Dahlia delight

Twenty-one years ago Jennifer Chappell, a founding member of the Waihi Dahlia Club, was given some dahlia tubers and enjoyed the plants so much she asked a club member to spend $30 for her on a range of varieties and colours.

“From then on I was hooked,” she says. “I’ve met lots of nice people and made lots of nice friends through dahlias and our club.”

Jennifer Chappell in her Waihi garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Jennifer will be busy on Friday (January 16) at the annual Waihi Dahlia Club show, hoping her carefully tended flowers will catch the eyes of the judges.

“The Waihi show is the first for the season so we always get good entries,” Jennifer says. “People are raring to go. It’s a lot of fun because we all grow the same sort of flowers so it’s whoever has the right flower at the right time. Sometimes the judges  get into the nitty-gritty to award a prize.

“I’ve won prizes at national level but I haven’t got the top award – yet.”

Dahlia Rhanna Tammy is classed as a giant flower. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Jennifer has umbrellas over her show plants to protect from damaging sun and rain but says that, apart from show preparation which includes disbudding stems so they carry larger flowers, dahlias are an easy plant to grow.

“They’re one of the longest-flowering summer plants you can have,” she says. “If the tubers are left in the ground they can start flowering in late October and go right through to the first frosts in May.

Dahlia Lauren Michele is a waterlily type. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Dahlias do well on a regular dose of general garden fertiliser and they like a bit of manure now and again, water when it’s dry and they’ll flower better if you dead-head them, but that’s it. No spraying – they’re a lot less work than roses.”

Taller varieties are best staked and tied, Jennifer says, but there are also miniature and smaller types suitable as border edging or for growing in containers.

Dahlia Sweetheart is a low-growing ‘border’ dahlia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

And while Jennifer gardens on a double-size section in Waihi, she says her numerous dahlias – she thinks she has about 150 plants – don’t actually take up much room.

She lifts all her tubers each winter, divides any that are ready, and has them all replanted by Labour Weekend.

Read some tips for growing great dahlias in New Zealand and some more here.

  • Waihi Dahlia Show, Friday, January 16, 12.30pm-3pm, Waihi Memorial Hall, Seddon St, free admission; includes plant sales. See a map here. Inquiries to Jennifer Chappel.

Parts of this article were first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appear here with permission.

Dahlia show

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.”

Peter Burrell with Kotare Noah, named for a grandson and released last year. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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.


Dahlia Rural Fanfare. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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.


Dahlia Hillcrest Candy growing in Peter Burrell’s Te Puke garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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.