ll continue to bloom right up to the first frost.
- One thing I’ve learned about dahlias is to pick them at their absolute best, because they don’t continue to open and grow after you’ve cut them.
- For the best blooms, I feed my dahlias every two to three weeks with a nitrogen rich feed in my watering can.
- To remember where you’ve planted which variety, write the details down in a book. Plant markers can get broken or the writing can get washed off with rain.
- When the first frosts come and the dahlias die back, I take the tubers out of the ground and store them in a cool, dry place over the winter. This way, they’ll keep coming back year after year and you can get more plants for free!