Just as the leaves are turning dull, dahlias reward us with their lavish, chintzy beauty – the perfect late-summer celebration – which is why I used them in my own September wedding bouquet with Viburnum foliage, rosehips and Panicum grass. Extravagant flowers are even more impressive when seen in humble settings such as rustic allotments. Old greengrocers’ crates, which are suitably shabby, make perfect planters. Form as well as colour is essential here. The vertical stance of the Panicum creates a restful backdrop for the dahlia’s star-shaped blooms. In contrast the Erigeron grows horizontally and will creep over the sides of the crate.
How to achieve this look
Colours and shapes
This is a high-impact, summer-long display. The dahlia flowers from July until the frosts come. I used two small one-litre potted viburnums – this is a vigorous shrub and will need planting out in the garden after the first year or two. Until then, the autumnal foliage will provide an irresistible display.
Genuine old crates can be found at junk shops but suppliers of florist sundries sell good imitations. Consider screwing four casters on the bottom so they can be wheeled into different places. You may need to add a membrane such as hessian to contain soil.
Compost and care
Dahlias originally came from Mexico so they need a sheltered and sunny spot to thrive. They are greedy feeders which means that good soil is essential. Mix two parts of garden soil with one part of compost and a small scoop of blood, fish and bone.
Plant out the tubers from mid-April through to May or use rooted cuttings in early summer. At the first frosts, the tubers should be lifted for overwintering in a frost-free place. At this point check the spread of the Panicum virgatum because switch grass does have a tendency to send out runners. These can be potted on or planted out directly into the garden.
Plants you'll need
1. Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ - height 90cm, season August and September
2. Dahlia ‘Nuit d’Eté’ - height 1.2m, flowers July to October
3. Erigeron karvinskianus - height 30cm, flowers June to October
4. Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ - height as mature shrub 2.5m. Used for its red autumn foliage
5. Dahlia ‘Arabian Night’ (not pictured in detail but seen on the left of the box) - height 1.2m, flowers June to September
Tel 0844 557 2244, www.crocus.co.uk
See the September issue of Gardens Illustrated (issue 189) for more ideas from Sarah Price on planting late-summer containers.
• Sarah Price is an award-winning garden designer whose work includes the planting displays at the Olympic Park.
• Photography by Andrew Montgomery