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.

Cuttings

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

Seeds

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!

 

 

 

 

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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.

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A big crash!

Apologies for the lack of blogs. My service providers server had a bad crash and sadly I’ve lost all postings since November. I’m going to have a bash at reposting, then hopefully I’ll be back up and running.

In the meantime here’s a picture of snowdrops emerging from under our Oak tree today.snowdrops

Frost!

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

autumn-leaves2

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!

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Grow an easy wild flower meadow for the price of a few packets of seeds

There are two ways to create a wild flower meadow, one which will take some time, effort and money, the other is quick, easy and cheap. Bet you can guess which option I took!

If you want perfect swaths of meadow flowers reminiscent of the amazing wildflower landscaping around the London Olympic park in 2012, I recommend the first option; stripping turf, rotavating, sowing special seed mixes and ta-da, you’ll be rewarded with a fabulous meadow; well in the first year, you might be a bit disappointed in the second, still a great meadow but it won’t self sow quite as prolifically as previously.

If you’re just after an area of garden that looks naturalistic with a few wild flowers and is a haven for wildlife, save yourself some time and money and go with my favoured second option.

For most wild meadow flowers to thrive the soil needs to be poor in nutrients, so a well tended, manure enriched part of the garden is not going to work that well, if this is what you’ve got, go for poppies and a cut flower annual mix which will give you a pretty garden meadow effect.

The perfect spots are often already grassed, in the past I created a lovely meadow in a mini orchard at our old house. Now I want to recreate the effect along the banks of our ditch and pond. This is an area we leave to its own devices, just regularly mowing a path and strimming the longer grass once a year in August. It’s already a haven for wildlife but we’d like to attract more and add some colour to enhance the walk around the pond.

meadow-along-ditchI plan to have a wild flower strip along the side of the ditch, in the rough grass to right of the path

meadow-along-ditch-and-to-side-of-pondThe wild flower strip will extend along the ditch, around the pond where you can see the rough grass

To give wild flowers the chance to thrive they need a bit of space, lush thick grass is going to smother any self respecting wild flower when it attempts to set seed. A clever solution to this problem is to grow Yellow Rattle, this pretty yellow flower is parasitic on grass roots extracting water and minerals. In the past it was hated by farmers as Yellow Rattle can reduce a hay crop by 50%. This is just what we’re after. If the Yellow Rattle does start to take over, deterring wild flowers you can just cut it back before it sets seed one year. The trick is to sow Yellow Rattle seed now in Autumn as it needs a long period of chill to enable germination in Spring.  The easiest way to sow Yellow Rattle is by scrapping away a small patch of grass, digging the soil so it’s not too compact, watering and then sprinkling a few seeds. Repeat this every few feet in the area you want to establish a meadow.

yellow-rattle-seedA packet of 600 Yellow Rattle seeds for £1.80

sowing-yellow-rattleOne of the little patches ready for Yellow Rattle to be sown in

I then wait till spring to sow wild flower seed into pots with low nutrient seed compost. Once established in early May, I then pot out into the meadow area, allowing them to thrive and set seed starting the annual cycle of a wild flower meadow.

After the meadow is planted there is just one rule. Cut the meadow once a year in late July/ August, after flowering, leave the ‘hay’ to dry, allowing seed to disperse and set for next year. After a week or so remove the hay as you don’t want it to rot down into the soil adding nutrients.

I look forward to posting some blooming meadow pictures early next summer.

Below are some suggested wild flowers for different sites:

Woodland / shaded area

Wood Sage

Hedge Garlic

Hedge Woundwort

Herb Bennet

Nettle Leaved Bell Flower

Ragged Robin

Red Campion

Self Heal

Square St Johns Wort

Sweet Cicely

Upright Hedge Parsley

Wild Angelica

Wild fox glove

Wood Sage

 

Clay soils in an open aspect

Autumn Hawkbit

Betony

Birdsfoot Trefoil

Corn Poppy

Cowslip

Goatsbeard

Lady’s Bedstraw

Lesser Knapweed

Meadow Buttercup

Meadow Vetchling

Musk Mallow

Ox Eye Daisy

Ragged Robin

Ribwort Plantain

Self Heal

Common Sorrel

White Campion

Wild Carrot

Yarrow

Yellow Rattle

Wild Clary

 

Sandy soils in an open aspect

Agrimony

Meadow Cranesbill

Birdsfoot Trefoil

Corn Poppy

Dark Mullein

Kidney Vetch

Lady’s Bedstraw

Meadow Buttercup

Musk Mallow

Ox Eye Daisy

Ribwort Plantain

Self Heal

Sorrel

White Campion

Wild Carrot

Yarrow

Yellow rattle

 

Chalk Soils in an open aspect

Birdsfoot Trefoil

Common Vetch

Corn Poppy

Cowslip

Dropwort

Kidney Vetch

Lady’s Bedstraw

Meadow Buttercup

Meadow Cranesbill

Musk Mallow

Ox Eye Daisy

Rough Hawkbit

Ribwort Plantain

Salad Burnet

Self Heal

Common Sorrel

Small Scabious

Wild Carrot

Wild Marjoram

 

 

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Autumn produce from the garden and a bit of magic

The low, warm, golden, autumn sun has lured me out into the garden, the morning rays highlighting blooms, transforming them into beautiful jewels.

