the generosity of dahlias

I felt like I’d been swindled when my new dahlias arrived in March. They were such meager little tubers. When we lifted last year’s, I discarded some that were bigger.

I was cross with myself for having been seduced by the fancy catalogue I’d ordered them from. I potted them up, but vowed that if they didn’t grow well I’d write a stiff letter of complaint.

When the time came to plant them out in May, they were doing OK. Not as vigorous as the ones we’d stored over the winter, but well enough to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Most of them went into a newly cleared border, along with verbena rigida, statice and gaura lindheimeri that we’d grown from seed. There were a couple that still didn’t seem big enough to turn out to the open soil. I popped them into big pots so they’d be a bit more cosseted. Nothing much happened for a couple of weeks and I moaned about them to anyone who’d listen.

Many times over the summer, one of my mum’s favourite sayings ‘Oh ye of little faith’ has echoed in my head. Because the dahlias turned out to be an absolute joy.

dahlia rosamunda, dahlia summertime, cottage garden, gardening blog

Since July they have been flowering their socks off. Each of those small, dry tubers must have produced close to a hundred flowers so far. With October round the corner, the ones in pots are slowing down a bit, but those in the ground are still throwing out new buds on a daily basis.

dahlias, cottage garden, gardening blog

quintessential summertime

Two of the varieties we chose have become firm favourites that I’d like to have in the garden every year: rosamunde and summertime. They both produce long-stemmed flowers that sit high above the foliage. They bounce around a bit on breezy days, but we’ve only had a couple snap right off when it’s been really stormy.

dahlia rosamunde, cottage garden, gardening blog

the beautiful dahlia rosamunde

Rosamunde in particular is an absolute stunner: semi-double, peony-like flowers in a gorgeous pink with dark bronze foliage. She works really hard too, producing flower after flower after flower. It probably helps that I now know how to tell a dead-head from a bud – last year I didn’t find out until quite late in the season that it’s only the pointy ones you’re meant to snip off.

dahlia, cottage garden, gardening blog

fat, round dahlia bud (not to be mistaken for a dead-head…)

dahlia dead-head, cottage garden, gardening blog

pointed dahlia dead-head (not to be mistaken for a bud)

The dahlias have flowered generously for three months now. Providing we don’t get hit by an early frost, we should get another four or five weeks out of them.

bee on dahlia, cottage garden, gardening blog

single and semi-double dahlias provide a four-month feast for nectar lovers

I can hardly believe they had such an unpromising start.

dahlias, cottage garden, gardening blog

each tuber produces tonnes of flowers all summer long

dahlia, cottage garden, gardening blog

dahlias are gorgeous whichever way you look at them


wordless wednesday: growing up fast

cottage garden, gardening blog, sunflowers


wordless wednesday: blakeney red (perry pear)

blakeney red, perry pear, cottage garden, gardening blog

why I’ll be growing fewer pumpkins next year

Pumpkins are a lot of fun to grow.

The young plants start off looking so innocent and fragile. Then, come July, you take your eyes off them for a moment and they’ve swamped the entire garden with rampant, vicious vines bearing a canopy of huge leaves.

pumpkin plants taking over the veg patch, cottage garden, gardening blog

only the tallest, strongest plants have a chance in a sea of pumpkins

Best of all is the excitement of spotting the gourds that manage to set and start ripening as summer wanes.

Uchiki Kuri, cottage garden, gardening blog

Uchiki Kuri grew well on a pyramid of hazel sticks

Last year we unintentionally grew some enormous varieties, like Blue Hubbard. I’d gone for the names I liked rather than reading the seed packets properly.

We’ve opted for smaller ones this year; Sweet Dumpling, Little Gem, Uchiki Kuri. I had a notion that we could train them up pyramids of stout hazel sticks.

Little Gem pumpkin, cottage garden, gardening blog

this Little Gem scaled the hedge and started heading for the neighbour’s garden

It worked to an extent – except that they went up and over the pyramids and still managed to engulf the best part of the veg patch.

And that’s the problem. Much as I love roasted pumpkin soup, or even just having a pretty row of winter squash on the kitchen windowsill, I’d quite like to grow some other winter veggies. Two or three of the parsnips we sowed have managed to battle through the sea of pumpkins. But the swedes have been totally swamped. And the leeks never had a chance.

parsnips in between pumpkins, cottage garden, gardening blog

a couple of parsnips have persevered through the mass of leaves

So next year I’m going to limit myself to two or three pumpkin plants.

If a lot germinate, I’ll just have to find good homes for them. Or steel myself up to put them in the compost bin.


the best laid plans…

Last year we decided to add a bed of flowers to the end of the veg patch, just for cutting.

I imagined I’d be gathering armfuls all summer long. In fact, I thought we’d have so many that I’d be able to leave surprise bunches on friends’ doorsteps like some sort of benevolent flower fairy.

picked in the rain, cottage garden, gardening blog

I wasn’t quite naive enough to think I could blithely scatter seeds and leave them to their own devices. Instead I sought advice from traditional cut flower grower Benjamin Ranyard of Higgledy Garden. His website is packed with tips, and his seeds are some of the most reliable I have ever grown.

My plan was to start early, sowing seeds in our unheated greenhouse. Then I’d acclimatise the young plants to go out in May. I hoped we’d be picking by the end of June.

At one time I had hundreds of happy little seedlings coming on. Didiscus blue lace, ammi majus, cleome, gaillardia, achillea, larkspur, consolida… I wondered what I’d do with all the leftover plants that we wouldn’t have room for.

Little did I know that the garden would get besieged by rabbits this year. Or that I wouldn’t pick a single flower from the cutting patch.

cutting garden, cottage garden, gardening blog

this is as good as it got in the cutting patch

Only the calendula and borage  I interspersed with the veg to help attract pollinators really thrived. There are a couple of sad-looking earthwalker sunflowers but the cleome (pink queen) look quite stunning. One or two cosmos, centaurea and rudbeckia have soldiered on, despite being nibbled within an inch of their lives.

The truth is, I lost heart after so many plants were eaten rabbits. What’s left has pretty much fended for itself since June, battling against the weeds and a rampant squash plant. So I’m leaving the few valiant flowers for the butteries and bees.