The 'Bishop's Children' seed strain was developed from Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' (and the other bishops in his series), itself the result of an all-black foliage introduction from France in the late nineteenth century ('Lucifer'). A grower named Stephen Treseder produced a dark red peony-flowered beauty in 1927, which he decided to call 'Bishop Huges', but unfortunately the good bishop objected to his handle being used. The name was changed to 'The Bishop', which failed to make the grade in the face of harsh standards set by modern botanical nomenclature (use of 'The' is a botanical offence, no doubt punishable by death). Finally the 'Bishop of Llandaff' was born - and dahlia snobs (like myself) have worshipped him ever since.
I didn't actually realise I was a dahlia snob - I just knew that I liked what I liked. And what I liked had to be 'refined' (in my terms), have single or semi-double flowers and exceptionally good foliage. All hail The Bishop! But France has swung me there, as in so many things. I now delight in the fact that the French have a bit of a dahlia obsession. Everywhere you go, planted out by the side of the road, in fields, round the front door - they are everyone's favourite flower. And who can knock a plant - any plant - that's growing really, really happily? Certainly not me - I'm a convert.
When we moved to this garden in September 2011, I inherited a number of absolutely superb, dark red and purple dahlias - pompons, singles, all variations on a colour theme, but with their own quirky little personalities. Between the voles (whose favourite food their tubers seemed to be) and my own tendency to overwater in winter, they are all just a sad memory. I have to start rebuilding the collection next year, but at least the 'Bishop's Children' are a start. I'm going to try lifting the tubers between mid-October and the beginning of November (when the frost has blackened the stems) and overwintering them in bark chippings (from our autumn wood delivery), kept barely moist. Fingers crossed.
I think the 'Bishop's Children' foliage looks quite lush with Nicotiana langsdorffii and N. 'Perfume Mixed' (even though I do say so myself). Nicotiana are also 'rewarding' annuals - see above. Since I specialise in rather jungle-style plantings (mostly because they never get any aftercare) it may not be to everyone's taste, but I'm happy.