A windy, drizzly day but we didn’t let that stop us from getting outside and enjoying the garden.
We started off the morning by having an in-depth discussion about the cultivation of Dahlias.
Dahlias are tender perennials/root tubers (not stem tubers, eg. potatoes). They were first introduced into Europe from Mexico in 1791 and are thought to have been named after the Swedish botanist Anders (Andreas) Dahl. All the energy for the growing season is stored in the tuber and they are often dug up and taken into a frost-free environment in order to preserve them for the following year. However, over the last couple of years we have left many of our dahlias in the ground, protecting them with a good layer of mulch. We have found that this produces fatter tubers and stronger, bigger plants. (When we want to take up tubers in order to change displays the following year, we leave digging them up until the first frost).
The tubers should be planted up in pots in mid spring in a gritty mix of compost, just proud of the soil, about a couple of centimetres away from the rim of the pot (to enable watering). Make sure the tubers are firm, not squidgy or shrivelled- somethimes the tubers dry out or rot off whilst they are in storage. Place in a light, frost-free place and watch out for the first shoots to emerge when you can take cuttings if you wish.
Taking cuttings from a dahlia tuber – With a small sharp knife, remove the shoot growing from the collar of the tuber, making sure there is a small piece of tuber attached. Plant shoots in a pot filled with gritty compost (to ensure good drainage) at the edge of the pot, encouraging good root growth and water well morning and evening. Dahlias grow fast and these shoots will make good-sized plants in one growing season.
When it is time to plant them outside, add lots of well-rotted manure and keep them fed (every couple of weeks) and well-watered. Remember to stake them early on and protect them from slugs and snails! Once the dahlias have grown four pairs of leaves, pinch out the tip above the third pair to encourage bushier plants. Dead head regularly and you will be rewarded all summer long with blooms right up to the first frosts.
Richard told us about his visit to Lake Constance in Germany and the botanical garden on Mainau, an island in the middle of the lake. Every year, thousands of dahlias are planted which make a stunning display.
Plants looking good in the garden at the moment:
Ficaria verna ‘Brazen Hussy’ or lesser celandine ‘Brazen Hussy’
Part of the ranunculaceae family, this compact tuber rooted perennial has dark, heart-shaped, blackish-bronze leaves with bright yellow flowers in early spring. It is summer dormant, the flowers and foliage disappearing completely. It grows well in partial or full shade in moist, humus-rich soil. Divide or remove the basal bulbils in the spring or autumn to make new plants.
Chionodoxa luciliae or Glory of the Snow
Similar to Scillas, these little blue flowers are one of the first bulbs to bloom in spring. They naturalise easily and do well under deciduous trees where they flower before the leaf canopy creates shade. Plant in a sunny spot in well-drained soil and leave cutting back the plants until the foliage has died back, enabling them to self-seed.
Chiniodoxa forbesii ‘Pink Giant’ is another attractive cultivar.
Both hail from the easterm Mediterranean regions of Turkey and Cyprus.
Ribes speciosum or Californian fuchsia
This medium-sized deciduous shrub has spiny, bristly stems with small, glossy, oval-shaped leaves and drooping, crimson, fuchsia-like flowers in late spring. It looks good against a sunny wall and benefits from being sheltered and away from exposed sites. It should be planted in fertile, well-drained soil and would benefit from the old wood being pruned out after flowering. The new shoots may then be trained along wires on the wall. It originates from the west coast of America and was thought to be pollinated by hummingbirds. It arrived here on HMS Blossom back in 1828, brought back by a Mr. Collie who as well as being a naturalist was also a surgeon. A lovely example can be seen at West Dene near Chichester.
Pulmonaria officinalis or common lungwort
This semi-evergreen perennial grows to 30cm with wide, spotted greeny-white leaves. Blooming from the top down, the pink flowers turn blue when they have been pollinated. They like moist, humus-rich soil in partial shade and the leaves should be cut back after flowering to encourage growth of fresh foliage over the summer. P. ‘Blue Ensign’ and P. ‘Saccharata’ are notable cultivars (see below).
Forget-me-nots, brunnera, anchusa and borage are all related to pulmonarias
According to the Doctrine of Signatures written during the 1600’s and arising from folk medicine dating from the Middle Ages, plants looking like parts of the body could be used for treating illnesses of these body parts. In this case, the blotchy leaves of the Pulmonaria were said to reassemble lungs and so were used for treating lung disease.
Jobs this week:
Despite the miserable weather, we were busy in the garden looking ahead and preparing for the summer to come:
- Sowing seeds in the potting shed.
We’re taking inspiration from Sarah Raven’s The Bold and Brilliant Garden and The Cutting Garden which includes a plan for a small cutting garden plot. Today we were sowing Ricinus communis ‘Carmencita’ and annual Dahlia ‘Bishops Children’. Also sunflowers and nasturtiums for the dahlia bed.
- Bringing dahlias out of the summerhouse and potting them up for storage in the greenhouse.
- Weeding the new Tulip Bed.
- Weeding under the apple tree at the bottom of the garden and preparing sedums to plant later.
- Checking the auriculas in the auricula theatre in the Top Garden, checking for vine weevils and repotting.
- Sorting out Little Dixter
- Replanting strawberries in wine boxes and giving them a good feed.
- Checking the hanging baskets containing succulents, adding plants and topping up with moss and grit where necessary.
- Sorting out seedlings in the greenhouse and harvesting winter salad leaves.
Let’s hope for some sunshine next week!