Give how infrequently I join in with Cathy’s vase-filling meme, you could be forgiven for assuming that I don’t tend to bother with cutting flowers for the house. I don’t do it as often as I would like to, I keep letting things get in the way, but you might be surprised at the amount of time my brain spends pondering possible vase combinations… Anyway, I’m trying to cut more, and certainly keeping up the with the sweet peas means the house is generally flooded with scent, plus I get to give bunches away. But I have been waiting for my dahlias to start flowering with an increasing degree of impatience. I love dahlias. I love the blowzy over-the-topness of them, though this year I have tempered my love of the more elaborate styles with several simple, insect-friendly ones. And finally there are enough blooms for a proper vase rather than just a cutting a single flower.

The stars of this week’s vase are the rich dark red of Karma Chocolate and the deep and lustrous pink of Le Baron. Karma Chocolate starts out a dark, almost black and gradually turns more red, and develops a golden centre. I picked two, one at each stage, and three full blooms of Le Baron, all on mercifully long stems – though several of the stems had interesting curves to them,which inevitably caused them to want to turn the “wrong” way in the vase! I wanted a zingy contrast to the deep tones, as well as a different form, and chose vivid orange marigolds.


I tend to find that dahlias can create a rather dumpy, heavy looking arrangement unless accompanied by frothiness. Next year I hope to have some of the dark red umbel Daucus carota ‘Black Knight’, which I think could work well, but this time I went for an old favourite, sprays of the common montbretia that I have so much of. Foliage was courtesy of the copper beech, which I am raising the crown of so that I can grow more perennials under its canopy.

Sometimes I find a vase comes together really quickly. Sometimes, however, it seems to take ages – stems bend the wrong way, balance is hard to find, lots of standing back and pondering required. This week was one of the latter kind. When I first started daydreaming about what I wanted to do I decided it would look great in the fireplace in the lounge. Its an ugly fireplace and quite frankly needs all the help it can get, until we take a sledgehammer to it…

summer fireworks

It was a struggle to find orange marigolds with long, straight stems, and I bunged one fussy one in alongside the more refined ‘Indian Prince’ blooms. I didn’t like it. Plus I decided I would rather have sweetpeas on the mantlepiece, so a slight tweak and a swift change of venue had the dark brown vase plonked on the sideboard in the dining area.

Neutral Ground

I’m still not wholly satisfied, the beech foliage is refusing to fan out at the back as I wanted it to (the stems twist the wrong way), but it is making me smile every time I walk in from the conservatory or cross in to the kitchen. The more neutral background helps too. But in the interests of veracity I have to confess that I do not live in a Country Homes style photo shoot home. Oh no, my home is full of clutter and is either partly decorated or in the same stodgy state it was in when we moved here two years ago. So here’s what actually greets me when I walk through the heart of the house.

Vase in the real world

Rich, happy colours, and just the first of what should be many vases featuring dahlias. I’m off to check out what other people are putting in a vase this week – thank you Cathy for encouraging so many to bring a little of the outside beauty inside. Well worth the clearing up.


42 thoughts on “In a vase on Monday: Playing with Dahlias

  1. :) I enjoyed reading about your vase exploits, Janet!! Finding a neutral background would be impossible in this house which is why I find a photo shoot location just as difficult as you do – and taller arrangement is always going to be harder. I have to admit to being envious of your dahlias as I have tried hard with mine this year, buying ‘posh’ ones from Sarah Raven too, and doing all that her instructions said, but they are nowhere near flowering yet :( Doesn’t the orange of the marigolds look brilliant with the dahlias? And despite the lack of complicity on the part of your copper beech those lovely leaves do set the rest of the contents off nicely. You have beaten me in the trimmings stakes this week, as I only had the slim crocosmia leaves ;) Thanks for finding the time to join in amidst all your catching up

    1. Thanks Cathy! Don’t give up on dahlias, and I can thoroughly recommend Peter Nyssen for tubers, much better value. They can be late to get under way but flower so prolifically, and come in so many shapes and colours. I do love the pop from the marigolds, but the beech is very recalcitrant.

  2. Wow Janet–I love your striking arrangement. Very well balanced and dynamic color. Makes me want to grow more dahlias. Susie

    1. Hi Susie, thank you, happy to have flown the flag for dahlias, they are tremendously good value when it comes to flowers for cutting, so prolific until the frosts.

  3. I think your composition is wonderful, Janet. It’s an inspired color combination. I know what you mean about the difficulty finding an appropriate backdrop for the arrangement – that’s why mine is usually photographed in the kitchen (after I clean the counters up).

