Sweet William, the must have cut flower for late Spring

Sweet William bridge the cut flower gap between daffodils and all the wonderful cut and come again summer annual flowers. I grow Sweet William ‘Auricula Eyed Mixed’, A range of pinks in every shade and white, some even with stripes. This year they’re growing amongst self sown Nigella, the combination is perfect. They have competed for space, providing me with lovely straight long stems, perfect for cutting. They’re also self supporting each other, no need for netting which I forgot to put in place earlier in the year!

Nigella and sweet williamThe wonderful froth of Nigella and Sweet William

Nigella and Sweet William in the cutting gardenNigella and Sweet William in buckets

Some close ups:

Light blue nigella

White Nigella

Dark pink sweet william

Pink stripped sweet william

Pink Sweet William

White sweet william


All you need to know: Dahlias

Dahlia's in a bucket

Regulars to my blog will know of my passion for Dahlias. They’re amazing flowers that never fail to put a smile on my face. They come in a vast range of colours and shades, but, never blue and quite rightly so, a blue Dahlia is just wrong! Their shapes and sizes are also wonderfully varied, never allowing you to bore of their splendour. If I was a mathematician I would wax lyrical about their geometric patterns and Fibonacci numbers, but I’m not, I just love how some are pom poms, some open flowered, others water lily shaped and the show stoppers are the size of dinner plates! Once they start flowering in late June/July they don’t stop until the first frosts, they’re the best cut flower you can grow and my home never looks better when filled with their blooms. If I was to be hyper critical and in the pursuit of a balanced argument, they are lacking in scent, but it would only lead to a sensory over load whilst taking in their magnificent appearance, so a lack of scent is a good thing!

Dahlia bedThe Dahlia bed in full bloom

How to grow Dahlias:

Now is the time of year to go Dahlia shopping. Buying a Dahlia tuber is the best garden investment you’ll ever make! Your local garden centre will no doubt have a selection, but for a fully satisfying dahlia retail experience I would recommend:

http://www.peternyssen.com/  – A very dangerous web site, their bulbs are amazing and I just can’t stop myself, I worry every spring that the husband will notice the number of new bulbs I’ve invested in!

Dahlia Tubers from Peter NyssenAn exciting Peter Nyssen delivery

http://nationaldahliacollection.co.uk/ – another great dahlia shopping site, they’re based in Cornwall near Penzance, you can visit their amazing dahlia fields in the summer, well worth a trip if you’re on your holidays in that neck of the woods.

Plant up the tubers in approx. 10inch x 10inch pots (enough room for the dahlia to comfortably sit), water and keep them in a green house, conservatory etc. They’ll start to shoot, feed them every few weeks and keep watered. Don’t plant them out until the end of May when there’s no chance of frost, you’ll have nearly a foot of growth, and they be strong healthy plants that will be sufficiently mature to withstand a slug and snail attack. Dahlias are quite greedy plants, they like to be planted in ground that has been enriched with manure/ chicken poo pellets, in fact any fertiliser.

Planting a dahlia tuberPlace the tuber on a bed on compost in the pot

Planted Dahlia tuberFill the pot with compost leaving the old stem showing at the top of the pot

Dahlia tuber shootingNew dahlia shoots, if you have more than five, you can take cuttings from them with a sharp knife

Once planted you’ll need to stake them, many dahlias can hit a meter or more in height and width. A strong breeze will snap the stems destroying a dahlia plant in its prime.

Either cut the flowers for the home or let them put on a show in your border. If you’re not treating them as a cut flower it’s important to snip off the spent buds after flowering, dahlias are a cut and come again crop, that will stop flowering if they think they’ve gone to seed. Clip the for the pointy Spent buds, the dome shape buds are about to flower.

Dahlias in my home:

Dahlias on the fire place

Dahlias cut flowers

Dahlia Cafe au Lait in a vase

Dahlia in brown glass bottle

October posy of garden flowers

After the first frost the dahlia foliage will go black. You need to decide if you’re going to dig up your tubers or leave them in them planted over winter. Being a fan of low maintenance gardening techniques I leave mine in. I cut back the black foliage leaving a foot of stem (it’s a marker so you know where to look for new growth next year), I then mound up with 12 inches (30cm) of insulating mulch (wood chip, manure etc.), I’ve managed to successfully get dahlia through winters hitting -10°C. In spring, knock back the mulch ready for shoots to break through, do bear in mind this will be latter than the one brought on in the green house.

If you’re far more organised than me, want to ensure the survival of your dahlias over winter and bring on an earlier flower crop (June instead of July) dig up the tuber, (don’t store them in a tray like the books say, you’ll lose loads to rot), pop them in a pot with compost. Very lightly water and then just leave in the greenhouse over winter, when they start to shoot in Spring just follow the same steps as when you plant a new tuber.

Propagating dahlias:

You can never have too many dahlia plants! So, if you’re new to growing dahlias you’ll soon want to know how to multiply your stock.


