A gardening book written by a knowledgeable, enthusiastic and experienced gardener quickly wins the heart and the mind and makes for enjoyable, informative, applicable and pleasurable reading. Andy Vernon is writing about the razamatazz element of many of our summer gardens, dahlias, and provides wonderful background information on these plants, excellent advice on growing and the other practical information needed to keep them healthy and looking well from year to year. Along with this we are treated to a beautifully illustrated list of 200 dahlias which would look wonderful in any garden.

The earlier sections deal with the aesthetic and practical aspects of how to grow dahlias in the garden, what types are the most gardenesque,  what companion plants to use with them – umbellifers, grasses, perennials, biennials, annuals, tender exotics etc, growing for garden effect, in pots and for cut flowers. Each of these sections comes with suggestions of cultivars which would most suit the purpose.

To help us better understand dahlias there is a brief account of the original species which came from Mexico, were grown by the Aztecs, and were introduced to western gardens in the 1800s. A craze for dahlias gained force in the 1840s which lead to an explosion of bred cultivars and founding of the Dahlia Society in the UK in 1881. Their popularity has waxed and waned over the years and they are presently enjoying a time in fashion again at the moment, something attributed to Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter Gardens and his championing of Dahlia ‘Bishop of LLandaff’.

Although there are thousands of named dahlia cultivars the author restrains himself to a selection of 200 which he can comment on from his own growing experience. As he says, with dahilias colour is king and he has arranged his selection by colour and each is beautifully illustrated and described succinctly. Indeed, it could well be said of this book and the other books in this series by Timber Press that the editing has been extraordinarily well controlled. These are not books for fluff and waffle but each paragraph has had to prove its worth before being included.

The latter sections of the book deal with many of the practical aspects of growing dahlias – staking, watering and feeding, treatment of pests and diseases, the overwintering of tubers and propagation of new plants.

I doubt if you will find a more practical and useful book on dahlias. I recommend it highly.

Paddy Tobin