I tried to capture the magical atmosphere with pictures, but sadly they don’t quite compare to the real thing.

nasturtiumA nasturtium radiating the golden light

dahlia-paul-emoryDahlia – Paul Emory

dahlia-halloweenDahlia – Halloween, looking as spooky as a dahlia can get!

dahlia-cafe-au-laitDahlia, Cafe au Lait, shouting ‘put me in vase’!

dahlia-light-yellowDahlia, unknown. Looking very elegant.

dahlia-selinaDahlia Selina, which was glowing in the sunlight

dahlia-rip cityDahlia Rip City, looking mighty fine!

dried-articoke-flowersDried artichoke flowers that will give sone winter structure to the kitchen garden

We’re enjoying the autumn bounty from the garden. Squashes are not only a delicious kitchen delicacy that’ll store throughout the winter. They also make gorgeous table decorations. The usual bunch of garden flowers have made way for a platter of squashes, their colours are inspiring, with fabulous depth, more enticing than a Farrow and Ball colour chart!

squash-table-centreMy squash table centre

squash-honey-bear-crown-princeCrown Prince and Honey Bear, ready to be harvested

the-autumn-squash-bedMy Squash and courgette jungle!

butternut-squash-hunterThis fella sucessfully took my chair out of action this summer!

Every year I grow a few Cape Gooseberry (Physalis) plants; there orange fruits encased in a paper lantern have a unique zing which I find very moreish. They can also be served as an indulgent treat by pealing the paper lantern back to reveal the berry which can be half submerged in melted chocolate then allowed to dry, delicious!

cape-gooseberries-physalisA few Cape Gooseberries, a yummy garden snack

cape-gooseberry-physalis-growingThe delicate Cape Goosebery lantern

My apple thinning quest earlier in the year has paid off. The boring tedious task of thinning bunches of apples down to a pair has meant we have a lovely crop of apples this year.

delicious-apples

autumn-cooking-apples

autumn-apples

applesA few shots of this years apple crop

How to make easy peasy bunting

I love bunting; it’s the perfect summer garden accessory. It makes me think that every day’s a party, adding fun, colour and movement to the garden as it flaps in the wind. It also makes an atmospheric interior decoration. I made some bunting from deck chair material to hang in our newly renovated summer house, as mentioned in my last posting here’s an easy peasy guide to making bunting:

Deck Chair BuntingBunting hanging over our patio

First of all choose your bunting fabric. Select a heavier weight curtain or upholstery fabric, this will hang well outside. Another tip is to select a reversible fabric. If your bunting is hanging outside it will need to look good from both sides. I chose deck chair material for its thick heavy weight, and it has no ‘wrong’ side.

To make the bunting you will need:

  • Sewing machine
  • Measuring tape
  • 5 meters of cotton bias binding tape – I bought mine very cheaply off Amazon
  • Cotton – In a colour to complement the bias binding tape
  • Pins
  • Sharp Scissors
  • Sharp Pinking Shears – I learnt the hard way, blunt pinking shears that have been used to cut up Christmas cards don’t work!
  • Ruler
  • Pen

Equipment for making buntingAll you need to make bunting.

Measure a 28cm width of Fabric, mark with a pen, this will become the length of each bunting flag:

Bunting - Measure width of material

Along the 28cm pen line you’ve just drawn, mark out 22cm, this will become the top width of the flag. Repeat the 22cm marks all along the width of the fabric:

Bunting - Measure the top of the bunting flag

At the bottom of the fabric width measure 11cm and mark, and then measure 22cm, mark and continue repeating the mark every 22cm:

asure the flags bottom point

With a ruler and pen, mark out the flags using the guide marks you’ve just made:

Bunting - Draw the bunting sides

You then have a width of fabric marked out into triangles (the flags) 28cm long and 22cm wide at the top:

Bunting - The drawn flags

Next, cut the top and bottom edge of the bunting with scissors, creating a 28cm band with drawn triangles inside:

Bunting  - cutting

Then cut the angled sides of the bunting flags with pinking shears. This gives a zig zag edge to the fabric which prevents the material fraying, and saves us a lots of  time sewing!

Bunting - cutting the fabric with pinking shears

One of the bunting flags ready for sewing to the binding bias. You will need 11 flags in total, always have an odd number of flags to ensure there is a central one.

Bunting - the individual cut flags

Leave a 44cm length of binding bias tape at each end, then insert your flags into the binding bias tape and pin, leave a 17cm gap between each flag:

Bunting - Pin flags to bias binding

Pop in a pin to hold the binding bias tape together between each flag:

Bunting - pin the flags 17cm apart

Finally machine sew the bias binding tape to your bunting flags, carefully removing the pins before you get to them:

Bunting - Sew the flags to the bias binding

And that’s all there is to it, easy peasy bunting!

Summer House as an officeThe bunting in pride of place in the summer house