Virtually overnight the vegetables were out and flowers were in. We spent a few years experimenting with perennials, but one day my dad said he could no longer cope with digging up and planting out dahlias, and he gave me his few remaining tubers. I very soon realised that no other plant gives you so much colour over such a long period. In a very few years the lawns got smaller, the hardy perennials got dumped, and dahlias became the kingpins of the garden.
We now have curved lawns with flower beds on all sides. We plant the dahlias in rows, one plant to a stake, and we leave a bit of space at the front of the borders for annuals and soft perennials. Thereís room for about 300 dahlias and Iíve now got about 180 different varieties: I have to rely on pot tubers to make sure I over winter them all.
In some places the dahlia rows are six deep. Though I
havenít had any cow manure for a few years, the soil is still highly fertile,
and plants tend to grow pretty tall; Iíve had dahlias that reached 11 foot. When
the garden is at its maximum height, I stand on the lawn and feel like a
footballer must do, looking up into the stands.
I try to tier the dahlias, with the tallest at the back, shortest at the front, etc. Iíve got better at this with practice, and now rely on measurements which I take each September and keep in a spreadsheet on my computer. I use this information to make a careful plan of what to put where. Of course I still make mistakes, and put the odd tall one at the front or a short one at the back. The hard bit is deciding what to do with new varieties: Iíve realised that itís pointless relying on the height information provided in catalogues: they might tell me that Ryecroft Delight grows to 5 ft tall, but it grows to 9 ft in my garden. So I tend to put new ones in the shallower parts of the beds, where they are less likely to overshadow/ get overshadowed.