Some plants make a name for themselves while others are christened for a variety of reasons. Thus it was – and is – with dahlias like “Bishop of Llandaff”, a variety that has become a popular and important player in the autumn garden where paeony-flowered dahlias are prized for bringing stunning colour and so late in the year.
The good Bishop (named to honour Pritchard Hughes, Bishop of Llandaff, in Wales, in 1924) is not alone in being a valued addition to pre-winter borders; there are many forms of dahlias worthy of planting and cultivating, from the single-flowered forms through to the anemone-flowered varieties, the colarettes, decorative, ball dahlias, pompons, cactus and semi-cactus.
And that’s not forgetting the bedding dahlias, which are more often grown from seed and treated as annuals. ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ is a descendant of the original dahlias, brought to Europe from their native home of Mexico many centuries ago. They formed the basis for the modern varieties, much tinkered with by men and women who were determined to create some of the finest and most colourful flowers for autumn.
So we have the paeony-flowered dahlias, with their rings of flat petals surrounding the central core of stamens. More often than not, they come in vibrant orange, red or purple. And unlike some of their cousins who require a sheltered site to be able to create a good show, these dahlias are satisfied with an open, sunny spot in rich, well-drained soil.
Plant the tubers about four inches deep and the first blooms should appear in late summer and continue until frost makes a mush of their foliage.
Then, you can either take a gamble and leave the tubers in the soil to see if they can survive the winter in situ, or else lift them, clean off all the soil, and then store them somewhere frost-free and dry until they are ready to be planted out again the following late spring.
Some gardeners go a bit further because they want their tubers to flower even earlier, so they overwinter the tubers in a greenhouse and encourage early sprouting, which means that the plants are raring to grow when spring and the great outdoors beckons.