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A spectacular display of dahlias in Milnthorpe

PUBLISHED: 20:16 30 September 2017

Looking across the colourful array of dahlias

Looking across the colourful array of dahlias

Linda Viney

One of Britain’s most spectaular collections of these colourful favourites is found on Lancashire’s border. Linda Viney pays a visit.

Josie and Jack among the dahliasJosie and Jack among the dahlias

One of the most colourful late flowering plants has to be the dahlia, with a huge kaleidoscope of colours and flowers ranging in size from dinner plates down to 10p coins.

And one of the most spectacular collections is to be found on the Lancashire border in a plot tended by Jack Gott. I first met up with him when admiring his award-winning exhibits at shows around the country where each petal is cleaned and placed to perfection.

There was no missing his Milnthorpe house as his front garden has a huge tree dahlia towering over the rest of the border plants. Dahlias are named after Dr Anders Dahl, a Swedish botanist who was sure it would become a new, trendy vegetable. Despite the tubers being edible, spuds caught on while dahlias failed to inspire cooks.

The first arrived in Europe at the end of the 18th century. They were sent over to Madrid by the Spanish settlers in Mexico and from these first varieties large, double flowers were bred.

Newlands Josephine a large pomNewlands Josephine a large pom

Jack has gardened all his life, helping in his dad’s allotment. Until his retirement, he worked as an electrician in a local paper mill but he had always grown dahlias. Now, with more time, it is his total passion and the 100ft plot behind his house is a testament to his talents.

It is believed to be the largest collection of dark leaved varieties in the UK but the plants aren’t cosseted – they are grown outside, so if they survive here they will in any average garden. Jack’s main purpose is to promote their use.

‘This used to be a hen pen and took a lot of clearing as it was full of nettles and broken glass,’ Jack explained as we entered his plot through a gate with a sign, made by his grandchildren, warning: ‘Grandad’s Dahlias – Keep Out!’

I couldn’t believe my eyes as we started wandering through the multitude of flowers – bees and butterflies were busy taking nectar while at the same time pollinating the plant. They were almost queuing to get the best flower, especially the single bloom varieties.

Fashions change but the popularity of this late summer flower continues to increase. Once the favourites were the ‘Ball and Small’ decorative dahlias, while today it is the large decorative and cactus varieties proving most popular.

Jack has about 1,000 varieties and has named several – some after his grandchildren and his wife, Josie. I hadn’t realised they varied so much in size and type as I, like many, only know the popular ‘Bishop Llandaff’ as well as the large blowsy cactus blooms.

Jack now sells them all over the country and abroad, producing plants in polytunnels after collecting the seeds in autumn to sow the following spring.

He gives the spent heads a gentle squeeze to remove moisture once the petals have dropped, helping the seed to ripen. He will have at least 1,000 seeds but only has room to sow a third, singling out the best. They are then planted out in June ready for flowering from August onwards.

As the insects have cross pollinated, he will often find a new variety. However, this isn’t the only way a new one can be produced for a plant will occasionally produce a flower or shoot different from the parent. Although for some growers this can be a rare occurrence, Jack has had many over the years and believes it must be the local air which causes the dahlias to mutate.

Jack’s wife Josie looks after the business side of the nursery but they have time for other garden projects such as sorting sorting out a pond which needs attention. However, dahlias dominate and it looks as though Jack’s varieties are going to join ‘The Bishop of LLandaff’ in ensuring that these plants keep their place in our gardens. I’m sure that one day his own named varieties will become just as popular.

One reason for is they grow almost anywhere, although they do prefer a good loam based soil and relish the sun though they will survive partial shade.

If you are growing them to show, then a bed given over solely for dahlias is best but, for those of us who just like the late flowers, any herbaceous bed will do. I am now inspired to try them – something I haven’t done before.

Jack is happy to share his secrets, travelling all over the North west giving talks. And as a judge for the National Dahlia Society, he is also happy to give tips on showing.

For more information contact JRG Dahlias on 015395 62691 or via email at jack@jrg-dahlias.co.uk. He also has a website:

www.jrg-dahlias.co.uk.

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