I have been growing Dahlias in the garden for years, plants that I have purchased from various places. In 2015, not on top of my dead heading, I picked off a couple of dead flowers from the varety ‘Orange Cushion’ and realised that they contained good looking seed.
In the spring of 2016 I sowed the seed, which germinated readily, then pricked off 20 seedlings into a cell tray. They grew a bit, ran out of nutrients and stood still through till autumn when they went dormant. Impressed the following spring that they were still alive and shooting, I potted them into 9cm pots, fed them properly and when they were ready, planted them on my allotment.
To my astonishment and delight, by late July they were all flowering and continued to do so until November.
Duly encouraged, in late 2017 I collected more seed from the same plant and some from another variety, ‘Veritable’, that I was growing. They were sown on 11th March 2018, pricked off into cell trays, fed as necessary, potted on into 9cm pots and planted out on my allotment, probably sometime in May. By late July I had three rows in full bloom, quite a sight, a magnet for bees and a massive incentive to do yet more.
In 2018 I collected seed from ‘Orange Cushion’ and ‘Kalinka’, plus just a few from ‘Penlea’. I also purchased two packets of seed from Seedaholic, of mixed cactus and mixed decoratives. All were sown on 17th March 2019 and in May I planted out 20 each of the Seedaholic varieties and 10 each of ‘Orange Cushion’ and ‘Kalinka’ seedlings. I had two plants from Penlea which were planted later and have yet to flower.
Seeds were sown into Melcourt Sylvagrow peat free compost and pricked off into the same. They were potted on into Sylvagrow with Osmocote Exact 9 month controlled release feed added. Liquid feeding was with Nugrow feed. The ground was fed before planting with Vitax Q4 HN and in their second year this was applied as a top dressing in early spring. I planted at 50cm. spacing in rows 1m apart. The tubers were not lifted but their cut down stems and several bags of leaves were laid over the top of the plants to provide winter protection.
The row 2 plants were moved as tubers in spring 2018 to be planted here, the other two rows planted out from 9cm pots. The 2016 ‘Orange Cushion’ sowing (row 2) had several yellows and very dark leaved forms, the 2018 sowing (row 1) had no pure yellows and none with such dark foliage. Presumably different plants were flowering to provide pollen to the seed parent.
These are a representative set from row 1, mostly semi-double, mostly reds with some orange and pink.
In row 2 there are more singles, more yellows and some with very dark foliage.
The 2019 sowing of ‘Orange Cushion’, mostly single reds.
The left hand double row is Seedaholic’s cactus mix on the left, ‘Kalinka’ on the right foreground and ‘Orange Cushion’ at the top. The right hand double row, above the calabrese, is Seedaholic’s decoratives mix.
The seedlings of ‘Kalinka’ are mostly singles, mostly pale and somewhat streaky.
Seedaholic’s cactus mix is varied, free flowering but with some quite poor blooms. They were of quite uniform height and all had green leaves.
Seedaholic’s decorative mix is a wide ranging mix with singles and doubles in many colours. Uniform in height and all with green leaves.
Most people don’t have the space to grow plants on this scale in their gardens, myself included. I have one and a half allotments, this is the half plot. The whole plot is for fruit and veg, this one is my playground.
Growing Dahlias from seed is very easy and very rewarding but the real pleasure of it comes from letting go of the tight control that characterises much of our gardening. We plan exactly what colour, height and habit of plant we want where and get cross when something doesn’t perform exactly as it said on the label.
With the dahlias there is so much anticipation as plant after plant starts to produce buds, then show some colour before finally opening out into total winner or also ran. In general, the best will be more than good enough to make up for the odd poor one.
Then there is the singular, indescribable pleasure of being surrounded by thousands of brightly coloured flowers, buzzing loudly with busy bees doing their business. I was delighted to see Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ in Dave Goulson’s list of 16 favourite garden plants for pollinators in his book ‘The Garden Jungle’. All the singles are equally good and I have seen just as many bees on the semi doubles. Even the very double flowers eventually open out to a central disc which the bees set about.
This was the three rows on my plot at their peak last year and below is a bed of seedlings at the National Dahlia Collection from 2017.