Peter spends his days with dahlias

Te Puke's Peter Burrell and one of his pride and joys. Photo: Chris Callinan.

Te Puke man Peter Burrell's passion for dahlias has grown from his wife Valerie. But not in the way you'd think.

“Val was the North Island secretary for the National Dahlia Society of New Zealand. And it meant I had to her cart all around the place for meetings and the shows and that.

“And I thought: ‘If I'm going to take you all around the place I'm going to put some tubers in'.”

That was 35 years ago – today the recently-turned 80-year-old is still at it. Still breeding, growing, showing – and worshipping – dahlias.

“I'm probably the oldest grower of dahlias in Bay,” says Peter, who has been in horticulture all of his life

So 35 years ago he “worked out” his garden and was going to put in 47 stakes. “And all of sudden Val went to this meeting and boxes of dahlia tubers came from far and wide – and I ended up with 164 stakes.”

After his first season of growing Peter saved three clumps of tubers. He admits “the rest weren't good ones”. But that didn't stop him.

“So we grew those and I've been showing [dahlias] ever since.”

Peter started his Kotare Dahlias brand about 28 years ago – and since then he's released a number of new varieties.

And last year he named a dahlia after his wife Valerie. “I called it Valiann – it hasn't been up on the show bench yet – but it will be.”

He also imports new breeds from England to get a different gene pool. “We cannot breed a blue dahlia in NZ – we can get pretty close to black, but we can't get blue.”

“Fimbriated dahlias, they love split florets. I have four new ones.”

And he still tries to show in Waihi, Hamilton and Rotorua. “I showed at the Hamilton show last weekend but I didn't do very good there this year. I've got a bad leg and I haven't been able to give them [the dahlias] the attention they deserve.”

Plus Peter's still a judge at some shows. “I'm off to Morrisville to judge today,” says Peter, who is also a former Dahlia Society of NZ president and vice-president

So what does Peter love about dahlias? “Well, they are so versatile in their colour range. I'm one of the NZ breeders – I've got some new ones no-one has seen yet.”

Peter says a lot of people having trouble keeping dahlias once picked or bought. “It's because they have a hollow stem. When you pick your dahlias you have got to cut them under water and make a hole in the stem about two inches above that. And that lets the air out. If you get the air out they'll last a lot longer.”

And you can use one teaspoon of clorogene and one teaspoon of sugar to one litre of water to keep them in.

And before you ask – no, Val does not grow dahlias. “She's too busy with bookwork,” says Peter. “She is a national treasure.”

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