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Darling dahlias

So, I'll warn you in advance, you might hear me say this a lot, but dahlias really are one of my favourite flowers with their gorgeous explosion of colours. Another South American find, the dahlia didn't become popular in Britain until a mere two centuries ago. But by the mid 1800s it was a firm favourite amongst Victorians who praised it for its 'dignity' and 'elegance'. The ball-shaped 'pompom' dahlia is probably the most recognisable (and my favourite for those tightly-packed quilled petals, especially the coral and pale pinks), though there are 28 species of dahlias and hundreds of varieties, including ones that look more like daisies or peonies and then the shambolically spiky 'cactus' ones. Available from summer to early autumn, unlike the usual 'one show and they're gone' tuberous and bulb flowers, the dahlia will continue to delight until the end of the season. And although they are relatively easy to grow, in a wide range of soil types and situations, they are sensitive to frost and so, unless you're guaranteed a mild climate (in which case you can just bury them with woodchips), it's best to dig the tubers up before the fist frost and store until the following May/ June. When it comes to floristry, with the wide variety of shapes, sizes and colours and strong stems, these showy flowers are a delight to use. (Dahlias can wilt easily, though, so remove foliage and buds to help them last longer.) Choose a colour and use different varieties to create a fabulous monochromatic bouquet with plenty of interest. Or even the same variety in a range of colours can create an eye-catching arrangement. One or three in a mason jar, meanwhile, can be extremely elegant. Oh, they really are heavenly blooms. And British ones have added ethics! By Leonie Bennett [caption id="attachment_143" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Pom Pom Dahlias[/caption]