Dahlias: The history of Halls of Heddon. 9 November 2018

David Heddon is the third generation to run the family nursery in Heddon, Northumbria. He is a well known Dahlia and Chrysanthemum grower and exhibits at shows throughout the north east.  His grandfather established the nursery in 1921, initially specialising in Pansies and Delphinium, but later specialising in Dahlias and Chrysanthemums. The nursery is based in the walled garden of Heddon House. The trial fields have over 6000 stock plants and 293 varieties of Dahlias including 70 varieties bred by amateurs.

Although Dahlias originated in Mexico, they flourish particularly well in the UK. They were introduced to Spain in 1702 initially as a food crop, and have been exhibited for their blooms since 19th century. They can be relied upon to produce an eye-catching display of colour in almost any garden from late summer until the first frosts providing they are given a few basic requirements. To perform at their best Dahlias need a sunny position with a well-drained soil whilst at the same time needing plenty of water. They require regular feeding to produce good blooms. They should be grown in an open sunny site, with some protection from prevailing winds. They will grow in most soils but a rich soil with good drainage is ideal. Dahlias need plenty of moisture but will not cope with being waterlogged, and a complete fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone should be applied to the soil a couple of weeks prior before planting.

Tubers store water and should therefore be protected from frost depending on the prevailing conditions of the region where they are grown. Commercially, tubers are lifted and kept in heated greenhouses. It is possible, with the right conditions, to get 6-10+ cuttings from each tuber before the time comes for planting out. Although it is possible to plant the tubers directly into the garden and grow on as they are,  one has more control over the growth of the plant by starting off with fresh cuttings each year. Planting out should not be attempted until all risk of frost is over. This will be late May in the south of the country, but in the north, mid June might be best.  Plants should be well hardened off before planting, although tubers can be planted in mid April taking precautions to protect emerging shoots from frost by earthing up or covering with newspaper overnight. Plants should be well watered before planting. Dahlias need staking and tying in, but do not require disbudding.

For more details on cultivation follow this link.

Pest and diseases that can affect Dahlias include aphids, greenfly, capsid bug, earwigs, mildew and viruses. For more information follow this link.

David described the 15 groups of Dahlias; amongst the most interesting for gardeners as opposed to the show bench are:

  1. Single flowers: Twynings After Eight, Hadrian’s Sunlight and Midnight
  2. Anemone flowers: Purple Puff
  3. Collerette flowers: Christmas Carol – good for butterflies. First introduced in 1850’s.
  4. Waterlily flowers: Kilburn Glow – double flower
  5. Decorative: Black Monarch (giant) and David Howard (miniature) – showing
  6. Ball: showing
  7. Pompon: showing
  8. Cactus: showing
  9. Semi-cactus: Doris Day – good in pots and containers.
  10. Miscellaneous including: species, Star, Orchid, Anemone and single flowered Dahlias.
  11. Fimbriated: showing
  12. Star: Honka – sweet pollen
  13. Double orchid:  Art Deco – bedding
  14. Peony: Bishop group – old species
  15. Stellar: USA introductions with vibrant blooms

Images from Halls of Heddon

The RHS first published the International Dahlia Register in 1969 and have published regular supplements since then.

The national trials bed are held annually at Golden Acre Park, Leeds.

Pat Inman gave the vote of thanks.

Page image: Dahlia ‘Twyning’s After Eight’ (Sin) AGM (Image courtesy of HPS image library)