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By Dave Bates

Raising a new dahlia is easy, all plants raised from seed generate new varieties as the dahlia is a complete hybrid, and does not come true from seed. What is difficult is deciding which of the many new ones in the garden are worthy of retention for a second and subsequent years. It is usually worth having a very good friend review them with you as every one is seen as a swan by new and not so new raisers. The friend can be more objective and not so easily distracted by various factors that the raiser would use as excuses to retain a less than perfect flower. Although each seedling has a different genetic composition, on rare occasions the observable characteristics of two varieties appear the same. The ones that comes to mind are Charlie Two and Mascot Maya, both seedlings but indistinguishable by most observers. There will be other characteristics that make them unique, but they are not visible to the casual viewer.

Having decided that a seedling is to be retained for further trials, it is necessary to have some form of identification so that you know what it is. When there is only one, this is simple, but as the number increases it is essential that the raiser knows which of his new babies he is referring to as otherwise the wrong one may be fed to the compost heap at the end of the season. It is at this stage that many raisers use a numerical system, and have a notebook indicating what the number refers to in terms of form, colour and size, as well as height. After a two or three growing seasons, ideas on the new variety begin to be more concrete, and if it is at least as good as those already being grown and marketed, the need arises to find a name that is more meaningful and more memorable to those other growers who see it and may eventually want to grow it themselves. This is where the fun begins


Meaningful Names

How do you find a meaningful name? Perhaps you can come up with some event that you will remember, so for 2002 you could use the name Golden Jubilee, but how many other British raiser's would come up with the same name for a yellow cultivar, and what about those that came out at the beginning of the 1900's at Victoria's Golden Jubilee? They may not be available any longer, but there is absolutely no guarantee of that particularly when we have to consider the universal dimension of the flower. Raisers live all over the globe, and all have the same problem. My own records include some 26,000 varieties and I know of lists that contain even more. Cultivars seem to travel all over the world and can be grown in many countries, and in fact may perform better in a country to which they have migrated than in the original habitat. Maybe they prefer warmer or wetter conditions, or cooler or drier. Some types perform better in specific countries, for instance the majority of pompon dahlias originated in Australia, and even though the same varieties are grown in Britain, very few seem to produce seed, presumably due to differing climatic conditions. So can we find a name that is unique no matter where the variety has originated? Each raiser has to face the problem, and many resolve it in different ways. A popular way is to name the flower after a girl, but this generates its own problems. I already have records of at least ten different cultivars all named Patricia and eight that are named Norma.

If the flower is one of the yellow shades it may remind the raiser of the moonlight or the sunlight, but there already 22 varieties with Moonlight in their name, three of which are simply Moonlight, and five with Sunlight, two of which are Sunlight. Some raisers name their creations after someone who is special to them, for instance a wife , mother or father, but this practice is risky as the variety may eventually fail to make the grade and be an embarrassment to the raiser. The fact remains that many varieties have been named after people, famous or otherwise so that names of celebrities and others live on for many years. A few that come to mind are Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Doris Day, and Sir Alf Ramsey. A pink giant decorative from the mid 1900's is H.M.Queen Elizabeth, which on first sight would seem to have been named after Queen Elizabeth II, but on closer investigation, it originated during the reign of George VI, and was in fact named after his queen, the late Queen Mother.


Unique Names

It is surprisingly difficult to generate unique names, especially ones that are memorable, and as a result, many raisers of more recent times have adopted the practice of using either a prefix or suffix to identify their raisings. Many years ago, this identified the nursery where they were raised, for example Haseley, used by Bill Daffern who had a nursery at Haseley Knob near Warwick, and Rothesay by James Lister whose nursery was located there. I noticed in an annual of the mid 1950's that the RHS frowned on this process of adding a prefix, but I am not aware that this is still the case, and many varieties with a prefix have now been registered. It could be argued that the use of a prefix or suffix would identify the exhibitor in a seedling class, but NDS regulations prevent the naming of seedlings until judging is completed to overcome this problem. However even the use of a prefix does not preclude the presence of duplicate names. Les Jackson uses the prefix Hillcrest as that is the name of his allotment site, but in my research, I have encountered a previous use of the Hillcrest prefix from the 1930s until the 1960s. I have been unable to identify who the raiser was, nor where they lived. At this time, only one of the names have been duplicated as Les often uses the names of family members as part of his names, the duplicate is Hillcrest Purity. I have been tracing the origins of prefixes and suffixes, and my findings are published on this website (WWW.DAHLIAWORLD.CO.UK). There are still a number of gaps in the reasons for the selection of prefixes and I would be grateful if anyone can help with information to fill the gaps.



