Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dahlias, well worth the effort

Dahlia 'Berwick Wood' in the Botanic Gardens

Dahlia 'Ludwig Helfert'
It was with great pleasure that I visited the Botanic Gardens recently, ensuring I dropped by the Dahlia area, where they had a fine selection of plants available for viewing. I did this last year too, a number of times, and this year, I have to say, I was surprised at how small the plants were this year, compared to mine at home, although I know these will continue growing. This didn't mean there wasn't a fine selection of flowers to see though - there was colours covering almost the full spectrum of the rainbow, and many different forms and types too. I used my pocket knife in each of the pictures in order for readers to be able to have some idea of the size of the flowers, and boy, were they big and colourful !
Dahlia 'Janal Army'

My own preference is for Dahlia plants that grow above knee height, and have their flowers well above foliage height, in order for viewers to really get the best out of them. Some varieties have the flowers hidden, or partially hidden, by the foliage, which is of little benefit.
Dahlia ' Taratahi Ruby'

During the summer, I have included Dahlia's in some of the plant talks or discussions I've had, talking about the benefits of growing them, the care needed and of course how to regrow them year after year. I continue to be surprised by people that will purchase them as plants, rather than tubers, and then decline to make any effort to overwinter the plants, preferring instead to let them them take their chances and if they re-grow, that 's fine, and if they don't - well, more will be purchased...
Dahlia 'Kenora Challenger'

So, for my part I do try to convey how, with a little effort, the easiness of growing these very rewarding plants are to:
Dahlia 'Bracken Ballerina'

In the spring, probable March, bring out (or purchase some) Dahlia tubers. 

Place these tubers into pots of good compost (I used crates this year), covering them so only the tip of the stem is left exposed. 

Water the pot and place it into a greenhouse, coldframe or even onto a bright windowsill.
Dahlia 'Juliet'

After about 4-6 weeks, young shoots will appear. it is crucial at this point to ensure these are protected from slugs and snails - which absolutely love them !

Once we approach the end of May, when chances of frost are slim, we can begin hardening off the plants and then plant them into borders, containers, etc. 
Dahlia 'Clair de Lune'

Dead-head, protect from slugs and snails and feed. 

Most importantly though - enjoy, enjoy and enjoy.
Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff'

Once Autumn comes around, just before the first frosts, lift the tubers, remove most of the foliage and allow them to almost dry out in a shed or garage. 

Once we get into late November, I remove most of the remaining compost and store the tubers in a very sandy, slightly moist, medium - in a frost free shed or store.
Dahlia 'Evelyn'

And then in the spring, the cycle starts again. 
Dahlia 'Duet'

Even as I'm writing these steps, to the uninitiated it sounds like a lot of work, but honestly it isn't, and for the little work you put in, you are rewarded with flowers and colour from July, right through to first frosts.   

As I mentioned above, I used crates, lining them with newspaper and then filling with plenty of good quality compost to start the tubers off in. The idea was to grow blocks of colour that I could move into my shrub and flower borders to give late summer interest. As it turns out, I haven't moved them from where I hardened them off, as the colour and impact they have where they are has been fantastic - this is something I'm going to do again next year.  
Dahlia's (to the right) adding great impact to my colour display 

Happy gardening.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Plants for 2016 (Fuchsia propagation)

'Already talking about Christmas!' was a phrase I've heard a number of times on radio and from friends recently., mostly followed up by 'but sure it's still summertime ...! '. I listen with some amusement and say little, because I'm already thinking beyond Christmas. Like many gardeners, I'm thinking and planning for next summer ... 

And to this end, it is nice to finally get some time to 'do' my Fuchsia cuttings. I've had the compost modules prepared for a week at this point, and the intentions to get to work on my 2016 collection for at least three weeks ... 

The Fuchsia cuttings are just one of a number of plants I'll be propagating to overwinter. There will be other tender plants too, and perhaps the odd rose or shrub cutting as well. Many gardeners are also busy collecting seed too, in preparation for autumn or spring sowing, so plenty to get on with. 

Now about the Fuchsia's. I have a small collection of about two dozen. These have been collected over recent years through purchasing, cuttings from others and one or two I've had for some time. As you may know from some of my other 2015 blog posts (here and herethis group of plants, along with others, provide a mainstay of colour in the garden at this time of year. There are two ways to overwinter them. The first is to take the plants that are currently in flower and, as the days grow cooler and light shortens, reduce watering and bring them under cover from protection of winter frosts and cold, and then in spring they are potted on and restored. This works to a certain extent, although I noted last year I still lost about half a dozen varieties. A better way is to take cutting at this time of year (in fact early August would have been a little better), give them the necessary conditions to root, and overwinter them indoors in a cool room on a bright (but not sunny) window sill. Of course a heated glass house would be perfect too ... ). 