    1. Thanks Kris, the kitchen counter is another option for me too, glad I am not alone in searching for good photographic stages not requiring extensive cleaning and tidying!

  4. All warm and sunny Janet! I love those colours together and crocosmia in a vase is very lovely. The beech is a nice backdrop too. I have the same problem finding a good spot for photos – we seem to have light switches, plugs etc everywhere! But at the end of the day I think it doesn’t matter what’s in the background as the eye is drawn to the vase in any case. :)

    1. Hi Cathy, I am a sucker for these vivid contrasts at this time of year, I really must remember how much I enjoy subtle and wafty too! Plugs are a necessary evil of modern life…

  5. I had to laugh at your comment about the clutter when you pan out for a longer shot. My mom used to take pictures of every flower she ever cut, but never bothered to tidy up the surrounding surfaces. The drama of this bouquet would stand out wherever you chose to place it. Such a dynamic choice of colors.

    1. Hi Ricki, your Mum sounds like my kind of person! Hopefully the drama of the vase will distract the eye from the surrounding chaos.

  6. I love it. What a wonderful colour combination, the copper beech makes a wonderful foil for the dahlias. I am mad on the Karma Chocolate. Wow, what a fabulous colour, I have to grow that next year.
    I had to look Daucus carota Black Night up and it is wonderful. I already grow Ammi and this looks like a black one. I shall be growing that next year too. We will both be making sultry black arrangements next July.

    1. Hi Chloris, I am in love with Karma Chocolate too, I’ve never grown it before, its a beauty. I didn’t do too well with my ammi this year for some reason, I miss having great billowing clouds of it. I am looking forward to Black Knight.

  7. Hi Janet,

    Lovely arrangement; something I know I could never achieve!
    To be honest, we all have clutter and try as I might to get rid/tidy mine, it still appears. Instead of a sock goblin, I clearly have a clutter goblin. Looking around the living room, you wouldn’t think I’ve been attempting to tidy. Empty and full boxes waiting to go into the loft for storage, empty game cases ready for recyling… need I go on.

    1. Hi Liz, if I can do this you certainly could! Though it would be easier if the beech stems were more cooperative. Your description of chaos sounds very familiar. And at this time of year I have so many more interesting things to do than tidying or dusting. I have only recently accepted that I am actually just untidy, and no amount of beautifully suitable storage is going to change this.

  8. Great arrangement! I’ll have to check out Cathy’s blog and meme. I love to work with cut flowers, too. It’s so fun to try new things and unusual combinations. I’ve never grown Dahlias, but some of my friends have share them with me for cut flowers. They’re wonderful to work with and to view!

    1. Hi Beth, do join in with Cathy’s meme, I almost suggested it when I saw your church flowers. It is endlessly inspiring, seeing what combinations other people come up with.

  9. Wow, your arrangement is absolutely stunning! And your dahlias are absolutely beautiful! I’m constantly trying to increase the number of cutting flowers in my garden. My dream is to be able to have enough to have a fresh bouquet every week, without feeling like I’m removing every blossom from the garden. I especially love your use of various different types of flowers and plants. So far, my bouquets usually contain just one type of flower at a time. I look forward to your future arrangements!

    1. Hi Rebecca, I find it really inspirational seeing what other people combine in a vase for Cathy’s meme, as otherwise I tend to be very conservative. I’ve found it really helpful to have flowers grown specifically for cutting, as otherwise I feel as if I am robbing the garden. Mind you, you can make a lovely small arrangement with just small pickings that you don’t miss too, I’m trying to learn this!

    1. They can be annoyingly slow sometimes, can’t they Sue. Mine are only just getting going, but at least I can see lots of buds now.

  10. The colours of your flowers is inspirational, I don’t think I would have thought of putting such strong colours together, yet it works stunningly. As a new convert to Dahlias I’m becoming more and more entranced by them.

    1. Thank you Christina, I was inspired by some of the photos in Sarah Raven’s catalogue, even though I no longer use her for dahlias. I am already plotting which dahlias to add for more variety in the vase next year, they are terribly addictive. A small pompom, probably orange, and a spikey cactus style one I think…

    1. Yes, I think my next vase needs to be white and delicate, as a contrast!

  11. Janet I really enjoyed seeing your vase and that wonderful foliage you used…that has been the fun of the flower arranging. Main flowers, accents and foliage….so much to chose from and your color combo is perfection…glad you joined in!!

