Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dahlias Star in Sissinghurst Borders

Sissinghurst book by Jane Brown
You cannot visit the public gardens in England without being bowled over by the perennial borders.

One of the most celebrated of English gardens, and the one that has charmed us most, is the National Trust property at Sissinghurst in Kent. Much of its charm is in the seasonal nature of its gardens; the orchard is rampant with daffodils and other bulbs in spring, but simply a grassy orchard the rest of the year. The White Garden is never more dramatic than it is at the onset of summer when the gigantic white rose canopy is in full bloom.

Well documented on public television, Sissinghurst was rescued from gloom and disarray by noted writers Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicolson. While their long marriage may have been one of the stranger ones in history, the garden they developed together—his landscape designs, her plantings—were sublime. When their son Nigel Nicolson gave the property to the National Trust, it became a public treasure.

Tony Lord deals with Sissinghurst's purple borders in his book Best Borders, and focuses on the property in Planting Schemes from Sissinghurst: Classic Garden Inspirations and Gardening at Sissinghurst. And featured above is Jane Brown's Sissinghurst: Portrait of a Garden with photos by John Miller. The books are full of dahlias incorporated into colorful borders. There's even a lovely white ball dahlia that helps carry the White Garden into the late summer.

While the vibrant colors of dahlia blooms, and their long late blooming season, make them ideal for perennial-garden planting, some of them also have the advantage of interesting foliage. The Bishop family of dahlias are among those; check out Lynch Creek's Bishop of Oxford and Japanese Bishop.

For a long while it was almost impossible to acquire some of the best-known English dahlias (they pronounce them day-li-ahs) in the Northwest, more are available all the time, and it's possible to find look-alikes for most of the ones we can't find. If you like the look and feel of lush perennial beds, be sure to make room for dahlias.

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