Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Dingy Digits, Determined Dead-heading and Desirable Dahlias

Last weekend I returned from a seaside holiday with lovely clean nails. I took a photo just to show that it is possible because for most of the year I have to keep my hands in my pockets at smart occasions.

Of course half an hour after our return they were back to their usual dismal state.

At home I have kind neighbours who don't mind watering my 200-odd pots and at Whichford I have the marvellous Miss Babs, so I don't have that awful sinking feeling on returning from a trip to find sad, wilting plants.
Overflowing just a little

Back to work
Although Miss Babs had also managed to do some dead-heading for me I could see that the plants had taken advantage of my absence to grow rampantly, so my first job was to work through all the pots doing a really thorough dead-head, prune,tidy and prop-up. It is also a good way to get re-acquainted with the garden after any absence.

In some groups the plants had spread so successfully the pots were almost invisible. I removed pots of spent lilies and agapanthus, which gave me a little more space to play with and so the group pictured right has been spread out a little but the large long tom containing Lophospermum erubescens remains invisible under a cascade of reddish-pink blooms.

It is more important than ever to keep on top of the dead-heading so that all the extravagant late-flowerers don't exhaust themselves long before the cold weather arrives.

Dead-heading petunias
Petunias don't mind if you miss some of their dead-heads, but I find that pinching off as many as possible keeps the plants healthy and stops them from collapsing under their own weight as well as making them look brighter and tidier.

Taking yellowed leaves off Salvia leucantha
It's also worth taking off any yellowing leaves to maximise light and air flow in the hearts of the plants. In my capacity as plant referee I also lop off floppy leaves, sprawling shoots and clinging tendrils which threaten to overwhelm weaker or less shade-tolerant plants.

Dead-heading Dahlia 'Moor Place'. Cut right at the base of the pedicel.
 When the new flower on the right has finished cut further back to
where new shoots are emerging
Keeping trim
Dahlias need really thorough dead-heading to keep looking good. I cut the flowers off pom-pom dahlias such as 'Moor Place' as they are fading; they produce lots of flowers and if you wait for the petals to fall the rising tide of new flowers and growth will mean that you can't find all the dead-heads and the plant will stop flowering.

Always cut right at the base of the pedicel (flower stem), back to where a new shoot or another live stem arises. If you leave a stump it will die in an unsightly, straw-like way.

Dahlias have their day
I love dahlias, they flower all summer, peaking just when the days are shortening depressingly. The fashion police are at last letting us enjoy their fabulous colours and varied shapes and sizes without having to excuse our weakness and lack of taste.

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' in the garden at Whichford pottery

Dahlia 'Candy Eyes' in a Trailing Leaf Pot
'Bishop of Llandaff' is an old favourite, but this year we are trying a few new ones too. 'Candy Eyes' is shorter but also has dark foliage, a great foil to the abundant pink-striped flowers. A really good doer in spite of its twee name.

Rene was right
Rene (our dutch bulbmaster) insisted that I should try Dahlia 'Black Jack' even though it was more expensive than most. I have only recently planted it out because I wanted to see the colour of its flowers first - they took ages to start emerging  but ooh they were worth the wait: spiky, dark, dark maroon with a gorgeous bloom on the petals. This one promises to be a favourite, good sturdy stems too.

Dahlia 'Black Jack' - worth waiting for
Cobaea scandens 'Alba' rampaging upwards

So in spite of autumn looming on the horizon I can bury my head in the foliage and pretend that summer will carry on for ever while the plants rampage in every direction.

Lobelia 'Monsoon' ballooning outwards in Pastry pots
Mrs B update:
Her latest brood is out and about and still pestering her for food like gluttonous teenagers. I hope she's going to take a bit of time to recover from all the child-rearing before winter gets here.
Mrs B finds worms for her teenager while Bill (or is it Ben?) looks on
The English Garden
Oh crikey! I nearly forgot to tell you that some of this year's spring plantings feature in the September issue of The English Garden Magazine (on sale now...). There is an article on growing tulips in pots by Sarah Raven which is illustrated with Liz Eddison's photos of my plantings at Whichford, then there are a couple of pages written by me with some tips and recipes for some of the plantings featured. It's a really attractive magazine and we are delighted to feature so prominently - so please do have a look if you can.

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