Rip City, my favourite dahlia, was obliterated in the border by the slugs, so it has been dug up and potted up into several pots where the rescued tubers are putting on healthy leaf. I will cosset them through the autumn and keep them undercover for the winter so that I don’t have to do without them next year.
Meanwhile, a visit to Sarah Raven’s garden, Perch Hill (open in aid of our local hospice) was awash with glorious dahlias. It did make me wonder if I was wasting my time growing them in my generally too shady garden, but I suspect that optimism will prevail and I will have another go.
Back in the 17th century, canals became a must-have addition to the fashionable gardens of the day. There’s some discussion amongst garden historians about whether they were inspired by Dutch canals, but as the century included the reign of William of Orange this seems quite likely. Smaller gardens – without space for something so grand – would often include what was called a Dutch Garden. This would feature a formal pond surrounded by beds of spring bulbs, or sometimes irises.
I bring you this historical nugget because we have just returned from visiting friends who have just such a canal in their garden. The grand house that accompanied it has long gone, but this impressive feature is the centrepiece of a garden that is redolent with history. When they first arrived the canal was a carpet of waterlilies with no water to be seen – now it is restored to close to its former glory.
In the course of my work I get sent many garden books to review – some I keep for reference, some I give to friends or good causes, but just occasionally one is so good that I keep it for myself and then buy further copies as presents. Wonderful Weeds is just such a book, written by botanist Madeleine Harley. Its great strength is that the photography shows each weed in its various stages of development from seedling to seedhead, helping gardeners enormously in the identification of problem plants. The text is clear and concise, offers advice on control and on regeneration (for the more desirable weeds e.g. campion) and also touches on its herbal and culinary uses as well as its folklore. It would make a perfect gift for any gardener.
Yes, I know we’ve barely had a summer and it is a bit depressing to be talking about spring bulbs so soon, but August is a good time to buy if you want the maximum choice. On the other hand, if you are prepared to wait there are great deals to be had in November and December. I tend to do a bit of both – get my anchor colours early – and then add some extras later.
I’m also trying to grow more varieties that will reliably perennialise. Great Dixter is very good at this and when I visited recently, Fergus showed us their tulip store where they keep the tulips once they have been dug up from the borders. They are then cleaned and those of a good size are replanted in the autumn. The advantage is that when these tulips are mixed in with the new bulbs you get flowers of different sizes and height which looks more natural than when every tulip is of a similar height.
I will put my new purchases in pots and add last spring’s saved bulbs to the borders where I’m now getting reliable reappearances – especially with the viridiflora tulips, the fragrant orange Ballerina tulips go into the woodland area where they look wonderful among the spring flowers. If I’ve got space I will also dig a trench in the vegetable garden and plant any leftovers in it so that I’ve got some for cutting too.