When you’re growing dahlia tubers in pots you only really want five or six main stems, the others can be cut off, taking a little snag of tuber, pop into compost and grow on in the greenhouse, soon you’ll have a new plant. Just one tip, if the stem is older and hollow the cutting won’t take, it must be solid. Once the cutting starts growing and has a good root system, pot it on. It might not flower this year and it will benefit from staying in a pot and not plant out, a tuber will form over summer take the pot back into the green house for winter and then plant out the following year.

Dahlia cuttingA new cutting


This is the first year I’ve sown dahlia seeds, previously I’ve not gone down this route as I usually can’t stand the faddy duddy colours that the dahlia seeds often come in. However, I saw a cheap out of date packet of mixed colour pom poms and I couldn’t resist. Once sown I popped the seeds in my propagator and they germinated within four days. I’ll report back on their success, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for pinks and whites, I won’t be doing it again if I end up with yellows and peach flowers!

Dahlia seedlingsDahlia seedlings, they will need potting on in a few days.

Tuber division

After a few years, the dahlia tubers do get to an enormous size and do benefit from being dug up at the end of the season and divided up, then following the overwintering in a greenhouse method. This is an easy way to bulk up your dahlia stock.


If I’ve not convinced you yet to grow dahlias, take a look through these beauties:

Dahlia Sam HopkinsDahlia Sam Hopkins

Dahlia Possible Glorie van heemstedeDahlia possible Glorie van Heemstede

Dahlia Hillcrest RoyalDahlia Hillcrest Royal

Dahlia FurkaDahlia Furka

Dahlia EdinburghDahlia Edinburgh

Dahlia Cafe au LaitDahlia Cafe au Lait

Dahlia AmbitionDahlia Ambition

I hope I’ve inspired you to go dahlia shopping, it’s well worth it, they’re my number one flower and it’s incredibly easy to catch the slightly obsessive Dahlia bug!






Time to start cutting flowers for your home

Life’s on the up, we’re out of that dreary January/February patch. I’ve changed web service providers, so hopefully large chunks of my blog won’t go missing again, and most importantly the gardens blooming with late winter, early spring flowers. I’m filling the house with blooms again. My spirits are lifted!

Here are some of todays cut flowers giving my home a lift.

Late Winter PosyA winter posy of flowers from the garden. Tete a Tete Daffodils, Primulas, Pulmonaria, ornamental cherry blossom, and ‘Red Giant’ Mustard salad leaves from the greenhouse.

Crocus in a vaseA single crocus stem in a miniature bottle

A collection of winter flowers in a vaseI think a grouping of late Winter, early Spring flowers can make a stunning display

Hellebore in vaseA Hellebore, an essential garden and cut flower at this time of year. Try also floating the flowers in a dish.

Hellebores in a vaseTwo Hellebore stems sat on the Piano.

tete a tete daffodilDaffodils, Tete a Tete.




We had our first proper frost this morning; I suspect it will spell the end of my annual cut flowers and beloved dahlias for the year. The ice crystals on the edge of the dahlia petals did look magical first thing this morning, it was almost worth the soggy blackened dahlia mess I’ll be clearing shortly!

frosty-dahliaA dahlia in frost

dahlia-in-frostFrost lined edges to the dahlia petals

frost-on-the-car-windscreenSolid proof of frost on the windscreen!

frosty-grassFrozen grass on the lawn

This year we’ve been treated to an autumn spectacular, the leaves have been putting on an amazing display which has wowed me daily. The yellows, oranges and reds shine out in the warm low sunshine.  As the leaves elegantly glide to the ground, it makes me think I’m in an American movie set in ‘Fall’. Sadly my photographic ability has not been able to capture the wonderful colours and evocative atmosphere, but here are a few pictures to give an idea.

autumn-copper-beech-leavesCopper beech leaves


ginkgo-tree-autumn-leavesGinkgo leaves that have turned into an amzing yellow

viburnum-opulus-autumn-leavesViburnum Opulus leaves that have turned a rich red

Well, if this years supply of cut flowers are over, I’ll be happily cutting branches of autumn leaves to replace them.

Lots of flowers for cutting at the end of October

Here in Kent it’s been a very dry and warm autumn, we seem to get a bit of rain once a month at the moment. The result, abundant flowers in the cutting beds, the house is full of blooms and there are plenty for gifts. This was a little thank-you posy for a friend. I like the purple sage leaves with the pink dahlias, cosmos and penstemon.

october posy of garden flowersAn October posy of garden flowers

A garden find

I’m gradually working around the garden, taming and modifying, trying to create a manageable plot, before I start carving it up into more borders.  At present I’m tackling an out of control bamboo that’s attempting to colonise the whole garden. Once cut back I’ll take a mattock to the roots hopefully eradicating the menace. Whilst clearing this forest I found a large muddy brown bottle, half filled with rain water and the most disgusting contents that I will not go into! After a good deal of bleach, lots of scrubbing and the use of ‘magic balls’ (amazing metal balls which clean dirt and watermarks from the inside of bottles and vases), I have a fabulous new vase. I love the bottles large size and short neck.  It’ll be perfect for a couple of long shrubby stems.

dahlia-in-brown-glass-bottleLong stemmed dahlias looking stunning on the piano

Most of my vases are up-cycled. Before I put any glass container in the re-cycling I consider its flower worthiness. Your supermarket shop can inadvertently provide you with beautifully shaped glass containers, spice and mustard jars often come in perfect vase shapes. I also love home scent reed bottles, which are great as single stem vases. You just need to keep your eyes and mind open, even if the potential flower vessel is in a rotten smelly state!


