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Graham Rice

Graham Rice Garden writer and plantsman Northamptonshire and Pennsylvania

Editor-in-Chief of the RHS Encyclopedia of Perennials; writer for a wide range of newspapers and magazines including The Garden and The Plantsman; member of the RHS Herbaceous Plant Committee and Floral Trials Committee; author of many books on plants and gardens.

  • Date Joined: 18 Oct 2006

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Dahlias – wild, traditional and brand new

Posted by Graham Rice on 11 Jul 2008 at 04:28 PM

There’s nothing so flamboyant as a dahlia. But the Gold Medal winning exhibit from The National Dahlia Collection held in Cornwall by Winchester Growers, featuring both traditional varieties and some too new to have been seen before, proves that they can also be subtle and refined.

And what a range. Banked from close to the ground to the canvas roof of the marquee, the display is unusual amongst dahlia displays not only for showing such a vast range of varieties but also for staging them in pots. Most dahlia displays at RHS flower shows feature cut blooms arranged with one variety to a vase, in tiered rows. But by growing the plants in pots not only can far more varieties be shown but their foliage can be appreciated and it’s easier to create a display on which one variety swirls around another. It’s quite a spectacle.

Top dahlia-breeder Mark Twyning is here at the show, talking to visitors about dahlias, and he’s the man responsible for creating some of the best of recent dahlia introductions. It’s a great opportunity for him to appreciate what people are looking for in dahlias and for them to learn from a real expert.

Amongst his varieties are ‘Twyning’s After Eight’, with purple bronze leaves and white flowers lightly stained pink on the backs of the petals. The contrast is dramatic. Another of his, ‘Magenta Star’, with single magenta pink flowers against a dark foliage lit up the very top of the exhibit whilst visitors are also getting the chance to see his very latest variety, ‘Twyning’s Revel’, in vibrant reddish-pink shading to a yellow centre.

Meanwhile over on the Avon Bulbs stand, is a rather different dahlia. Dahlia coccinea var. palmeri was collected in South America by botanist Dr James Compton. Its daintily cinnamon-spotted, bright orange, single flowers are not so very unusual but the foliage! Repeatedly split into the most slender of divisions, it’s finer and more delicate than the foliage of any dahlia I’ve seen – quite the opposite of so many varieties.

And Alan Street of Avon Bulbs told me that it’s been left outside in clay soil in Somerset for seven years and it comes up again undamaged every year, growing at a foot (30cm) a week at times as it races to 8ft (2.4m) high and 6ft (1.8m) across. Perhaps Mark Twyning can do a little creative breeding to add that lacy look to his lusciously dark-leaved varieties.

For more on the National Collection click here, and to order rooted cuttings for delivery next year start here.

Check the dahlias from Avon Bulbs here, and find details of Dahlia coccinea var. palmeri here.



Digger said:

The dahlias are fantastic, i grow the vast majority of mine in pots because of the excessive amount of rain we get.

on 12 Jul 2008 at 10:21 AM

Graham Rice said:

Do you think growing them in pots also helps reduce slug damage?

on 13 Jul 2008 at 08:28 AM

Digger said:

it probably does help keep some slugs off, but it would be better to keep an eye on them, the other advantage is that when the weather is really bad I can move the pots into the greenhouse

on 13 Jul 2008 at 01:10 PM

Graham Rice said:

Do you grow large decorative types in pots as well as shorter, "bedding" types? Must make quite a spectacle.

on 14 Jul 2008 at 06:56 AM

Digger said:

Hi graham, I do grow large ones in pots cactus and the like, as soon as they are in flower, I shall post some pictures on the forum

on 14 Jul 2008 at 09:31 AM

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on 05 Sep 2008 at 06:30 AM