Flower Arranging With Dahlias

Dahlias are popular flowers for arrangements and come in a great variety of colour, types, and sizes — but I write of them with some diffidence as I never feel absolutely certain of their lasting qualities. There are some occasions when it is possible to use flowers which may or may not let you down, and I know that there are many dahlias which are completely dependable, but all the same I’m afraid I still have this feeling of uncertainty, although I have found the smaller pompon type of dahlia to last well when arranged on a pin holder.

I would prefer, for instance, if doing a large wedding group or altar vases in church, to depend on something else to provide an important colour note.

This may seem unjust to a noble, widely loved flower, but one must write from personal experience and mine, with dahlias, has not always been fortunate. I hasten, in fairness, to add that I understand that in official flower arrangement circles this is not the general concensus of opinion.

Dahlias come into the category of flowers that can be arranged alone and yet provide a variety of colour in the same way as zinnias, carnations, some sweet peas and some roses do. The colours range from pure white, clear lemon yellow and fiery orange, through shades of apricot, tangerine and burnt sienna to deep copper, bronze, and dark red, not to mention the various tones of pink and mauve also available.Flower Arranging With Dahlias

Constance Spry expressed an affection for dahlias, but also mentioned the fact that certain species are sometimes found to be unreliable for cutting. It seems that some nurseries provide two lists, one of special cut-flower varieties and another of special garden varieties. This should make the problem of selection easier when thinking in terms of flower arrangements. Mrs. Spry grew many different dahlias with various colour schemes already in her mind, and so it seems sensible to profit by her experience and I am grateful for permission to quote from her book Flowers in House and Garden in which she writes about the different varieties she herself found to be most useful: ‘I grow for arrangements (with tawny colourings) Trentonian, old gold and copper; Isabel McElney, salmon pink and pale copper, difficult to describe but beautiful; Fancy Free, a new buff and crimson variety from Messrs. Riding of Chingford. Of the cactus type I find the amber pink of Schiller and Pin Spiral are not too pink to use in beige and amber mixtures. Chancellor, from Carter page is a remarkable single, the petals are best described as salmon red, with a bright chestnut zone round the centre.’

‘For red groups and purples I grow F.T.D., a rosy mauve and purple ; Charles G. Read, burgundy purple ; Weltruf, a camellia shaped flower of clear cherry red ; and of the small decoratives, Glorious, with raspberry red flowers borne in profusion, and Goldrose, one of the best dahlias for artificial light. . .

‘No dahlias last better as cut flowers than the small pompons. I have Macbeth, white, edged with bright pink; Dewdrop, white with a lavender edge; Tommy Laing, maroon tipped with white; Darkest of All, blackish red ; Chamois, buff; Clarissa, pale primrose ; and Basra, deep plum.’

Dahlias are like zinnias in their variety of colour (only not, to my mind, of such depth and intensity of shade and tone). They also come from Mexico. There are many categories in garden varieties, some of them called star dahlias, others anemone-flowered dahlias, while others include cactus dahlias, pompon dahlias, peony-flowered dahlias and decorative dahlias. Having made a selection from pages of nurserymens’ lists, it is then important to discover the conditions they prefer and to have instructions for lifting them in the late autumn.

Dahlias are rich feeders and like a deep, moist soil, well drained, and preferably not under trees, for despite the fact they are often recommended for growing in contrast against dark leaved shrubs, they do not like to be over shadowed by branches. Here, again, they are similar to zinnias, and do best in a sunny position. If the soil is naturally light and inclined to dry out liquid manure must be added and watering is essential when the young plants are first put out into the garden during May.Dahlias are popular flowers for arrangements

In case of danger from late frosts, after planting, the young dahlias may be protected by upturned flower pots at night. Owing to the weight of the flowers and the quantity of heavy foliage, buds, and stems, the plants are likely to need individual staking, so that when strong winds come they will be ready for them. To ensure that the soil is kept moist they should be well mulched once they are established, but it is of great importance that if and when this is done, the soil underneath is not allowed to become dry. One of the best ways of keeping the soil in a suitable condition is to go over the bed lightly with a hoe, so as not to injure the roots. About a week after planting, the central bud should be removed in order to improve the quality and quantity of later flowers. It is always important, too, to keep a sharp look out for marauding slugs, which seem to find young dahlias especially delectable.

Then comes the question of raising the tubers and keeping them dry throughout the worst of winter. They can remain in the garden until the leaves are blackened by frost, but if sharp frosts occur which are followed by heavy rain, they should then be lifted at once. Storing is sometimes a problem according to the amount of space one can spare. A cool greenhouse, as long as it is frost proof, or a similar shed, would be suitable, but there must be a small amount of ventilation or else the tubers will go mouldy. On the other hand, they will shrivel up if the temperature is too high.

Before storing the soil should be removed from the tubers and then they should be allowed to dry off in the sun.

All this care and trouble may well be worthwhile, but if one is unable, for various reasons, to deal with dahlias in the garden, there are always quantities available in the shops, coming in at the end of July and going on into the late autumn.

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