One of the most popular areas of the gardens here at Chartwell for many people each Summer is the Dahlia bed. Found as part of the cut flower section within the walled Kitchen Garden, our Dahlias really are a sight to behold in a good year. As you can see from the above picture, they can reach a fair old height, even dwarfing our life-size scarecrow we installed as part of a local community initiative last year! Steve takes the process of staking our Dahlias each season very seriously indeed! You’ll understand when I tell you that spirit levels and measuring tape are used!
There are tens of thousands of different types of Dahlias which has been made possible by the fact that the Dahlia plant has eight genes that control its appearance while most other flowers only have two. This means that you can get pretty much any colour of Dahlia flower these days – except blue. In the mid 19th century a London newspaper offered £1 to the first breeder able to produce a blue dahlia. This reward has never been claimed however and breeders are still striving for the elusive blue colour. This hasn’t stopped bands such as The Gaslight Anthem writing songs about ‘The Blue Dahlia’, which could of course have fitted nicely into our horticultural rock music playlist we began to compile on this very blog a while ago, and which you can have a look at by clicking here!
The Dahlia is named in after a Swedish botanist called Anders Dahl and originates in Mexico. It was brought to Europe during the 18th century by Spanish explorers where the beautiful flowers grew well in European soils, but couldn’t survive even the mildest Winters. The dahlia therefore remained a rarity until the invention of the greenhouse and the practice of lifting and storing the tubers during the harsh, cold months. Lifting the tubers and keeping them indoors each Winter stops Jack Frost from getting his icy fingers on them. It is this process that we have recently completed here at Chartwell and one that I will take you through now…
In mild regions and on well-drained soils, it can be possible to leave the tubers in the ground and cover with a 8 – 15cm deep layer of bark chips or similar mulching material to protect them from frost. Although we are obviously situated in the milder south east, our soil is quite heavy and we choose not to risk this process!
Although the boiler room should keep the tubers cool and dry to prevent rotting occurring, we will still check on them from time to time, removing any unhealthy specimens so as to make sure the rot doesn’t spread to the others.
Sir Winston and Lady Churchill kept Dahlias here during their time and we try to keep true to their designs by keeping the same varieties where possible. Some of them have proven very hard to source however but all of the Dahlias you will see in the gardens at Chartwell next year have been here since the 1960’s at least and some back to Churchill’s heyday. If you pop down and see us next Summer for example you’ll find the likes of ‘Glorie van Heemstede’, ‘Wiegenlied’, ‘Hayley Jane’, ‘Susannah York’, ‘Vicky Crutchfield’, ‘My Love’, ‘Snowflake’ and ‘Corydon’ standing tall and proud in the cut flower bed. Care is taken to bring them into growth in our cold frames next Spring before planting them out as only ‘Glorie van Heemstede’ seems to be commercially available these days.
As our Dahlias are towering over you the next time you find yourself at Chartwell during late Summer, try and remember the journey they’ll have taken to our boiler room and back again!
We’re well into the final week of Movember so if our crumb catchers aren’t looking bushy now then they probably never will be! We’ve had great fun doing this during November to raise money and awareness for male caners such as prostate cancer and testicular cancer. I’ve probably annoyed quite a few wives and girlfriends of those taking part by persuading their partners to get involved and grow a ‘tache, but never mind! The donations have been flooding in but if you would still like to contribute, please do so at http://mobro.co/jamieharris1 and it will be much appreciated…