Erin Benzakein of Floret Farm and her 850 glorious varieties of dahlia

In an extract from the October issue of House & Garden (out now), Clare Foster continues her series on specialist plant growers. This month she talks to Erin Benzakein of Floret Farm in the Skagit Valley, Washington, whose prize flower crop is 850 glorious varieties of dahlia

Her top three collerettes are: ‘Ferncliff Dolly’ in sugar pink with a contrasting yellow ruffle; ‘Appleblossom’, which is the palest creamy apricot; and ‘April Heather’, which is pale yellow suffused with apricot. Other superb varieties for cutting (among the 360 that are mentioned in her forthcoming book) include the semicactus ‘Henriette’ with its softest salmon blooms, peachy-orange ‘Pam Howden’– the most perfect waterlily type – and the supremely popular ‘Café au Lait’, which is Floret’s most requested dahlia.

Erin has inevitably become an expert at growing these rewarding plants and is very happy to share all her practical experience. One of her most useful tips is to pinch the plants out when they are 30-40cm tall. ‘If you snip off the top third of growth, it encourages the plant to branch, which means ultimately you will get about three times as many flowers from one plant,’ she explains.

In previous years, she has lifted all her dahlias, but this year she will leave half of them in the ground under a thick mulch of straw and landscape fabric to protect the tubers from frost damage. Those that are lifted are divided in winter before they are carefully stored – in vermiculite, peat moss or even wrapped in clingfilm to stop them drying out – until it is time to plant them again in late spring. Erin’s parting advice is very simple: ‘In the growing season, just keep cutting and they will keep giving. You can be ruthless – cut deep into the plant, take longer stems and then the next round of stems will be longer.’ When you see the images of Erin’s bountiful harvest arranged in heavenly colour-themed abundance, you will no doubt want to recreate some of her magic yourself.

Erin’s book ‘Discovering Dahlias’ (Chronicle Books) will be published in March 2021.