Growing Dahlias: From muck to magic

PUBLISHED: 11:59 15 August 2016 | UPDATED: 11:59 15 August 2016

Paul's dahlias are the star plants in late summer

Paul's dahlias are the star plants in late summer


Changing times in the life of Paul Schramm have seen him turn from being a pig farmer to now being a dahlia grower in his garden at Latchingdon, near Chelmsford. Philippa Pearson gets her Wellies on to catch up with him.

The gardens have a good range of mixed plantingThe gardens have a good range of mixed planting

Paul Schramm gestures to what is now a beautiful garden full of colour and interest from borders and features, as he comments: ‘This was where we used to keep pigs.’

30 years ago, Paul and his wife moved to Mapledean Farm in Latchingdon, near Chelmsford. ‘We wanted to be pig farmers,’ he says, ‘and we kept pigs here.’

The pond attracts lots of wildlifeThe pond attracts lots of wildlife

When they arrived at the farm, the ‘garden’ was just a large field, but eventually it became a successful working farm for the pigs, complete with straw barns and lots of muck heaps. After ten years the timing was right to move out of pig farming and Paul looked to diversify, setting up the Essex Pet Crematorium. They built a house and laid out the front garden, but it was a few years later before the rear garden began to evolve.

The one and half acre garden was planted with mature trees to add structure and a large pond was created which now provides a peaceful place to sit and enjoy the wildlife it attracts. The garden is enclosed by paddock fencing which makes a perfect support for Paul’s collection of climbing roses. Elsewhere, rose beds with large groups of 15 to 20 shrub roses each are a stunning display.

Paul has had a passion for dahlias from an early agePaul has had a passion for dahlias from an early age

‘I planted the roses at the beginning of 2015,’ says Paul, ‘and they have really settled in well.’ Perhaps the previous use of this land for pigs is a clue to the roses establishing well, as the soil will be rich in nutrients from years of good farmyard organic matter. Paul bought all his roses from Cants of Colchester and favourites include Golden Wedding, Just Joey, Spellbound, Lovely Lady, Mama Mia and Wonderful. Other borders in the garden have herbaceous plants including lilies bought from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and plants from the annual RHS Hyde Hall Garden Flower Show nearby.

After years of attending to farming, the chance to spend time on all things gardening meant that Paul could indulge in a passion that first grabbed his interest when he was younger. ‘My main passion is dahlias,’ says Paul, ‘but dahlias and pigs don’t mix!’ As a child, Paul used to stay with a friend whose granddad grew dahlias. ‘I was fascinated by them,’ Paul remembers, ‘by their colour, flower shapes and different sizes.’

The garden was once a field full of pigsThe garden was once a field full of pigs

Paul started growing dahlias four years ago and now has 80 different cultivars which are displayed in large beds, each bed having at least 20 varieties. Paul has amassed his collection from specialist growers across the UK and has also been given top culture advice from Essex dahlia champion Dave Spencer. In his greenhouse, Paul grows all his dahlias each year from basal cuttings taken in early spring. Tubers are planted in a heated bed in the greenhouse on Valentine’s Day then basal cuttings are taken once shoots emerge.

‘I find growing plants from cuttings each year the best method,’ Paul explains, ‘and good for increasing stocks of plants.’ Cuttings are rooted in various growing mediums and then potted up once a good root system has started to develop. After the danger of frost has passed, plants are taken out of the greenhouse to harden off, then planted in the borders. ‘Plants have been in flower since July,’ says Paul, ‘and I’m expecting a good dahlia display for our garden opening in August.’

Single-flowered dahlias are good for attracting beesSingle-flowered dahlias are good for attracting bees

Paul opened the garden for the first time last year for the British Red Cross and the garden opens again this August for the charity. Plans this year include showing his dahlias for the first time with the Essex Dahlia Society and Paul has a separate bed for show dahlias. He’s also looking to sell some of his pretty dahlias as cut flowers to local suppliers.

That sounds like a great chance to get yourself a quite spectacular plant.

Latest from the Essex Life