I know, I know, it’s a potentially dangerous path to follow. One that could lead to obsession or even addiction, uncontrollable impulse-purchasing and gigabytes of digital photography… but Jo and I have decided to start growing Dahlias.
We’ve both always liked them and Jo’s Dad (“Gardening Guru Glyn”, as far as I’m concerned) grows them on his plot down in Shropshire, and very handsome his are, too. This year we decided to take the plunge, make a start on our own small Dahlia selection, and see where it takes us. So when we saw a posted on our allotment shop notice board, advertising a talk by champion Dahlia-grower Jack Gott of J. R. G. Dahlias (also @gott_jack on Twitter), we thought we should go along and see what it was all about.
Thus it was that one Wednesday evening a couple of weeks ago found us in a darkened pub lounge in Bolton, watching with rapt attention as Jack ran a slideshow of his best blooms – with the occasional trophy and prize certificate thrown in for good measure – and talked us through the finer points of his 30+ years of Dahlia growing experience. I scribbled notes furiously as he talked, Jo and I both ‘ooh’ed and ‘aah’ed and jotted down the names of the varieties we liked the best, and at the end of the session we hot-footed it over to the table of tubers to buy a few of our favourites.
The one we really wanted – named ‘JRG’ in honour of the man himself; a rather lovely dark-leaved single variety – wasn’t available, alas (but we’ve asked Jo’s folks to keep an eye out for it at the Malvern Spring show). But we came away with five good-sized tubers to start us off: Don Hill (dark red collerette), Christmas Carol (red/white collerette), Topmix Reddy (red single), Topmix Purple (purple single) and Topmix Mama (red, dark leaf single). All open-faced, pollinator-friendly varieties, as per our general rule of flowering plants number one: thou shalt feed the bees. For that reason we’re steering clear of the pompom, ball, cactus, anenome and water-lilly types, all of which are a bit too closed-up and inaccessible for our liking.
We brought them home and stored them in a polystyrene box for a couple of weeks, but when I noticed that they’d started sprouting already, I realised I should pot them up, which I did at the weekend. After a quick check-in with Guru Glyn for his take on potting procedure, I put them into containers just big enough to take the tubers, with well-moistened general purpose compost above and below:
A few days in the greenhouse later and they’re already sprouting well, especially the Christmas Carol which seems the most vigorous so far. Hopefully that means I haven’t made any novice blunders just yet. On the night of the talk, Jack mentioned that once the smaller tubers are sprouting strongly, I can split them up and create a few new plants to help spread them out a bit. I’ll be giving that a go, seeing as I’ve promised a few cuttings to Guru Glyn, and besides it will be nice to develop a number of mature plants over the next few years, to provide plenty of colour down at the allotment bee-buffet and in our new cottage garden as well.
If you’re a Dahlia grower yourself and have any top tips, please feel free to post them in the comments below. Otherwise, wish us luck, and we’ll report back on the plants as we plant them out and watch them grow over the course of the season.