Dahlias – A Highlight of Autumn by Emma Herd

Why I love them, their origins and tips on how to grow your own.

Today beautiful Dahlias are so varied, with thousands of cultivars and hybrids available and approximately 41 known species. The single-petaled Dahlia, of the Asteraceae family is born of tubers. Their amazing blooms are native to South America and first gained popularity in the gardens of Mesoamerican Aztecs, in the mountain ranges of Mexico, Guatemala and Columbia, bursting onto the European horticultural scene in 1789.

A bit of Etymology – the original Nahuatl name, acocoxochitl, comes from the words a-ti (water), coco-tli (tube) and xochitl (flower), meaning in its entirety ‘flower of hollow stems with water’.

The plants gained their Latin name from Abbe Cavanille a prolific Spanish taxonomic botanist of the 18th century, in honour of Andreas Dahl a Swedish scientist and environmentalist. By the 1840s American horticultural journalists, were praising many new varieties every year.

Where’s the best spot to plant dahlias in your garden
Dahlias like to have morning sun because it’s more gentle, and afternoon shade otherwise they’ll often wilt in the heat. If your space is full sun, consider building a shade house. This will give the flowers the light conditions they need to thrive. If you’d prefer not to use plastic shade cloth, I’d recommend using hessian. Yes it doesn’t last as long as plastic but that’s a real advantage for the planet. Because it is made entirely from natural vegetable fibres, it is completely biodegradable. If you don’t have a budget for a shade house try visiting a coffee roaster. They’ll often have hessian bags that they’re discarding. Why not recycle them into your shade house.

Soil prep
Dahlias grow in most soil types, however to thrive I have the following recommendations.

If you have a vegetable garden and like to rotate your beds, I recommend planting dahlias where you had any legumes the year prior. Simply dig in any languishing plants rather than pulling them out at the end of their season. While you’re at it, thoroughly mix in some well-aged cow manure during the winter prior to planting your tubers. Poultry and swine manure isn’t recommended because it can damage developing root systems. Another great advantage of dahlias near your vegetables is that they make great pollinator-attracting companion plants.

Back to soil – I have an irrigation system set up to water my plants every second day during summer. On top of this drip line irrigation, once my dahlias begin to grow their foliage, I like to top dress the soil with pea straw, sugar cane or lucerne. This of course can be beneficial to retain moisture in the soil. One important caveat regarding this, is try not to place mulch right up against stems. If you do there’s increased potential for a lack of air flow, creating humidity at the base of the plant. This can lead to powdery mildew, especially early in your season. This can ruin plants before they flower. 

When to plant
The best time of year to plant your dahlia tubers in Australia is the first week of November. This advice does vary depending on your local environment. It’s important to plant when the soil temperature is on the rise and any possibility of frost is over.

How to plant, lift and store
It’s always best to pop your stakes or support hoops in the ground first, so as not to pierce your tubers by accident later. Plant your tubers horizontally, in a hole about 10cm deep with the eye higher than the tail. You can of course plant in pots, if you don’t have the ground space. At the end of the season it’s best to raise and store your tubers over winter, to avoid them rotting, especially if you live in a place where temperatures drop enough for frost or snow. When your plants begin to brown they can then be cut down to 30cm high. I live in a cold part of the state so mine get pruned back in March to April. Then I leave the tuber clumps in the ground until June, lift them, trim off the roots, and store each variety labelled individually. 

(Words and Pictures by Emma Herd)


Combination Planters by Bonnie-Marie Hibbs

A garden is a treasure no matter how big or small it is – Bonnie-Marie Hibbs 

When we think of colourful containers and displays in our gardens, it is often that our minds will drift off to beautiful, boisterous blooms instead of the foliage of a plant. There are several stunning combination planters which can still provide a show of colour without the need for prominent displays from flowers. One of my favourite ways to introduce colour into the garden is to utilise plants with attractive foliage. Often when making combinations, I look for leaves which have vibrant colours and intriguing textures. By checking these two simple points off your checklist, you are one step towards creating a stunning display for your garden.  

Pictured is one example of the many containers I have made for my garden, which provides colour all year round due to the selection of perennials used. The silver-red foliage of the Heuchera ‘Sugar Plum’ gives the combination of a different look throughout the day depending on the position of the sun. The change of light against the foliage can be very variable. From late Spring through Summer tall stems of petite white blooms form above the red foliage giving the planter another level of interest through the season. Paired with the Heuchera in this container is the silver trailing leaves of the Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’. Using a form of white in a combination display is a must as it will always make any other colour in the container more vibrant. Dichondra is an excellent plant as it provides a cascading appeal to the container and does a great job of picking up the silver-tones found in the Heuchera leaf, thus drawing the eye to investigate the whole planter. Lastly, for a splash of colour is the vibrant blue of Lobelia ‘Sky Blue’. The petite blooms are the finishing touch without overpowering the whole display. Red and blue are my go-to colours, along with purple and orange. Using primary colours and a secondary colour together will always provide a satisfying contrast. If you are unsure which colours work well with each other, a good tip is to refer to the colour wheel. Opposite colours usually provide the most dramatic display and contrast. A few examples of this exercise is pairing yellow with purple and blue with orange.   

Combination containers don’t have to be limited to just ornamental perennials. Incorporating edible plants such as strawberries, herbs, and dwarf fruiting vegetables allows you to create not only an appealing display but a practical one too. A question often posed is why plant an annual vegetable in a mixed container? Well, they might only last you a season, but the beauty of planting dwarf vegetables is that they will gift you fruit and then at the end of the season the planter can be changed and re-planted for a completely new look. The options are truly endless! Whether you choose to grow ornamentals or edibles, you can draw inspiration from combinations just like this one and create your very own masterpiece.

About Bonnie-Marie Hibbs

Bonnie-Marie is a qualified Horticulturist who has a number of her writings published in various magazines and website platforms. She began her blog called ‘The Gardener’s Notebook’ in 2012 as a way to inspire others to get out into their gardens and explore the world of plants. Over the years she has been a guest on 3AW radio and is a regular presenter on Channel 9 The Garden Gurus. Bonnie-Marie has been apart of the Gardenworld Nursery Team for 11 years and is now the companies Ambassador, Marketing Manager, Social Media Manager and Website Manager. She is a passionate photographer and shares her work regularly on her social media platforms. She has recently begun publishing videos with more to come to her Youtube channel in the coming weeks.

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