DAHLIA Composite: the daisy family
Less than 150 years ago thewas to the civilized world an unknown flower. It grew at an altitude of 5,000 ft. up the Mexican mountains and was called by the natives Acoctii.
To-day there are more than 150 varieties “selected for general use.” It has crossed the Pacific to Australia and New Zealand, and the Atlantic to Europe. It grows to its greatest size in the U.S.A. where it claims a diameter of to 16 inches. Its most beautiful miniatures are found in France and England. Careless whether it grows on the heights or at the sea-level, it is everywhere “Queen of the Autumn” by reason of its brilliance of colour and grandeur of form.
It was when a Spanish physician, Francisco Hernandez, was coin- missioned by Phillip II of Spain to report on the plants and animals of Mexico that Europe first heard of the Dahlia.
A Frenchman, Menonville, sent by his government to study the cochineal insect, also described it as one of the beauties of the mountains. Plants and seeds were sent to Madrid in 1789, and the Marquis of Bute, Ambassador to the Spanish court, sent some to his home, and some to Kew Gardens.
They were successfully raised at Kew, but afterwards they were allowed to flower so continuously that they became exhausted and died.
All growers, during the first half of last century, concentrated on producing imposing varieties. Later, some lighter, more decorative types were introduced. In about 1880, Mexico sent us another plant named Jauresii after one of the Mexican Presidents, which proved to be a distinctive and striking form, brilliant scarlet, and with curving cactuslike florets.
Exhibited at the 1882 R.H.S. Show, it roused immediate interest, and growers strove thenceforward to produce new and distinct types. The large Double Decorative class came gradually into favour, and then appeared Collarettes from France, and the Stars raised in our own country. Since then the Tom Thumb or Mignon type, dwarf bushy singles, valued for edging and bedding purposes, the Anemone and Clematis-flowered, and the Orchid-flow&red types have been introduced, and these with the smaller types of Stars and Collarettes are now used commonly for indoor decoration.
In our public parks, long borders and banks of the taller, and beds and borders of the dwarfs form magnificent displays from July till the frosts cut them down. No other late summer outdoor flower gives so fine a show for so long a time.
For those who are interested in the cultivation of this attractive Mexican let us consider: 1. Selection of sites. 2. Preparation of. 3. Types for various purposes. 4. Planting methods. 5. Attention during growing season. 6. Seeds and . 7. Lifting and storing of tubers.
The Selection of the Site for dahlia cultivation depends on available space, and on the purpose for which the plants are grown.
To get the full effect for massed tall, a position in front of a shrubbery is ideal. With such a foil to beauty, the bright colours of “Lowfield Scarlet,” “Prestige” (deep orange) or “Jersey Beauty” (clear salmon pink) are not easily forgotten. Beds of distinct colours may be preferred, to suit a formal planting scheme, or it may be that the dahlias are grown chiefly for cutting, in which case any position in full sunshine will suffice.
Soil Preparation involves hard labour. The ground must be dug very deeply in the autumn previous to planting, and it should at the same time be heavily manured. Dahlias are heavy feeders and need liberal supplies of food and moisture, which only deep digging will ensure.
Purpose and Variety
There are now very definite sections into which the various types are grouped. The following are the main sections, and all have a special place in garden decoration: Single, Star, Large decorative, Small decorative,, Paeony-flowered and Pompoms.
The dwarf varieties are the most suitable for massing in flower beds. “Coltness Gem” is now familiar to all, and though not quite so vivid, is a very good substitute for the Paul Crampel geranium in bedding schemes. “Princess Elizabeth,” crimson scarlet, “Harrogate” a clear rose colour, and the rich bright “Purple Robe” are other dwarf types that display well en masse.
The Pompom types have tiny globular flowers in every known dahlia colour, and “Darkest of All” (maroon), “Glow” (rich coral) and “Little Beeswing” which is yellow, heavily edged with red, a very striking bloom that never fails to attract, are all worthy of a place in the amateur’s collection.
The Cactus types are favoured by many gardeners, and these may be given a position in the mixed border. “Redpole” in deep crimson, “Golden Red,” and “Edgar Jackson” a coral red flower are three good varieties for association with other plants.
Stars among Dahlias
The type known as “Star Dahlias” owe their origin to a British firm. The delicately pointed petals of this type make it most desirable for use in the house vases, and nothing can exceed the richness of the colour found in such varieties as “Surrey” (tangerine) and “Rusper” (crimson) “Crimson Star” and “White Star” are also good forms.
The varieties mentioned in each group are, however, only a few out of many excellent plants, all suitable for some position in the gardens, and all, except the largest decorative varieties, useful for indoor decoration.
Plants should be chosen according to the purpose in mind, and obtained early in March from a reliable source, so that they can be repotted and kept in a cool greenhouse until May or June. This ensures strong plants to put out in the borders and encourages early flowering.
The cultural requirements of the dahlia are these: protection from frost, adequate feeding, including the plentiful supply of moisture, and, in the case of tall varieties, the provision of stout stakes. Dahlias break easily in strong winds unless staked in good time.
If large blooms are required, a certain amount of disbudding must be done, but for general garden decoration this is unnecessary.
Method of Planting
The ground is first measured and staked, leaving 4 to 4-1/2 ft. between the stakes for the tallest varieties, in., for small ones. This allows the plant to be tied at once, and avoids any danger of damage to the root which might occur were the stakes driven in after planting. The probable height of each plant is noted and proportionate stakes allocated.
A good plan when planting, is to dig out a hole a few feet in diameter, and to work into the subsoil some old decayed manure. This helps to retain moisture for the plant roots, and at the same time improves the drainage so that the soil water does not stagnate. Fill in the top soil, but leave a saucer-like depression round each plant as it is put in position, so that rains tend to flow towards the roots. To discourage the attentions of slugs, who attack the young growing plant, soot may be sprinkled round it.
Attention during Growth
As shoots develop, tie them firmly to the stakes. Disbud only if exhibition flowers are desired, but remove seedpods regularly, to ensure continued flowering. Water, in dry weather, from time to time, using liquid manure. Soot or cow manure, left to soak in a tank, provides excellent liquid manure.
Check any onset of Black-fly by spraying with an insecticide such as nicotine. Dust plants with tobacco powder, or sulphur, to keep earwigs at a distance. Wasps are best dealt with by providing a counter attraction in the form of half-filled bottles of jam and water, plus raspberry vinegar. These bottle traps can be periodically emptied of wasps and renewed.
Dahlias are easily, and now very frequently, raised from seed sown in March in pans or boxes in a greenhouse or frame. The young plants are potted and planted out in the usual way. The seedlings are of mixed qua lit)’, and therefore not recommended for every garden, but some strains are so good that really worth-while plants are obtained, many of which are worth increasing in subsequent seasons.