Having been despised as garish and – frankly - the flowers of the lower classes for decades, the rehabilitation of the dahlia began with the very definitely not-at-all working class Christopher Lloyd using them extensively in his garden at Great Dixter, in Sussex.
The dahlia has never looked back and the books have followed. There are three more recent and upcoming dahlia books that I’m going to discuss here over the coming weeks and the first is Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias by Erin Benzakein.
I’m a big fan of Erin Benzakein. She runs Floret Farm in Washington State and has done more than most to popularise the idea of locally grown, non-industrial cut flowers. She’s gone from a one-woman enterprise to planting twenty acres in just a few years.
I really enjoyed her first book, Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden, and reviewed it here in 2017, and now comes another.
This is an inspiring book, but not without its faults. The photography, by Erin’s husband Chris, is immediately striking not just for the awe inspiring views of the cutting fields but for the delightful detail revealed in the close-ups.
The catalogue of Erin’s recommended varieties is arranged by colour and there are, for example, five pages of dahlias in peachy shades – thirty varieties in all – and all shown in huge bunches held by Erin in front of her ubiquitous blue shirt and described in detail. It’s all so tempting that wants lists soon extend to a second page of back-of-the-envelope scribble. And this where things begin to become less convenient.
There’s no list of suppliers of dahlia tubers and/or cuttings in the book. Instead, we’re directed to the Floret Farm website where we must sign up to receive the “Discovering Dahlias Bonus Materials” by email. A great way to collect email addresses. This arrives promptly and includes descriptive details (not just a name and a link) of twenty three American dahlia specialists, seven in Canada, four in mainland Europe - but only two from the UK. Not good.
Three hundred and sixty varieties are included in the directory. I presume they’re all available from American suppliers – frankly, I just don’t have time to check. But I looked up all those peachy varieties in the latest edition of the RHS Plant Finder – which lists all the plants available from British and Irish nurseries, 81,000 of them. Eight of the peach varieties are listed with at least one supplier – twenty two are not listed at all. And if you want to check Erin’s thoughts on varieties you already have on your wants list – forget it: there’s no variety index.
The practicalities are very much based on experience in Washington State and British growers, and growers in other parts of North America, will need to adapt. She assumes you’ll root your cuttings under lights, for example.
So we end up being inspired and tempted and mad keen to add to our dahlia collection – or start one. American readers can, I assume, spark their enthusiasm into action. British and Irish enthusiasts will have quite a lot of work to do.
- Beautiful and inspiring
- A tempting choice of varieties revealed
- Paper and print quality excellent
- Extremely well priced
- Few recommended varieties available in Britain
- Skimpy pest and disease coverage
- Sad absence of a variety index
“Beautiful to look at and genuinely inspiring, but it could do more to help turn inspiration into achievement.”
Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias by Erin Benzakein is published by Chronicle Books.
Order Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias in the UK
Order Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias in North America