Dahlias in October – a last blast of colour

Sometimes as the quality of our northern light cools rapidly into the blue-greys of autumn, bright coloured dahlias can look strangely out of place, but if there’s enough dark green still in the garden their vibrant presence makes a welcome cheery picture.


And, the dark red of dahlia Arabian Night appears particularly rich in the late-afternoon autumn sunlight.


It’s dahlia time

Dark-red-dahlia-Arabian-NightNot everybody’s favourite, but dahlias have seen a huge resurgence of interest in the last couple of decades here (in England) since the late Christopher Lloyd grubbed up his rose garden at Great Dixter and planted an exotic garden featuring amongst others dahlias. Here’s his forthright views on the matter from ‘The Well-tempered Garden’ (revised edition):

Dahlias are now available in such a varied assortment of flower forms and plant habits that there is not justification for sweeping them aside with a dismissive gesture as vulgar or clumsy.

Hear, hear – and what visual inspiration they make too!


Beauty in Decay

Autumn-redsHalloween – bit of a party in some quarters so I understand! In the northern hemisphere it can be seen as a marker for seasonal change, abundance into scarcity, with roots deep back into pagan times. Certainly at this time of year there is plenty of fading and decay in the garden, but it can still be beautiful.

dead dahlia flower arrangement
Beauty in Decay

Oh – okay, then – as it’s Halloween here’s a bad-tempered vampire, irritated rather than demonic.


Where’s The Drama? It’s all in the Lighting

Often the first line of advice from any professional photographer to us aspiring amateurs is ‘lighting, lighting and, probably, the lighting’, with the specific recommendation to use natural daylight whenever you can.

arabian night dahlias targazer lilies arrangement
Flowers – internal shot taken at dusk with no post-production colour adjustment .

Obviously, it is not always possible to get the shot you are after with the available natural light in your chosen setting which is a great pity but sometimes unavoidable – so you end up trying out photographic lights.

However, as an amateur I find natural light really is by far the best when photographing flowers especially when you are trying to capture that little essence of nature. Now, as I’m sure we all know all daylight is not equal, but I was really quite surprised by the difference between mid-afternoon and early evening when I tried out this small experiment taking internal shots of my mantlepiece.

afternoon photo flowers
Mantlepiece – photo taken in the middle of the afternoon (15.30)
evening photo flowers
Mantlepiece – photo taken in the early evening on the same day (19.15)

Ah yes, I hear them spinning in their graves and their groans of boredom as all the Old Masters mutter on about aspects of windows, geographical location and time of year . . .

Mystery Day – Another Fine Dahlia

dark red dahliaPerhaps the 29th August could be named ‘Dahlia Day’ as here in East Anglia the dahlias are blooming their hearts out and the 29th doesn’t quite sound like the end of summer, yet – well, not so much as the 30th or 31st August. Of course, well tended and regularly deadheaded, or cut for the house, dahlias keeping on flowering until they get hit by the first hard frost.

Dahlia classic GiselleI like small-flowered decorative dahlias like Arabian Night or cacti type dahlias such as Nuit D’ete (lost last year due to relentless slug attack!). I also prefer single flowered varieties such as Giselle which has the bonus of attractive bronze foliage. My white dahlias were originally bought as part of a pink and white dahlia mix so think they might be ‘Perfection’ or ‘Nathalie’s Wedding’ not really sure which, but not a particularly good white and a bit stiff and starchy for me.

white dahlia

However, I didn’t buy this ‘dinner plate’ variety as I have previously found they are difficult to keep looking good and each bloom needs staking as they are so large, five to six inches across. But this music hall show off has just turned up in a packet of seeds that were supposed to be all very dark wine red, single flowers – and with some amusement I’ve found out it is called Mystery Day.

bi colour dahlia wine and white
Surprise variety from ‘Single, Dark Red Dahlias’ packet of seeds called Mystery Day!

All my dahlias are planted in large pots that I sink into the ground to mix with the rest of my August flowering plants. The dark red is used to give depth to the planting which is quite relaxed and informal.

Dahlia Arabian Night