Andie McDowall, founder of Dahlia Beach, tells us her story, and shares her top tips for growing first-class dahlias.

I escaped to the Cotswold borders with my family in 2013 in search of a better life. I’ve always had a huge passion for gardening and my stone courtyard in Brixton wasn’t cutting it. During lockdown, I set myself the challenge of creating a huge new flower bed from scratch and opened my garden to raise money for the National Garden Scheme. I spent time researching a carefully curated selection of dahlias that I would grow from scratch. The result was outstanding – I couldn’t believe I had created such a thriving display in such a short time.

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I launched my website Dahlia Beach, selling tubers to other flower lovers online. The first collection sold out in 2 months! Selling tubers is seasonal, so I opened a PYO Flower Farm at Millets Farm in Oxfordshire, so more people could enjoy my dahlias. Now we are open from August until November, seven days a week, for people wanting to pick their own dahlias. We run workshops on growing and arranging your dahlias – they are very popular!

For me, the best thing about dahlias is that they come in so many different colours and varieties, from daisy-looking, open faced flowers to giant dinner plate flowers the size of your head. They are ‘cut and come again’ flowers which means the more flower you pick, the more the plant produces. They’re also perennial, so they’ll come back every year so long as you mulch them or lift them in the winter. And they are fast growing – the tuber doubles in size year on year.

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For large gardens, I would go for a mixed planting scheme which includes dinner plates such as Babylon Bronze and Labyrinth, balls such as Jowey Nickey and Linda’s Baby and pom poms such as Burlesca and Franz Kafka.

If you have a small garden, try single varieties such a Bishops of Dover, Senior’s Hope and Waltzing Matilda. They don’t grow too tall and are great for pollinators.

All dahlias grow well in pots so long as they have good soil and good drainage. I love the waterlily varieties such as Rancho and Evannah as they have lovely long slim stems and grow to over 1m in their first year.

I’m definitely a peach, apricot and orange kind of girl. I tend to stay away from reds or yellows but I’m leaning towards lemon this year after falling in love with Wine Eyed Jill on my shopping trip to Holland.

I love experimenting with colour and picking out small details in one flower to match another. In November I will be launching 6 new collections which I am really excited about. My main problem is that I love them all, and despite planting 14,000 tubers this year, I still get FOMO that there are ones that I don’t have. I have fallen in love with Strawberry Cream this year because every flower has a different amount of white and pink, and I love Café au Lait Royal – a pink twist on the popular cream dinner plate. You can never have too many dahlias!

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My top tips for looking after dahlias are:

  • Don’t start them too early as dahlias originate from Mexico and don’t like cold, wet weather conditions. April in the greenhouse is fine, or just put them straight into the ground in May and they’re flower from August until the first frost.
  • Make sure you remember which tuber is which, and plant them with the tallest variety at the back of the border.
  • Be very wary of slugs and snails as they will decimate your dahlia bed overnight. I can highly recommend using nematodes and beer traps to keep the beasties away. Make sure you check on them regularly.
  • Don’t overwater them!
  • Pinch them out – by removing the top of the centre stem when there are 3 or 4 pairs of leaves, you’ll encourage the plant to produce more stems and therefore more flowers.
  • I would leave the tubers in the ground over the winter and cover them with a thick layer of compost to protect them from the frost – unless you live on clay soil, in which case, definitely lift them. This is because if your soil gets particularly wet over the winter, the tubers will rot if they are left sitting in water or get frosted.
  • Lift them after the first frost when the flowers have all gone black and cut back the stems.
  • Leave them upside down in a shed or greenhouse for 2 weeks to totally dry out and then pack in crates or boxes with straw or saw dust, somewhere dry, until spring.

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