Of the 150 seedlings Te Puke dahlia breeder Peter Burrell starts each year, he normally saves three or four, although last year retained eight.
“I’ve been involved with dahlias for about 25 years,” Peter says. “My wife Val was the keen one, I just drove her to the shows.”
However, it wasn’t long before the former MAF employee decided to use his horticultural knowledge and began his quest to breed new varieties.
“I saw a champions table where 90 per cent of the blooms were white or yellow,” Peter says. “I swore I would never see that happen again and ever since I have been aiming at new colours.”
He imports breeding stock from England, which costs him something like $200 for six tubers after biosecurity inspections and certification.
Every dahlia breeder in the world adopts a breed prefix and Peter has chosen Kotare (kingfisher). Plants that make it through his selection process are grown for three years and constantly reassessed. The best tubers are released for sale in year four.
He used to lease part of the section next door and had 360 tubers all up but that land stopped being available so Peter has looked to extend the plantings around his home.
Peter, a past president of the national Dahlia Society, formerly co-managed the North Island dahlia trial grounds in Rotorua (now defunct), while Val is the current national treasurer. Son Mark is now the show driver and also helps in the garden which is blooming umbrellas to protect flowers from sun and rain in preparation for the show season, which in the North Island traditionally begins with the Waihi show.
For last year’s Waihi show Peter took along blooms of Hillcrest Candy from England, the first time it had been seen in this country.
Peter is a member of the Hamilton, Rotorua and Te Awamutu dahlia groups after the Bay of Plenty went into recess. “We’re hoping some young ones might come through and it will pick up again,” he says. “It’s all there waiting.”
This article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.