So this year I am going to use both methods, to give me the best chance of success leading to today's work. As mentioned, I had already pre-prepared some cutting modules, firstly washing them and then filling them with a mixture of 50%compost and 50% pearlite. These were then watered and left to drain. Taking the cuttings is easy with each one approximately two inches in length, from non-flowering health growth (where possible), using clean sharp tools to ensure there is as little damage to the plant tissue, thus minimising the chances of disease. The bottom cut should be just below some leaf nodes, sometimes I remove the soft foliage of the growing tip, cut away the lower leaves and finally, cut the remaining leaves in half, to reduce loss of water. Et viola .. cutting is ready. I wrote another post a couple of years ago with some good pictures and instructions, find it here

Next step is to put some rooting hormone powder on the cutting. There are various suggestions on how to do this. I like to mix the rooting hormone powder with some water, in a jam jar lid (or similar) and dip the cutting into this mix. This ensures a light coating of rooting hormone powder, but no too much of it. Then use a dipper to make a hole in your pre-prepared pots, or in this case modules, place the cutting in and firm the compost around the stem and water.

Job almost done. 

If you know the variety, write a label and the date of propagation and insert. Then mist the leaves and cover. In this case the cutting modules are in a heated small propagator, which has a lid. These will be inspected every second day, any condensation build up wiped and plants will be misted at the same time. I expect the plants will take two to three weeks to begin to generate roots and by the end of October we might see the startings of roots coming through the bottom of the modules. Of course it is important not to pull the cuttings out to check if there are roots as you may damage what ever is there. 

Patience and regular tending are the keys here. 

Once we get into later Autumn, I'll move the rooted cuttings into a cool porch, again ensuring they don't full dry out and at the same time ensuring there is little growth until  they are potted on in spring. There is a total of 24 plants in total in this lot, covering 15 varieties. There are still more varieties to do, which I'll get to in coming days. 

Do have a go at taking some cuttings. Fuchsia are easy, and well worth trying!

Happy gardening.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Being inspired ... Botanic Gardens August visit

It's interesting. I've been so busy in my own garden I haven't had the inclination to pause and go and see what else is going on in the world of gardening. So, with this thought in mind, I thought it was high time to take a break and visit my local Botanic Gardens, and see what is going on there. 

The front border was an impressive sight of colour, with clever use of kale providing a foil for seasonal annual flowers. 
I then popped around to have a look at the Fuchsia collection, which was a little disappointing, with only six or eight varieties on show - so I moved on quickly.
I think it's fair to say the herbaceous borders were at their peak, an abundance of colour and flower, and very enjoyable to see. 

Crocosmia, Helenium, Sedum, and sweet pea were among the many plants providing colour and interest in the border, set off by a very neatly trimmed Buxus hedge. What I like about these large borders are the sense of rhythm they have, brought about by repeat planting of some plants.

Now I know I've mentioned it before, I really do have to acquire a couple of more grasses, which provide not only interest in the border, but movement and sound too. 

Speaking of sound, another stop off was the production garden, which has a circular water feature in the middle. The splish splash of water was very effective in drowning out other background noises. Although I've had ponds in other gardens, I don't have anything in my current garden. Hmmm - food for thought.

The production garden had plenty to see, from trained fruit trees, indoor grapes, bee hives, compost areas and plenty of vegetables and salad plants. What caught my eye most though was the mix of flowers to attract insects, both for pollination and natural predators too. It made a very interesting and colourful display, and again, some ideas to take away with me. 

It was worth while to stop by the Hydrangea and Buddleia area, where both groups of shrubs were in full flower, making a very impressive sight indeed, with the strong scent too.

While the alpine area didn't have a huge amount of flower colour, the Japanese maples were providing some early autumnal interest, with leaves just beginning to turn the russet colours you expect to see next month. I do like the use of stone in this area and the paths disappearing out of sight. There is moving water in this area too, giving passers by something to pause and observe on their walks.

Further on, there was an area of annuals planted. What really caught my eye was the patch of Godetia, the flowers of which I haven't seen in quite some time. 


Overall though, it was very useful to get out of my own garden, and go and seek inspiration from elsewhere.

Happy gardening.