Tag Archives: perennials

Dahlias give you parrots and sunshine in your garden

First published by Rattan Direct on 14 August 2016.

What are dahlias and where do they come from?

The dahlia is the national flower of Mexico. It was introduced into Europe at the end of the eighteenth century and is named after Anders (Andreas) Dahl (1751–1789), a Swedish botanist. After a few decades out of fashion, dahlias are popular again.

Dahlias give you parrots and sunshine in your garden, at the very least

Summer dahlias near Botloe's Green, Gloucestershire.
Summer dahlias near Botloe’s Green, Gloucestershire.
© Jonathan Billinger and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

Well, that’s the view of James Alexander-Sinclair speaking at the 2014 Kelmarsh Hall Dahlia Festival:

Dahlias. More colourful than a bucket of parrots and more exotic than a tropical sunset.

Dahlias come in warm vibrant colours and a wide range of flower types from simple to pompom. In your garden, they will certainly give you colour (and how!) from the end of the summer and on into October. They are good for bees and other pollinators (we’re very keen on that) and you can cut them for flower arrangements. You can grow them in pots or use them to plug any gaps in your borders.

Dahlia beds (detail), Heddon Nurseries near Heddon-on-The-Wall, Northumberland. Dahlias
Dahlia beds (detail), Heddon Nurseries near Heddon-on-The-Wall, Northumberland.
© Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

Are dahlias really difficult to grow? Are they hard work?

It depends on your garden, the weather, how much time and storage space you have and the depth of your purse.

Dahlias are tolerant of most soils and like full sun. The Royal Horticultural Society tells you more here but in brief:

  • Plant tubers from May to early June. (You can also grow them from seed.)
  • Protect them from slugs and snails.
  • Stake them as they grow and before they flower because the flowers are quite big and heavy and the plants can be quite tall.
Dahlias staked before flowering at Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire.
Dahlias staked before flowering at Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire. Sarah Buchanan
  • They flower from mid-summer to autumn. To ensure more flowers, keep cutting the flowers and deadheading. Feed with tomato feed every two weeks until early September.
  • Straight after the first frost, around November, either dig up the tubers, leave to dry in a cold greenhouse, brush off the soil, trim and put in a box of dry compost in a shed ready for planting next spring.
  • Or leave them in the ground, mulch thickly and hope that the frost and cold weather don’t get them. Buy more if they succumb and die.

Read more in Ambra Edwards’ interview with Nick Gilbert, who runs a dahlia nursery in Romsey in Hampshire.

Go and have a look

Intrigued? Go and have a look at the ‘hot’ beds and borders in local parks and gardens. Dahlias are just coming up to their peak now.

Nick Gilbert says that his dahlia field in Hampshire (you can see it from space, according to Ambra Edwards) will be at its best in 2016 from the end of August to the beginning of September, a little later than usual because of cold and wet conditions in May and June.

The Bishop’s Palace at Wells in Somerset has a bed of all the dahlias called ‘Bishop of … ‘  (Bishop of Llandaff, Bishop of Canterbury, Bishop of York, Bishop of Auckland and so on).

The dahlia fields at Halls of Heddon in Northumberland are planted out in the second week of June with almost 6,500 plants in nearly 350 varieties. They are open for viewing from mid August to the end of September each year.

In Northamptonshire, Kelmarsh Hall’s 2016 Dahlia Festival is on 18 September 2016.

Dahlias at Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire. Sarah Buchanan.
Dahlias at Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire. Sarah Buchanan.

I shall be out there looking too. That’s because (full disclosure) I’ve blocked dahlias for years, mainly for slug-related reasons. It will be good to explore the meaning of dahlias beyond (1) Bertie Wooster’s favourite Aunt Dahlia who, interestingly, has a reddish-purple complexion and (2) Raymond Chandler’s night club in The Blue Dahlia.

Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd in trailer for "The Blue Dahlia" (1946). Dahlias
Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd in trailer for “The Blue Dahlia” (1946)
Public domain







Gardening tips: buy bargain plants and make your bulbs last

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 22 June 2016.

Bargain plants and making bulbs last from one year to the next can reduce the cost of gardening.

