I don't think dahlias have ever been the in-thing. They look so reminiscent of 1950's allotments, with their prim bobbly old-lady's swimming hat kind of vibe. I bet in the 1950's they looked so like, 1940's? Those just perfectly plastic shades of barbie-flesh Bakelite, stomach acid yellows, ORANGE, and a white so unlike any kind of white you can find in the present. They are so kitsch it is almost impossible to believe that they are actually real. Real-life, growing, of out-of-date, retro, polite flowers. With names like 'Butch' 'Barbarosa' 'Boy Scout' The 'Bishop of ...' Series, Alfred this, or Arthur that they remind me of my Nan's outfit in my parent's wedding photos from the 1970's. They are so always-out-of-date that they have never gone full-circle and become fashionable again. Somehow they are just the right side of prim, conservative, suburban, little miss goody-two-shoes, Enid Blyton, bucket and spade, little flower fakes we love to hate. The minute we start to come back round to maybe beginning to like them, like flares or stone-washed jeans, or pencil skirts, they slide back into that no-go, tv-dinner back-to-the-future zone that is too close for comfort.
Oh dear, listen to me with all that dahlia vitriol. Well, I don't take full responsibility because there it is, with all its cultural baggage tucked neatly between its perfectly formed, unnaturally colored petals. Oh and Slugs love them, earwigs camp out in them, they rot, they get munched by beetles ... And so here is our way in. Insects. OK they are a pain but they at least give the things some personality, they scuff the patent shiny surface behind which the dahlia sits. Dahlias don't appeal to the senses, they are just visual .. You may as well watch them on the telly, behind the glass which divides us from the past, we subconsciously historicise them, because we don't want them to be ours. We do not love you dahlias. They don't nod, they don't flutter, they don't smell, they last ages. They are the kid in the class who tries too hard, forgets who he is because he wants to be the child he thinks they want him to be. The kid with no friends, too boring, too perfect, too rigid, not enough and too much, the one who doesn't want to go and play and has nothing to say.
Dahlias sit on that uneasy fence between nature and culture, they are so cultivated and inter-bred they have lost their spirit. We define 'nature' by its otherness, its difference from that which is 'man-made', its ability to inspire, to evoke awe, and beauty, and wonder. Nature is by definition unruly, the wild, animal, vegetable, mineral, working to its own logic, romantic or cruel by turns. These flowers, we 'know' to be 'natural', they grow, they need sun and water and food like other plants, but they don't fit with what we instinctively want a 'flower' to be. They are too human, too engineered, not natural enough, they are too like something we have made, not something we have grown. Mutants. Their oddly shaped tubers are like some sort of internal organ, their rigid stems grow almost before your eyes. They don't appeal to our need to be reminded of why it is we love flowers. They neglect the human/nature in us all, they don't invite a sensory response, they are senseless, scentless, static, and grown in disciplined, well-staked rows, they stare at us like zombies.
We have grown a lot of dahlias this year, some that we love for their kitsch perfect circle whiteness, some for their richness of colour. Those decorative types have ruffles that whilst they don't actually 'move' do enough to suggest movement. Marilyn Monroe, Margaret Thatcher, Madonna .... oh, VOGUE? strike the pose... some of those ladies do have attitude?
... so put a quiet little pompon next to a blousy rose, its like giving it the confidence to step back into the garden. Let a cactus dahlia strike a pose next to the soft threads of ornamental grasses and its colour will bleed into those around it. We are not very fastidious gardeners and ours sort of flop about a bit, some wiggle on their stems and some grow at funny angles, chamomile self seeded between he tubers and persicaria pops up its bobbly head between the flowers. A few stingers hide out and get you on the ankle when you least expect it. Picking our dahlias you don't escape the visceral, the now demands your attention as much as a nostalgia that comes with distance from the here. Dahlias have never been modern and neither have we. The sinister perfection of a dahlia just needs to be dragged onto the dance floor, cajoled into drinking a pint of cheap cider and inspired to fulfill its superstar potential. Dahlias want to go with the flow if only we let them, there is no them and us. Take a look at Floret Farm or Pyrus or The Blue Carrot or Amanda Taffinder to see just how a Dahlia Beauty Queen can really be the last to leave the party. Speaking of which we are holding a last hurrah, a celebration of summer at the end of the month. A workshop where we will let you loose on our flower patch and learn to create a bowl arrangements with an edgy Dutch Masters inspiration. Look out on our Workshops page for details coming very soon.