Selecting summer colour

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It’s very hard to detach yourself from a garden I am finding... Living in London means I am, at best, a monthly gardener at home in Nottingham. I had a crazy weekend planting all the bulbs en masse, mostly in autumn drizzle, last November. Thankfully bulbs are easy - you can plonk them in and just wait for them to come up, no pricking out, no hardening off or staking; a sprinkle of bone meal is all that is needed. The annuals and dahlias that I am used to growing at home are a different matter. This year it’s going to have to be a very selective growing season!

I’ve grown Dahlias for the past 5 years, and each year I stick to the same couple of favourites. Now I've grown several types, the latest to join my list is Happy Halloween because it really does glow like a pumpkin with a candle in it on a late September evening. I try to keep the colour scheme in the whole of the garden like the plumes of a male golden pheasant – deep reds, scarlet’s, lush orange and deep precious blue, while the deep green dahlia foliage adds its own lusciousness, the leaves of the bishop dahlias are incredibly beautiful in their own right.

Sam Hopkins Dahlia with ipomoea

Male Golden Pheasant

Dahlias as infants are quite needy, with no greenhouse I have to grow most of them in my grandmothers garage with a few favourites grown at home upon the window sills. I store tubers from one year to the next and they get a bit bigger as they get older - the biggest need 2-3 litre pots to get going in. I’ll be planting them all later than normal probably in early April so I can get them hardened off and planted in their dolly tubs as soon as possible. One year I disappointed myself in my choices, as nearly every dahlia I set was a double so not much use for bees or butterflies. So now I have a rule: for every decorative type I plant I have to grow a single type. So I grow lots of Blue Bayou – the most magical looking of the dahlias as if it belongs in wonderland.

Dahlia Blue Bayou

Roxy is a sweet little one too with its rich plum jam juice shaded petals that is good for the patio due to its modest size.

Dahlia Roxy with bumble bee

The big dramatic dahlias I plant in the large dolly tubs (once the tulips have finished and have been lifted) are the brilliantly large Con Amore, Sam Hopkins, Thomas Edison and Happy Halloween. Once the tulip bulbs have been taken out of the soil, I enrich with some fresh compost and very well-rotted hen manure as they are very hungry plants. When I set these I push in hazel and birch branches to form a cage that they grow though, this is totally vital as the wind can tear the stems from the base of the tubers. Every 2 weeks we give them a feed with tomato food in fact we feed all our plants with that – especially as Joanna Lumley said she does too at last year’s Chelsea flower show when asked what her best gardening tips were! Has anyone got their tickets for this years show yet!?

Assortment of cut dahlias in vintage bubble stem glasses

To accompany the dahlias I’ll be trying to grow easy annuals including Nasturtium Black Velvet these I sow in cardboard pots as they don’t like being pricked out. Cerinthe major I totally adore and plant it in our deep blue rippled patio pots. This I inter-plant with the short deep scarlet Rubenza cosmos and the very hard flowering clary sage (Salvia viridis), but only the blue sort - the other colours of this I find too wishy washy. These 3 together make a beautiful display that will be alive with pollinators thanks to its nectar and pollen rich qualities, and it’s a low growing assortment too, so no staking just lots of watering and dead heading. We love sunflowers too, especially the deep red sorts, and what could be easier than the sowing of sunflower seeds so these will definitely make an appearance.

It will be 2 months or so before any of the mentioned annuals need to be sown but it’s worth ordering both these and any dahlias you like the look of now in case they sell out. Like most of us, all I can think about is my 2014 summer colour scheme - that’s the best part of growing annuals and half hardy perennials - it’s like re painting your house each year! For now get on your walking boots enjoy the spring snowdrops!


Thanks for reading,