• People in Helmsley Walled Garden

November 2019 – Dahlias

Helmsley Walled Garden Dhalias by David HowardDear readers I have a terrible confession to make this month. I used to think dahlias were a frou-frou waste of time and effort. I know. I can see you all stern faced, lips pressed tight in disapproval at this scandalous attitude. But fear not I have turned my back on my former louche behaviour.

The change was brought about by my dear friend Helen who gardened with me here and brought from her previous garden a range of dahlias with which she set about educating me.

I had no idea there was such variety in dahlias and (worse) I used to mix them up with chrysanthemums. They are so different but in my head they came under the same showy bunch of blooms that needs lots of fuss.

Well Helen was having no truck with that and so she won my heart for dahlias by planting ‘David Howard’, ‘Carolina Moon’, ‘Chat Noir’, ‘Nuit d’ Ete’ and ‘Purple Haze’. The last always brings on a Jimi Hendrix soundtrack in my head (I was very young in the 60s which is why I remember them). The colours are amazing and they are in full bloom now, a little diminished by the recent frost but still giving autumn a real zing.

So now, even though they do take a bit of care I’m a big fan. For me it’s not about enormous show bloom, more about colour and well joy really. At a time when problems seems to be everywhere: politics, the climate, the health service to name but a few, we can all do with plants that lift our spirits.

A few recommends. Miniature decorative ‘David Howard’ is a gem, and I’m not just talking about the plant breeder and nurseryman. Combining beautiful orangey gold flowers with being very robust (for a dahlia) you can’t really go wrong. A couple were missed when we lifted them last and they still managed in this not startlingly good summer to put on a thumping show. I’d say the same as regards robustness about ‘Carolina Moon’, a waterlily dahlia whose petals are white with a delicate violet wash.

For drama, cactus dahlias are good value. ‘Chat Noir’ is an almost chocolatey dark purple with ‘Nuit d’ Ete’ a deep aubergine. Or for full-on zing try ‘Acapulco’ (cue for another song), a brilliant scarlet and a real showstopper.

I’m going to be pretty busy soon lifting this lot here at the garden. I’ll start after we close and it will be all hands to the pump through November as we lift each tuber, cut off the old foliage and rinse off any remaining soil. The dahlias then stand upside down in the Orchid House to dry out thoroughly.

Next it’s out with the dahlia crates. I line them with newspaper and a layer of potting compost. Each crate is filled with tubers of the same variety, a name tag is popped on and then another layer of potting compost, finally going under the benches in the Orchid House to overwinter. I check them occasionally, I don’t want them wet as they’ll rot but they don’t want to be bone dry either.

Once spring is here and I can see buds starting, I’ll bring them up on top of the benches to get some light and give them a little water so they can start filling out. Nothing is planted until I’m certain we’ve had our last frost. This can be a pretty moveable feast so I watch the weather. Once I’m sure, in they go and I look forward to another brilliant show. Yes, dahlias are wonderful, thanks Helen.

Tricia Harris November 2019