The Plant Lover’s Guide to Dahlias

Words: Tiffany Daneff

We think

I like the sound of a man who adores Jack Russells and dahlias. Andy Vernon is clearly obsessed with both. The other two facts you should know about him are that he has produced lots of gardening programmes for the BBC and that he has trained at Wisley and at Kew.

What’s so helpful to those of us who know a good deal less about dahlias than Andy, and yet who love them almost as passionately, is that he is the perfect guide to growing them in an ordinary garden. He knows which to plant where (more helpful than you might imagine) and gives all the practical growing advice you could want. And, like those other great champions of the dahlia, Christopher Lloyd and Sarah Raven, he knows that the real lure of the dahlia is its ability to bring art into the border. With this in mind he has arranged his dahlia profiles by colour.

In a book packed with helpful advice on everything from planting in containers (good feeding is vital for glossy foliage, good drainage key, avoid positions with too much afternoon sun and underplant to hide messy lower leaves) to experimenting with the new ultra small “Dahlietta” (which will be happy in a hanging basket) my favourite tip is how to achieve a coherent display.

“Be careful not to have just one plant of a variety here and there.” Rather, he says, go for a strong grouping of just one cultivar. “Or plant a group of carefully chosen flower forms in tints, tones and shades of one hue.”

We love

Apart from some good strong supports his book is all you need to get you growing. He has plenty of useful lists: dahlias for cutting, that require no staking and that flower late. Equally invaluable is a section on what to plant with dahlias from grasses (go for tall and elegant or frothy) to biennials and perennials (choose robust clump formers like Agastache ‘Black Adder’).

Quibble

  1. Be warned: by the time you reach the last page of this book you’ll have a shopping list of dahlias more than twice as long as space in the garden to plant them.
  2. We know that Andy’s writing style can be as flamboyant as a deep tangerine D. ‘Banker’ but there’s very little to be seen of such splendiferousness here. Has the publisher edited out some of his literary flourishes perhaps? Shame!