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Garden Design- Phil and Mary Ann- Dahlia delights

Dahlia Magic- The Largest Dahlia Collection in the UK on your doorstop

Tucked away just outside Storrington along Fryern Rd is an amazing feat of horticulture -the UK’s largest Dahlia collection.

Run by the very passionate couple Phillip Godsmark and Mary-Ann Joyce, they grow literally thousands of Dahlias each year from seeds and tubers.

If you pass by in your car, or the local bus (Phillip swears that he has noticed more people sit on the side his farm is on so they can marvel) you will see fields of multi coloured blooms.

Though they grow mainly for cut flowers, each wedding normally requiring up to 300 blooms, Phillip’s real passion is creating new varieties. He bred Ryecroft Jan, a creamy white Pompon, which is currently one of the most popular Dahlia in the the world.

“I collect about 5000 seeds each year from the cream of the crop. I then grow the seeds, as well as take cuttings and divide tubers, and trial them for 5 years before I send them out as a new variety as I want them to be world class. My favourite moment is when I walk down the rows and see what the seeds have grown into. I don't know what the bees have fertilised and cross pollinated so it is a complete surprise that I can’t predict. For every one new Dahlia that I discover I have planted 1000 seeds!”

“Yes” says Mary Ann “and we have run out of females in the family to name them after. That one there is called Sam Sunset named after our little dog who died when still young. Jan was named after Phil’s late sister.”

Phillip first came across Dahlias when he a boy. “Like everyone else in the 1960’s, my father grew them. I still love their variation of size and colour and shape. There is no flower like them. A local nursery used to exhibit them. They went out of fashion in the 80’s but they are back now.”

Which is very true- top designers use Dahlias for their amazing colour variations and heights, especially billowing over from the back of the border. When Summer has peaked these flowers really do hold centre stage and can flower well into October and even November.

Though they still exhibit at The National Dahlia Show at Wisley each year unfortunately for Phil and Mary-Ann, discovering and growing on new discoveries is not very profitable. After a year, their ownership of the variety ends and then anyone can make a cutting a sell the variety on. 

“Every year we say we are going to give up but it’s difficult. People come for miles for them. Recently 4 Australians got off at Gatwick and came straight here. We grow and test Dahlia varieties sent to us from all around the world”.

But it is back breaking work. Every October, before the cold and damp set in, they dig up over 8000 tubers by hand, clean off the mud, label and store them in dry boxes under cover. “Because they originated from Mexico they don’t like wet feet and can only last a couple of days before they begin to rot. Even though we have good sandy soils here we sometimes have to hand wash and dry them.”

On the 10th April each year they plant them all back again along with the new seedings that carry the hope of discovering even more new varieties. “ I developed the first scented Dahlia in the world by crossing two that had a mild scent.”

Along side personal injuries and thefts from their farm it is hard work to keep such a big plot of land going as they also grow vegetables, Zinnias and Gladioli and sell direct from their farm shop to the public.But they are still there! So if it is a warm Autumn you may still have a chance to see and buy some of the most beautiful Dahlias grown anywhere in the world- and some vegetables too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Garden Design using the soft colour palette

Even though it is increasingly popular to have vibrant reds and oranges in your planting scheme, take a look at these photos.

The softest of pink Roses, with interesting companion planting.

Blue and purple compliment the pink blush of the Rose with Phlox, Campanula, Forget-Me-Not and Irises.

Plus the white of Digitalis and Aquilgea with the frothy white Ammi Majus freshen clean up the palette.

Then to round the colour scheme off there is pink Persicaria bistorta Superba and Thalictrum, all floating on a body of green foliage.

This is definitely a mid summer garden. You could have Tulips and Purple Sensation Alliums for the earlier months and then move on into late Summer with Dahlias and Asters.

 

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Using Umbellifers in your Garden Design

I took these photos of Cow Parsley around the lower lake at Sissinghurst.

Cow parsley - Anthriscus sylvestris- is achingly beautiful in a wild setting but not great in a garden bed as it spreads and is a nightmare to contain.

However a good mix of plants in your garden should include the umbellifera shape as it softens formal hedges and topiary, compliments other flower shapes like daisies, balls, bells and spires and gives a general frothy and floating effect.

There are lovely well behaved alternatives.

If you want height you can go for Fennel or Angelica. If you are happy to grow them from seed each year there is Ammi Majus (which looks good with Dahlias or Cosmos al woven together). Other Umbells to look out for are: Selinum wallichianum and the Sweet Cicerly herb- Myrrhis odorata.

If you have shady conditions look at Chaerophyllum hirsute roses with its lilac petals.

 

 

 

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Garden Design using Perennials

Here is a garden we did earlier this year. Until some of the flowers get going, the leaf texture is what we concentrated on in the design for early Summer.

There is the frilliness of Fennel, the fleshiness of Canna Lillies, the bright orange and yellow of Heleniums and Hemmerocalis, the silver of Artemesia and Cynara and the purple of Lobelia 'Queen Victoria' and a Black Adder Phormium.

With a mixture of exotics plus traditional plants like Fennel a Perennial Design can really be a woven tapestry of shapes and colours.

 

 

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Field of Dahlias- using them in your garden design

It is not often one sees a huge field of Dahlias.

This one I passed two weeks ago in Storrington and had to stop the car. Dahlias were originally imported from South America for their edible roots, went through a period of being in fashion and then out again. In the last ten years they have multiplied in the variety of colour and form one can buy and have a strong ability to keep their vividness from the end of August till November.

They can be planted in random points in your bed design or in large clumps of 5 or 6. They come in different heights as well, some being over two metres so can enliven the back of the border. 

The warm winters have meant that people often leave them in the ground covered by a thick mulch but best practise is to lift them in November and clean and store the tubers in a dry, dark place ready for late Spring planting.

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