There are numerous prefixes in use from different countries, and the origins of many are similar. Some are based on nursery names or the raisers surnames, for example Hockley (S J Spencer, Essex), Crossfield (W J Summerscales, Wakefield), Mingus (Phil Mingus, USA), and Korb (D Korb, USA), while a number are based on the house or street of the raiser, for example Hamari (Pi Ensum, Surrey), Trengrove (Gerry Woolcock, Essex), Brookfield (Gareth Rowlands, Bedford) and Davenport (Alan Dunlop, Northumberland). Some are based on the town, village or area where the raiser lives, for example Rossendale (Don Kershaw, Lancashire), Trelyn (Roy Tudor, South Wales), Wootton (Les Jones, Leek Worton, Warwicks) and Danum (Fred Oscroft, using the Roman name for Doncaster). A few are based on allotment sites, including Teesbrooke (Phil Orley, Hartlepool) and Rycroft (Phil Godsmark, Sussex), and some are based on geographic features of the raiser's area. These include Cherwell (June Davis, Banbury near the Cherwell River), Chiltern (Keith Fleckney, Tring on the Chilterm Hills) and Oreti (Kit amd Walter Jack, South Island New Zealand, near the Oreti River). A few have a more poetic basis, for example Davar (Jim Whitton, Surrey made up from Da(hlia) var(iabilis)), and Kotare (Peter Burrell, New Zealand, the Maori name for a kingfisher). Several are generated from the names or initials of the raisers and their families. These include Barbarry (Barry Davies, Barnsley from Barbara and Barry), Baron (Ron Miner, USA from Barbara and Ron), Jaldec (Derek Hewlett, Hayes from Jan, Andrew, Lesley, Derek, Evelyn and the cat) and my own Amgard (from Anthea, Margaret, Graham, Allan, Rosie and Dave). Another interesting one is Hy, used by Wayne Holland of British Columbia who disliked long names, especially when writing labels, and the use of Hy allowed him to generate clever names like Hy Fashion. As a matter of interest, the longest name I have found to date is Mevrouw Putman Crainer van der Hegge Zijnen, some 43 characters, fancy writing that on a dozen labels (if you can find any long enough)! Obvoiusly, long names tend to be abbreviated on labels and this can lead to further confusion in posterity. Why would a dahlia be named Lupin? When Willard Morin and Bonnie Jones moved into their USA home, the garden was full of lupins, but these were gradually replaced by dahlias (a bit like lawns in the UK), so they decided to use Lupin as their prefix when they began to raise their own varieties.



There are far less suffixes than prefixes and many are based on either the initial or the surname of the raiser, these including Huston (Earle Huston, Canada), Doc (Frank Docherty, UK) and K (J Arthur Kieffer, USA).. An interesting one is boy, used by Arthur Hayes of Kenilworth. When he had his first seedling, it was described as "a good old boy", and the boy stuck for nearly all his subsequent raisings including Playboy, Page Boy and Country Boy to name but a few.


Interesting Names

A few cultivars have quite interesting names in their own right. One such is Kenora Macop B, a dark red fim, raised by Gordie Leroux of USA. Gordie uses the prefix Kenora since it was the name of the place where he was born in Canada. A prolific raiser, he has suffered ill health and during 1987 he was diagnosed with a non Hodgkins lymphoma, and started on sixteen weeks of weekly chemotherapy. The therapy was new and called MACOP-B for the medicines methotrexate, adriamycin,
cytoxan, oncovin, prednisone, and bleomycin. . During chemo, weekly blood tests were done. The adriamycin, called "the red devil," was a red color. He decided to name his seedling Kenora Macop-B because its dark red color reminded him of the adriamycin and of the numerous blood tests.

Many help to make up their own bit of history, going back to D.Day and Victory Day from the 1940s, with Swan's Desert Storm from the early 1990s. In horticultural terms, the garden festivals of the 1970s and 1980s are remembered with Stoke Festival 86, Ebbw Vale Festival, Garden Festival and Gateshead Festival.



By convention, sports are usually named with the parents name included in some way, and often the colour is attached, eg Pink Worton Ann, and Primrose Pastelle. Sometimes another name can be attached to indicate that it is different from the original, such as the raiser's or a relative's name or prefix, eg Emma's Coronet, and Dave's Kiss. A problem with sports that is uncommon with seedlings is that similar sports can occur in different places at the same time. Each raiser is unaware of the other sport, and in this way we get sports that are eventually classified as synonyms, eg Barbara's Pastelle and Sunlight Pastelle; Amber Festival and Amber Gateshead Festival. In past years, the convention of including the parent name was not always followed and we had Terpo with its sports of Barbara Rooke and Betty Russell. Growers would not have realised that these were related unless they had prior knowledge. It seems that adopting the convention is making life easier for fellow growers.



When a new variety is produced and ready to be released, it is a good idea to submit it for registration by the RHS. The RHS hold an international register of dahlia names, initially set up on 1969 and updated each year subsequently. Their list currently holds some 18,500 varieties. Information required to register consists of the variety name, type, colour along with the raiser's name, but much more can be included as the forms are quite extensive. Registration forms can be obtained from The Dahlia Registrar, RHS Gardens, Wisley, Surrey, to whom they should be returned on completion.

Click here for a registration form


This article was written in 2001 for the National Dahlia Society


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