Sweet Peas

Sweet Peas are the quintessential English cottage garden flower; there will always be a place for them in my garden just for the idealised romantic image they conjure up, let alone their scent and great properties as a cut flower. There aren’t many flowers that can better the summer fragrance that drifts around your home from a freshly picked bunch of sweet peas.

Swet Pea Flower

Over the years I’ve had mixed Sweet Pea success, with issues ranging from too short a stems for a cut flower, low flower yields and the plants giving up by high summer. This year it seems to of all come together and with one wigwam of clambering sweet peas I’ve been picking a couple posy’s every few days, the flowers just keep coming. I think there are a couple of factors that have aided sweet pea triumph this year. Their wig wam is situated in full sun; I’ve popped one of the watering system sprinklers at the base in the centre of the structure and enriched the soil with plenty of well rotted garden compost. This has resulted in strong healthy plants.

Sweet Pea posiesA mornings Sweet Pea harvest

Sweet PeasSweet Peas flowering up my home made willow wig wam


Drying poppy seed heads

Last summer I was so taken with the beautiful contorted stems of the opium poppy seed heads that I decided to cut and dry a few to display in a vase.  Not only did they look striking on the kitchen window sill they also filled the sparse home grown flower gap between November and February.

A vase of dried poppy seed headsLast years poppy stems that have filled a space on my kitchen window sill

Dried poppy seed headI love the dried poppies natural patina

This year I thought I’d fill a vase with poppy seed head stems, so we can have a large arrangement in our sitting room over the winter. I grow double opium poppies in my borders which happily self seed each year, they look gorgeous whilst in flower but once over their leaves start to die back leaving an unsightly mess in the border. Pull the whole plants out and break off the long poppy head stems from the main plant, stripping away the untidy leaves, this reveals the stunning contorted poppy stems and their amazing architectural seed heads.

Opium poppy when overThe poppies finished flowering and are now a messy sight in the flower bed

Papaver paeoniflorum - opium poppies doubleThe poppy in flower before revealing its wonderful seed canister

Poppy seed headsThe poppy stems stripped of leaves and popped in a vase

Poppy seed heads in a vaseThe poppy stems left in a corner to dry, come November they’ll be moved to pride of place in the sitting room

I think the poppy stems muted green seed heads with the white hazy polish that coats them looks fabulous now but I know as they dry the colour will change to the golden brown which will give our sitting room a warm, natural statuesque dimension in those lean winter months.



Sweet William, a stonking good cut flower

Sweet William from the cutting border

Sweet William my new no.2 all time favourite cut flower (nothing can knock my treasured Dahlias off the top spot!). This is my first year of growing them; I’m not sure why I’ve not grown them previously they just seemed to have passed me by.  I‘m now smitten, they’ve sent up bloom after bloom since May with a vase life in excess of two weeks and smell divine.  The seed packet says they’ll flower all summer so I’ll report back on their summer performance in a few months.

Sweet William Auricula Eyed MixedSweet William in the cut flower border

Sweet WilliamI love the whispy acid green flower buds that set of the blooms perfectly

Sweet William Auricula Eyed Mixed 2What a beauty!

This is the time of year to start sowing Sweet Williams. They’re biennials which will germinate quickly and easily. Transfer the seedlings to individual pots, and leave outside to grow until Autumn when they’ll need to be planted in their final flowering position. Biennials may seem a bit of a faff but they really are worth it, I think Sweet William must be one of the hardest working cut flowers in the kitchen garden. I’ve had twelve plants of ‘Sweet William Auricula Eyed Mixed’ in my cutting border this year and apart from two white ones the others have all come up in different shades of pink and red. I understand that if you wish Sweet William to take up a permanent position in a border, just leave a few flowers to set seed and they’ll self seed for you.

Sweet William SeedlingSweet William seedlings ready to be transfered to individual pots

Whilst you’re sowing your Sweet William it’s well worth sowing a few foxgloves too. Another must have biannual; I love the white ones in borders at this time of year.

White foxgloveWhite fox gloves lift a border at this time of year and stand out like ghosts at dusk

Pink foxgloveA self seeded invader. pretty but not white!


A quick and easy garden transformation

It’s that time of year when the weeds are fighting back and doubling in size on a daily basis. It’s time for a quick fix. Mow the grass and cut the edges, the garden gets an instant lift and you’ll barely notice the pesky weeds!

Before edgingBefore edging the lawn

After edgingAfter cutting the lawn edges, a huge improvement. Shame the boys can’t tidy up their toys!