Plant of the Month - May
Dahlia Written by: Dot Cullinane
‘Ne’er cast a clout until May is oot ‘ reminding us of our changeable weather, bathing in warmth one day to chilling winds and frost the next as we transition from Spring to Summer, and the summer season would not be the same without our plant of the month, Dahlias.
Here at Mount Stuart Dahlia planting preparation begins in early March with the splitting and potting of the tubers; by the start of May, the sprouted plants are moved to the shaded Polytunnel to harden off and covered with fleece in the event of frost. By the end of May, the plants will be planted in their final growing positions—the magnificent range of shapes and vibrant shades well reward the wait for the flowers in July.
Dahlias are a member of the Asteraceae family and are unrivalled for their showy prolific flower displays. A native of Mexico and Guatemala, these early species dahlias - Dahlia pinnata, Dahlia rosea and Dahlia coccinea were single, open-centred flowers; it was not long before horticultural growers discovered that Dahlias hybridise readily when grown from seed, changing its colour and form.
The 1st Marquess of Bute was the British Ambassador to Spain from 1795-1797, which enabled his wife, Charlotte J. Stuart (nee Windsor), to procure seed easily from the Madrid Botanical Gardens, bringing them back to Kew Gardens. The 1st Marchioness, Charlotte, appears to be an important figure in introducing other species of garden plants as well as the Dahlias. In uncatalogued letters in our archives, it is indicated she was involved in introducing Cosmos and Zinnas, like the Dahlias, the plants discovered then would look nothing like their modern-day counterparts.
There was lots of Dahlia breeders worldwide, one well known breeder, Alex Lister and Son was based in Barone Road in Rothesay. He bred many superb varieties named after people who worked at the nursery such as Doris Bacon or Dr John Grainger, the latter was a Plant Pathologist who worked on eliminating diseases from the Dahlia stock or they had Rothesay in the title, Rothesay Superb, Rothesay Reveller to name a few. On the Dahlia Register, Lister’s nursery is linked to 109 entries between 1937 and 1973.
Some of Lister’s Dahlias are still growing well here at Mount Stuart and at Ardencraig Gardens. The Dahlia ‘Rothesay Herald’ has been sold under the name Dahlia ‘Little Tiger’ since the 1980’s.
Dahlias are now very fashionable and there is a tremendous number of varieties available, as we wait eagerly for the Kitchen Garden to explode with colour reminding us of the beauty of nature, the dahlia symbolises beauty, dignity, love and devotion.
Bunches of Dahlia will be for sale in the courtyard tearoom from July onwards.
We have recently been shortlisted for Historic Houses Garden of the Year and would really appreciate if you could take a moment to vote for Mount Stuart Trust