The scent of damp earth underfoot permeates the air. I step into this spectacular garden and am immediately presented with a sea of dazzling dahlias in every colour you could imagine. The sky is overcast but the quiet dull clouds overhead only enhance the startling colours.

Now in its fourth year, Aylett’s famous home-grown dahlia field and celebration garden were originally created to the celebrate its 60th year of business back in 2015. Open from June to December every year, it has become part of the National Garden Scheme, with over sixty species of dahlias putting on a show. I’d never realised that Aylett’s has been growing and nurturing dahlias for the past 60 years and, unsurprisingly, has won over fifty Gold RHS medals over the years.

The dahlias have been neatly arranged in rows, displaying sixty dahlia plant varieties in total. It’s fascinating how just one species of flower can offer so many rich forms of colour and size, from perfectly spherical pompoms flushed in powder pinks to robust, star-shaped ‘Arabian nights’ in the deepest burgundy. Everywhere I look, dahlias flower prolifically. Resilient, thick petals unfurl in every shade imaginable, some reaching more than ten inches in diameter.

I walk up and down, in between the rows, my head spinning with every shade from lemon, ivory, and peachy pinks to dazzling darker tones of fuchsias and purples. Countless elaborate names like Irish glow, Ms Kennedy and Glorie Van Heemsted match their glamorous ruffles. I stop and stare at a dahlia with a collarette; it almost looks as if has been artificially embellished to create a wow factor and would make the perfect red taffeta dress finished in frills and lace. Fashion designers are endlessly inspired by the intricacies of such floral colours, textures, shapes and forms.

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The history of the dahlia dates from Aztec times and to this day it remains the national flower of Mexico. The first seeds were sent to Spain in the 18th Century and eventually to England. It was considered to be an exotic flower. Dahlias have the longest bloom season of any other garden flower. They flower prolifically, thriving in the sunlight and need plenty of room to develop and to be sheltered from strong winds. I’m relieved that they have survived the recent blazing heat we had in early August.

I wander deeper along a grassy path and wind my way through this beautiful celebration garden, with its mixed borders packed with shrubs, perennials, herbaceous plants and wildflowers. A mix of contrasting colour upon colour awakens my senses. A spectacle of shapes and harmonious colour combinations. Ornamental grasses enhance the floral spectacle, adding a sense of lushness and movement. I stand beside a giant purple thistle, rugged textured and tough. It’s so tall that it towers over me! It has a strong presence and nothing’s going to stop this thriving species from bursting into life.

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This beautifully complex garden plan has been designed by Mrs. Aylett. I can imagine all of the hard work that has gone into this stunning space that has been so expertly cultivated. It is a labour of love, a gift to our community where all are welcome to linger on a bench or come and have a picnic.

Arranging plants in a harmonious and ordered way is an art form following on from the traditional Renaissance and later the Elizabethan gardens. By the 17th Century the flower garden was already established here in England. Characteristics included tea houses and small bridges. This led to the informality of the quintessentially English cottage garden, with its richly scented and jumbled charm, dense with flowers, herbs and fruit trees.

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Stepping into any garden twice is never the same experience. The seasons march on in a sophisticated dance. We gain sustenance from nature’s continual regeneration. Gardens allow us to connect with a physical space, taking us out of our mental self-absorption. Yet it is not merely a distraction but depicts a seasonal narrative of which we are part.

Gardens have always been a place of refuge, shelter and repose. In her book Life in the Garden ­— part memoir, part exploration of literary gardens ­— Penelope Lively expresses her “abiding astonishment at the fury for growth at the tenacity of plant life, at the unstoppable dictation of the seasons” and contemplates “their resonance, the power of smell…. their ability to summon up another time, another place”.

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How remote from the city I feel. I have enjoyed my solitary stroll into this hidden garden. It has been a refuge. A delight in colour, form and scent. It is so beautifully designed that I have not daydreamed or engaged in idle thoughts for a single moment. The best gardens have an oneiric quality to them which captures us on some subliminal level and engages us with a world that extends beyond itself. Such gardens do not distract us in a superficial way but lift our mood, evoke memories, make us feel part of a planet and of that seasonal regeneration of which we are an inherent part – a narrative that supports us and carries on and on.

  • Marisa Laycock moved to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city. These columns are also available as podcasts from 92.6FM Radio Verulam at .