Monday, 12 September 2011

Delicious dahlias and a case of wind

Lots of customers, regular and new, have been to the pottery in the last few days and many of them have been very excited by the dahlias. It seems to me that not only are dahlias permissible now but fewer people are afraid of orange and many are embracing red and yellow. I have noticed that "Of course I don't have orange and yellow in my garden" is a less frequent announcement. And I am glad.
Flashes of red and yellow from (top to bottom)
Pelargonium ardens, Dahlia 'Bishop of York', D. 'Bishop of Llandaff',
D. 'Red Riding Hood' and D. 'Swan Lake'
The picture above is a bit blurry thanks to the fringes of Hurricane Katia but it gives a flavour of the courtyard garden at the moment.The wind has been whipping everything about but I have inserted many willow hoops to limit the damage and only a few stems have broken - so far.

Dahlia 'Bishop of Auckland'
Eye candy
Let me show you a few more of these autumnal eye-catchers. I'm wondering whether we should have a Dahlia sale next year, so before I start lobbying the pottery I'd love it if any of our customers who are interested in buying dahlias would let me know if they like the idea and/or suggest varieties that might be worth trying.

Dahlia Melody 'Swing'

The neat pom-poms below are Dahlia 'Small World'. I'm very fond of this floriferous dahlia but I have to avert my eyes from it because I have been to the scary alternative world that is EuroDisney (nearly 10 years ago) and EVERY time I look at this plant the tune from the Small World ride starts again in my head and doesn't wear off for hours. In fact I know I will pay the price even for looking at this picture as the incredibly irritatingly catchy jingle goes around and around in my head. Google it if you dare, you'll soon see what I mean.

Dahlia 'Small World' - it's a small world after all...

It is quite surprising that the dahlias have done so well when you consider that this is the Year of the Earwig. They are everywhere - in my hair, in the pots, in Babs's mixed fruit and nuts. Admittedly they have marmalised Dahlia Gallery 'Bellini' and munched their way round the edges of  Dahlia Gallery 'Pablo' and I wonder whether this is because the Gallery hybrids are particularly delicious or because they happen to be near popular earwiggy hideouts.

Dahlia 'Ragged Robin' in a Bicentenary Urn
Dahlia 'Ragged Robin', however, has escaped unscathed and continues to flower its little red socks off. It may be that its pleasantly untidy petals hide any damage. Single dahlias are less fequently damaged in fact, as earwigs like to be able to wriggle into the crevices of a complex flower - they like to have both back and front in contact with a surface.

A dry eye
The thing that really puts people off dahlias is the work. I dig all mine out and dry them for storage indoors but that is because I have excessive numbers of them and need to do different combinations each year.

With a smaller collection it is possible to bring the pots into a greenhouse, polytunnel or garage after the first frost has blackened them and let them dry off. This is slightly more risky as the tubers are more prone to rot like this but you can leave them until you have time to excavate them and store them.

This is a time of year when I could easily panic. The bulb sale is still going on and yet the postman keeps bringing me boxes of viola and pansy plug plants which desperately need potting up. Dead-heading takes about a day a week and I have to start planting bulbs and dismantling tired plantings. Oh and the greenhouse is a mess so I need to sort that out before bringing in all the tender plants...

To sea in a marquee, you see?
I spent most of the weekend in the marquee behind the Octagon talking to people about spring bulbs. It's a sturdy metal-framed marquee but it did feel like our moorings were loosening and we were about to sail off across Warwickshire.

Inside the marquee at the annual Whichford Pottery spring bulb sale

Miss Babs packing alliums
This year we have even more varieties than usual - 35 different tulips and 17 hardy narcissi for a start! Of course this means a lot of packing, as we bag them up ourselves. Miss Babs bears the brunt of this but Lynne, Dave and I plus anyone else we can pressgang pitch in too.

During this first weekend we sold out of five different tulips and 10 other bulbs but there are still plenty of goodies left at the moment. It was lovely to see so many happy repeat customers, many raving about the success they had last spring. Several impressively well-organised people arrived with the labels from the bulbs they bought last year so that they could find more of the same, or similar, this year.

I hear you
I have made a list of Frequently Asked Questions and will be tackling some of these in the next few weeks.

Solanum laciniatum drooping in the wind
As I write the wind is still belting about, bouncing off the walls and testing the endurance of plants and people. It makes me very tense, I find it hard to sleep on a stormy night purely because I am fretting about my plants. It is the large-leafed jungly things which suffer quickly. I have been loving exotic-looking Solanum laciniatum, which I grew from seed this year, but it really doesn't like the wind, which is sucking moisture out of those big leaves faster than the plant can take it up even though I have done my best to keep the pots moist.
I am hoping that the distress won't be terminal, as I want to see what colour the seedpods which follow its purple flowers will be.
Solanum laciniatum looking quite happy
A weather eye
I find that is vital to observe the plants and notice the difference between stressed foliage and happy foliage - if you see signs of stress the likely cure is water but always check the compost with a finger before watering as a plant struggling to cope with snail or vine-weevil damage will not thank you for drowning it. Some plants wilt faster than others, so you can use them as a sort of early warning system which tells you when to drop everything except the hosepipe.

The watering gets tricky at this time of year as it is the wind speeding up transpiration rates rather than the heat and you don't want plantings to be unnecessarily soggy so that plants which are prone to rots and grey mould, such as zonal pelargoniums, keel over. It is worth watering in the mornings so that surfaces and foliage can drain before the cool nights.

Vigilance, everyone! We can keep those summer displays going a bit longer...


  1. Oh I do like your Bishop of Auckland! Those pompoms are cute too.

  2. Thanks Bridget, yes I'm rather fond of all the Bishops but Auckland is such a gorgeous colour. Children love the pom-poms, I often cut them for small visitors.

  3. Hi Harriet! The bulb sale looks like great fun! Wish I was a little closer. And, not that I want to wind up that silly song loop in your head again... but, as someone who has avoided Dahlias in the past because of the extra work involved, I think I may try them now because I really love that Dahlia "small world" after all. Oops! --


  4. Oh Joe! How could you? It's going to play in my head all evening now...
    Yes our customers are very keen on the bulb sale and I do love the excuse to try new things each year.
    I've been out today researching more dahlias so my head is full of bright colour as well as annoying songs - a case of synaesthesia perhaps?