    1. Thanks Donna, I do really enjoy the challenge of coming up with new combinations that I like, it’s addictive!

  12. Loving the flowers and glad to hear they make you smile. Dill flowers, bronze fennel and ridolfia all work well with dahlias giving that light frothy feel. I agree dahlias can tend to look a bit dumpy. I really like the beech and crocosmia. *eyes up neighbour’s hedge* ;)

    1. Good luck filching from your neighbour’s hedge! I have bronze fennel, and of course, I can see how it would be good, thank you! Still have so much to learn about spotting what I can use to make up a good vase. So much fun though. And why on earth am I only learning about Ridolfia segetum now?! Thank you again!!

    1. Thanks Sarah, its lasting really well, and still making me smile. Its reminded me that I need to add some shocking pink and deep purple to the perennial planting in the park border.

  13. If there’s one thing I love it’s a vase full of flowers. and this arrangement is no exception. The colour combination is very dramatic. I’m a sucker for dahlias as well. You have a great eye for putting flowers together. I sympathize with the photographing, I always find it difficult to find a neutral background that complements the arrangement.

    1. Thanks Marguerite, I’m a sucker for the strong colours and contrasts in this arrangement, I find it energising, it makes me smile!

  14. What a lovely arrangement! I don’t bring flowers inside very often, but when I do, I often think I should take a course in flower arranging, because they never look like anything I see in photos:)

    1. Thank you Rose – and I am betting you wouldn’t need a course either, though I think that could be fun. I like natural, informal arrangements, which is convenient as they are pretty easy to do oneself without any training, and as long as what I do makes me smile I don’t care whether it is magazine-worthy! I am still trying to get used to bringing flowers in from the garden, but am learning that snipping a little bit of this and a little bit of that makes very little difference to the effect in the garden and makes a pretty arrangement inside.

  15. Have learnt to love dahilias very recently though had an aversion based on being told as a child that they harbour earwigs!
    Janet, I do like the way you explain your thoughts through the whole process and have to say that the ‘common montbretia’ plays second fiddle so well. Dare I say that I think a third hue in there would light up these gorgeous umbers ? something blue

    1. Hi Laura, it wasn’t earwigs with me, but the fact that my Dad always talked scornfully of them, or at least, that’s my memory. I learnt to love them when I was asked to put together a cutting garden at the outdoor centre I worked at for a year a while ago. Dahlias were on the list of must-haves, and I’ve been smitten ever since.

      You are right about the blue – and when the larkspur start to bloom I should be able to do just that. Acid green – euphorbia, blupleurum etc – also works really well, but my euphorbias are babies at the moment. Its such good fun though, trying things out!

  16. What a stunning arrangement Janet. I came over to check out your front garden, with its muted tones even at this time of year, and got sucked into flower arranging! I lovelovelove that Karma Chocolate, and it is top of my wish list for next year. It is not a variety I have seen before but I adore dark dahlias. Have you tried growing ‘Bishop’s Children’ from seed? I grow them every year as they are very easy, germinate well and flower really well in the first year. Lots to pick/ fill in nooks and crannies/ give colour late into the year.

    1. Hi Jane, I keep all the hot colours I love so much in the back garden, where they make me smile but don’t distract me from the view of the sea out the front! ‘Karma Chocolate’ is a real find, and yes, I have grown ‘Bishop’s Children’, they are wonderful, but I didn’t sow any this year – I was trying to cut down. A mistake, I have been missing them, and Cosmos Sonata… Ah well, there’s always next year!

  17. Hey honey,

    We’re on the same page when it comes to dark dahlias. I’m partial to the cactus ‘Juanita’ and want to try ‘Lights Out’. You’re in such a milder climate so enjoyed seeing some of the vase fillers.

    Please check out my first GBBD post on my blog.


    1. Hi Patrick, thanks for dropping by and commenting. I like the look of both of those dahlias – so many beautiful ones, it does make it hard to just choose a handful.

  18. What glorious colours Janet. The zingy marigolds and crocosmia are the perfect finishing touch. I’ve noted where you bought your tubers from. My best new arrival this year ‘Natal’ came from Wilkos – it has a small flower but I like both the shape and colour.

    1. Thank you Anna, I really enjoyed both putting it together and looking at it through the week. Mind you, the marigolds didn’t last very well, maybe I should have conditioned them, need to check Lou’s book! Wilkos is often good for plants I find, though I’ve not been for a while – Aldi likewise.

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