I’ve never been able to grown Dahlias successfully, don’t know why. They take a look at my garden and decide not to thrive, something I have in common with Kew Gardens when presented with seed by the chatelaine of that other Mount Stuart, the Marchioness of Bute. These South American plants come in a variety of extraordinarily vivid colours (except true blue and black) and have an interesting history in Mexico where they have been nominated as the National Flower. The Spanish physician Hernandez described them being used by the Aztecs to treat epilepsy, and we read that the stems of the huge Dahlia imperialis were used as water pipes. The local name variously translated as water cane, water pipe flower or hollow stem flower. Named after the Swedish botanist Anders Dahl, the tubers are still cultivated as a food source, tasting somewhat like potato.
The awful weather has devastated our crop of Dahlias in the Italian Garden at the moment, but don’t despair, they are quite resilient and will come back soon. As there are very few to take photos of, it is just as well I was a Blue Peter fan in my young day. Here are some I prepared earlier.
Dahlias became very popular with lots of varieties being grown and there are now some 30 species and over 20,000 cultivars. No cottage garden is complete without them. Marie Antoinette was a fan, as was Claude Monet. Dahlia Societies were started, Dahlia Balls were held, and Bedrich Smetana, the Czech composer, wrote the Dahlia Polka. In the mid 1800s a London newspaper offered a prize of £1 to the first person to produce a blue petalled flower. The reward has yet to be claimed.