If you are one of those marvellously organised lifestyle blockers who manages to have a thriving edible garden and an ornamental bed to be proud of, read no further. If, however, colour comes second (and especially if it is virtually non-existent in autumn) I have a suggestion for you.
Each year, about now, when my pink and white Japanese anemones (which grow and multiply so easily they almost deserve to be given weed-status) have finished blooming, the hydrangeas are past their best and the possums have begun munching on the last of the late roses, I look around for a little colour to bring inside, and there is zilch to be had. And then, frustratingly, I go to visit my friend along the road (who has as little time as I do to devote to flower gardens) and find she has a perennial bed made up entirely of colour: fire truck reds, autumn bronze golds, sunny yellows, pinks, creams, and interesting cerise tones.
‘How,’ I demand of her, ‘do you ever find time to create this sumptuous sight?’
She assures me (and I believe her) that it requires no effort at all – well, minimal, anyway. It’s all, she says, done with dahlias.
For most of us whose flower gardens come as an afterthought, dahlias have us visualising those low growing beds outside public buildings or in botanic gardens. But these are not the dahlias we are talking about here. These are ‘bedding dahlias’, usually grown from seed sown a few weeks before spring, treated as annuals and ditched once their summer flowering period is over. These dahlias are ‘hard work’ (at least they are for those who are time-pressed). What the over-busy among us are looking for are the taller varieties which are grown from tubers planted as soon after Labour day as the soil has warmed up and frost danger is past (although those in colder climes can always protect tender new growth with frost cloth or plastic if they wish to start planting a little earlier).
All these taller dahlias ask is that you bung them into a hole in reasonably well-drained soil (if you suspect poor drainage, biff in some grit and stir it around). Add a bucket of compost and (if you have it) well rotted animal manure. This adding of additional nutrients isn’t something you need do each year, you understand, because dahlias will simply keep on keeping on regardless. It’s just that their blooms will be larger and more pleasing if you top up the soil with fertilizer every now and then.
What you may need to attend to, however, is some staking to stop the plants falling over (not that this will do for them, but the blooms do tend to spoil when left to lie on the ground). Stakes are best driven into the ground before the tubers are planted and you can save yourself a lot of work by using a permanent stake (Tanelised wood or a metal rod) that won’t need replacing each year. If you want a bushier plant rather than a lanky one, nip out the growing tips before the first flower buds appear.
Dahlia blooms last for a week in water so are excellent in a vase. I read, recently (it was a florist who was writing), that once picked, the stems should be plunged into cold water and then, when placed in a vase, the added water should be warm.
Apparently, this prevents ‘air-locks’ in the stem – air locks being the reason why some blooms suddenly wilt once picked.
The gorgeous red dahlias I planted from tubers last year have given me endless pleasure this autumn, especially as I had forgotten they were in the garden until I saw them growing like Triffids behind the seeding astilbies. Once the first frosts arrive, the foliage on these lovely plants will blacken (gathered up, they make excellent material for the compost) and then simply slip back into obscurity until spring arrives again.
Easy to dig up, divide and pass on to friends, or happy to be left where they are, dahlias really are the answer to no-fuss, easy-care colour. And isn’t that just what all busy lifestyle blockers are after!