Top tip: bargain plants

Garden fetes, plant tables at school fairs and pop up plant stalls outside people’s homes offer a great opportunity to buy locally grown, tried and tested plants. Bargain plants! These may be rooted cuttings, established plants or leftover seedlings and young plants grown in local gardens. Prices are usually competitive, funds may go to good causes and – just as important – these plants are growing near you and are likely to thrive in your garden.

Bargain plants are plants that thrive in yoru garden
Look out for pop up plant stalls near you – they are likely to sell plants that will like your garden, and often at good prices. Sarah Buchanan, Somerset.

Other year-round sources of bargain plants include garden centres that offer plants just past their best at reduced prices, and I have many of these ‘casualty corner’ plants thriving in my garden. But beware the dried up, tired and feeble looking plant whose roots are bursting out of the pot and which, frankly, does not look as if it will live. It won’t be a bargain if it dies soon after you plant it at home. But shrubs and perennial plants that are just past their peak are a great bargain, and it is often a better time to plant them rather than when they are about to burst into flower or fruit.

Top tip: make bulbs last from one year to the next

Flowering bulbs are planted while they are dormant and grow underground to give us fantastic flowers as varied as allium, crocosmia, daffodil, gladioli and hyacinth. Look after your bulbs as they grow and they will reward you with flowers from one year to the next.

Water and feed

Make sure the soil around bulbs in pots doesn’t dry out when the bulbs are showing leaves and flowers, and for at least six weeks after they flower. The soil should feel moist, not wet, to the touch.

Apply a general-purpose fertiliser, such as Growmore (35g per square metre/1 oz per square yard), to bulbs in your borders during late February to encourage bulbs to flower well in the following season. In pots, apply a liquid high-potassium feed, such as tomato fertiliser, from early spring until six weeks after flowering ends.

Deadheading and cutting back leaves

Cut back dead flowers to the base of the flower stalk. Six weeks or more after flowering is over, cut back leaves that are yellow, brown and straw-like. It’s an old, bad, habit to tie or knot the leaves after the flowers are over. The leaves feed the bulbs for more flowers next year – give them the best chance to stun you with their flowers.

Bargain plants
Wait for the leaves of bulbs to die back before removing them. Sarah Buchanan

Lifting and storing bulbs

There is a lot of debate about this. If you want, or need, to lift and store bulbs, only do it once the leaves have died down. Then, use a small fork to ease the bulbs out of the soil, taking care not to damage them. Clean the bulbs, trim back roots with secateurs and remove outer loose, flaking layers. Only keep good sized, healthy bulbs (looking like ones you might buy) because damaged or diseased bulbs will get worse in storage and affect others. Dry the bulbs in an open tray in a shed or garage for at least 24 hours before storing them in labelled paper (not plastic) bags, cardboard boxes or nets in a dry, cool place.

The RHS advice is to ‘lift and store bulbs where this is practical’ and to leave in place bulbs in grass, borders or containers where they are underneath, and coming up through, shrubs or perennials. But read on about tulips – the special case in bulb circles.

Tulip bulbs need special care

Most bedding type tulips won’t flower year on year unless they are lifted, dried and re-planted. Follow the advice for other bulbs until they their leaves have turned yellow (about six weeks after flowering). If you have to move them sooner, put the bulbs and foliage loosely in trays until the leaves become yellow and straw-like. Clean the soil off the bulbs and discard any that may be diseased or damaged. Make sure the bulbs are completely dry before storing in trays or nets in a warm, dark well-ventilated place 18-20°C (65-68°F) before replanting in the autumn. Even after all this, another year of flowering is not guaranteed so plant the old bulbs in the less important beds, borders and containers in your garden and the new bulbs in the most conspicuous areas.

Within the tulip family, dwarf species (such as Tulipa kaufmanniana, T. fosteriana, T. greigii and their hybrids) often flower year on year without lifting,  and only need to be lifted to divide when overcrowded. And in warm soils, where the bulbs can be baked in summer, some species may flower from year to year and possibly multiply.

Bargain plants
Many tulip bulbs need to be lifted and stored if they are to flower year on year. Image by Rosendahl, in the public domain.