Tucked away just outside Storrington along Fryern Rd is an amazing feat of horticulture -the UK’s largest Dahlia collection.
Run by the very passionate couple Phillip Godsmark and Mary-Ann Joyce, they grow literally thousands of Dahlias each year from seeds and tubers.
If you pass by in your car, or the local bus (Phillip swears that he has noticed more people sit on the side his farm is on so they can marvel) you will see fields of multi coloured blooms.
Though they grow mainly for cut flowers, each wedding normally requiring up to 300 blooms, Phillip’s real passion is creating new varieties. He bred Ryecroft Jan, a creamy white Pompon, which is currently one of the most popular Dahlia in the the world.
5,000 seeds a year
“I collect about 5,000 seeds each year from the cream of the crop. I then grow the seeds, as well as take cuttings and divide tubers, and trial them for 5 years before I send them out as a new variety as I want them to be world class.”
“My favourite moment is when I walk down the rows and see what the seeds have grown into. I don’t know what the bees have fertilised and cross pollinated so it is a complete surprise that I can’t predict. For every one new Dahlia that I discover I have planted 1000 seeds!”
“Yes” says Mary Ann “and we have run out of females in the family to name them after. That one there is called Sam Sunset named after our little dog who died when still young. Jan was named after Phil’s late sister.”
Phillip first came across Dahlias when he a boy. “Like everyone else in the 1960’s, my father grew them. I still love their variation of size and colour and shape. There is no flower like them. A local nursery used to exhibit them. They went out of fashion in the 80’s but they are back now.”
Which is very true- top designers use Dahlias for their amazing colour variations and heights, especially billowing over from the back of the border. When Summer has peaked these flowers really do hold centre stage and can flower well into October and even November.
“People come from miles”
Though they still exhibit at The National Dahlia Show at Wisley each year unfortunately for Phil and Mary-Ann, discovering and growing on new discoveries is not very profitable. After a year, their ownership of the variety ends and then anyone can make a cutting a sell the variety on.
“Every year we say we are going to give up but it’s difficult. People come for miles for them. Recently 4 Australians got off at Gatwick and came straight here. We grow and test Dahlia varieties sent to us from all around the world”.
But it is back breaking work. Every October, before the cold and damp set in, they dig up over 8000 tubers by hand, clean off the mud, label and store them in dry boxes under cover. “Because they originated from Mexico they don’t like wet feet and can only last a couple of days before they begin to rot. Even though we have good sandy soils here we sometimes have to hand wash and dry them.”
On the 10th April each year they plant them all back again along with the new seedings that carry the hope of discovering even more new varieties. “ I developed the first scented Dahlia in the world by crossing two that had a mild scent.”
Along side personal injuries and thefts from their farm it is hard work to keep such a big plot of land going as they also grow vegetables, Zinnias and Gladioli and sell direct from their farm shop to the public.
But they are still there! So if it is a warm Autumn you may still have a chance to see and buy some of the most beautiful Dahlias grown anywhere in the world- and some vegetables too!