From the Sweet Lady to the Crème de Cognac: Three expert opinions on the top dahlias to buy and plant now

The chase is on: if you want to grow the best dahlias in your borders this year, you need to get your orders in soon, says Val Bourne.

You may think that January is precociously early to be mentioning dahlias, but most of the websites and catalogues go live on January 1. Yes, you could wait to buy plants, but if you want the best of the new varieties, you need to order tubers and these sell out quickly, because dahlias are riding the crest of a fashion wave.

Bluetiful dahlia, Swan Island Dahlias, Clackamas County, Oregon

‘Bluetiful’ dahlia.

‘I never use less than five, seven or nine of one variety, so if you lose one or two, the display is still good enough to hold its own’

This year, they may also be in short supply, because one major Dutch grower lost 5.5 million cuttings after they were sprayed with weedkiller by mistake.

To help you choose the best, we’ve asked the experts to pick their favourites for 2019.

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' and Heliotropium arborescens 'Marine' in front of the Palm House at Kew Gardens, London

Andy Vernon, author of the excellent Plant Lover’s Guide to Dahlias, grows 30 carefully selected varieties in raised beds or pots ‘to keep the Jack Russells off’.

  • Sweet Lady: A strong pink, wonderful for cutting.
  • Soulman: Black-red and anemone-centred – arrange it with a cosmos called Dazzler
  • Karma Choc and Sam Hopkins: These sultry dark reds are highly recommended
  • Night Butterfly: A new collarette (single dahlias with a ruff of smaller inner petals), with white inners suffused in magenta, framed by wine-red petals
  • Fifteen Love: A soft apricot-orange collarette with rubbery dark stems and foliage
  • Bishop of Llandaff: A traditional peony-flowered red
  • David Howard: The classic butterscotch-orange

Andy couldn’t decide his favourite, but says the last two on the list would be in every dahlia enthusiast’s top 10 – they’re great in a vase and great in the garden.

Labyrinth decorative dinnerplate dahlia close up.

The ‘Labyrinth’.

Steve Edney, another member of the RHS dahlia panel and head gardener at The Salutation in Kent. This Lutyens garden and house, now a romantic hotel, is one of the best places to see dahlias. Steve grows 350 different varieties and also has the Plant Heritage National Collection of dark-leaved dahlias.

  • Classic Rosamunde: A soft semi-double pink that’s often mistaken for a Japanese anemone, although it’s far less thuggish
  • Preference: A pastel cactus dahlia with apricot-pink quills
  • American Dawn: Slightly hotter and pinker than the above, this is a beautifully formed decorative dahlia
  • Fire Mountain: A ‘neat, blood-red, decorative’ dark-leafed dahlia that Steve says needs full sun to flower well

Steve’s favourite is Hadrian’s Sunlight, a single, yellow, dark-leafed dahlia that’s early to flower and keeps on going.

The 'Classic Rosamunde'

The ‘Classic Rosamunde’.

Anne Barnard of Rose Cottage Plants judges dahlias for the RHS and prefers informally shaped ones.

  • Waltzing Mathilda: ‘A warmly coloured whirligig with petals that twist and appear to move’
  • Labyrinth: A rather shaggy decorative dahlia that hovers between peach and shocking pink
  • Senior’s Hope: This is a colour Anne describes as ‘old, faded velvet’
  • Bluetiful: An American variety with lavender-blue ruffled petals
  • Jowey Winnie: A peachy-pink ball dahlia that’s perfect for cutting
  • Evanah: A rose-pink waterlily variety with a darker colour wash
  • Crème de Cognac: Similar in colour to Evanah, but each petal has a defining wine-red picotee edge and a dark reverse
English garden flowers

The ‘American Dawn’.

Anne’s favourite is Blackjack, which has a hint of green in the middle and beetroot-tinted stems, buds and foliage

Dahlia planting tip:

In the flower borders, Steve Edney emulates the Great Dixter system and creates large gaps. In spring, these contain tulips and early-flowering bedders such as wallflowers. These are lifted and replaced by dahlias in early June. ‘I never use less than five, seven or nine of one variety, so if you lose one or two to slugs, the display is still good enough to hold its own.’

He always hides their legs and his current favourite for doing this is a pale-pink persicaria called Rowden Gem.


Dogwoods and willows: A new style of winter planting?

Mark Griffiths extols the merits of these bare-stemmed beauties in the world of winter planning, which are both a joy