Category Archives: flowers

Walk Out To Winter

It doesn’t seem like five minutes since we were all baking in what felt like endless heat. The summer was one of the hottest on record. Here in York temperatures in the high twenties and low thirties became the norm. It made for some challenging working conditions at times even if  I rarely had to don the waterproofs, grit my teeth and battle on through the rain.

The good weather continued into autumn and I started to feel I was going to make it to Christmas without too many occasions where I resembled a drowned rat.  The last few weeks of mild, wet weather have quickly put an end to that thought.

So with December finally here I’m enjoying the end of term feeling even if I’ve got jobs in the diary right up to the Christmas.  I get more time to catch up with my admin, read some gardening books and blogs and do all those jobs I never get time for in the summer.

Winter isn’t a completely dead season in the garden. There’s a lot going on out there. There’s even some colour to be had.  My camellia is flowering already, my  Clematis cirrhosa var. purpurescens ‘Freckles’ is covered with flower buds.

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The Cosmos have only just exhausted themselves after a late summer and autumn of hectic flowering, there’s a rose or two hanging on here and there, likewise a few lavatera flowers.  The hellebores are looking primed and ready for their moment in the precious February sun, green tips of  snowdrops are poking up here and there.

If you’re in need of an urgent colour injection there’s plenty of winter pansies and cyclamen around in garden centres/nurseries/ supermarkets.  Winter pansies in particular always impress me. They look so insubstantial and a little frail but put up with everything even the most extreme winters can throw at us. They issue their challenge to weather in yellows, white, purples and reds. Dot them around your garden like season long Christmas lights.

Planning ahead you might want to consider planting a patch of winter flowering heathers or a Japanese Quince. Sink the corms of winter aconites in a spot beneath a tree, likewise snowdrop bulbs.  Mahonia with their in your face yellow flowers shine like a beacon in the darkest months, the stems of dogwoods stand out against the grey.

It’s really hard to predict what the winter will have in store for us. This time last year the few days we spent in Newtondale by the North York Moors Railway line was crowned with the white stuff.WP_20171203_14_00_21_Pro 4

And it was still snowing when my Spring diary began in March.  If the early days of Winter set the tone for what’s to come then we can expect mild and wet.  Different winters present different challenges not least in a city where the water that falls in upland areas  and turns peat black has to pass through on its way out to the sea.

Whatever the winter has in store it’s a good time for gardeners to put up their feet a little and congratulate themselves on a job well done.  It won’t be long until there’s barely chance to draw breath again as the seasons roll relentlessly on.

 

Dallying with dahlias

I haven’t grown dahlias this year for the first time in ages. It’s just a case of space, my borders are all but full and my pot collection really doesn’t need to get any bigger.  As September pushes on I’m sort of wishing I had.

This is definitely their best month.  They’re South American sun lovers  who like to bake and need a long summer before they finally give you their all.

A few of my clients grow them and it always amazes me just many flowers they produce. As long as you keep deadheading on they go, sometimes right up to the first frost.

They’re one of those plants that really inspire dedication. In the past this probably helped contribute to their once unfashionable image. They were the preserve of allotments and old boys who turned over their entire gardens to rows and rows of dahlias.  One of my client’s comes from a mining background and he recalls the competitive dahlia growing competitions that were all part of local life.   The advantage of growing dahlias on an allotment was the availability of space and fertile soil. They’re related to the potato and like their edible family they like to spread themselves below ground.

These days dahlias are more often than not grown among mixed perennial borders where given a bit of consideration and good soil preparation they can be quite happy. They really come into their own at this time of year.  They can help enliven a border that is pushing past its best, a hidden gem that has been biding its time until there’s less competition.  If an Indian Summer kicks in then dahlias really do enjoy their moment in the sun. They make a fantastic cut flower for late in the season too.

In these northern climes it’s wise to lift them before the frosts.  Give them a quick brush down, allow them to dry for a couple of days and then store them somewhere warm and dry.  An alternative approach is to plant the dahlias in pots and then move the pot into the greenhouse.  This has worked well for me in the past, meaning they’ve developed new growth in early spring before they’ve been planted out.

There’s a vast variety of dahlias. As a general rule the simpler flowers are better for pollinators than the more complex pom-pom and water lily varieties. In my mind there’s nothing much that beats the old favourite, Dahlia ‘Bishop Of Llandaff’, with its brilliant red flowers and black foliage.   If local episcopal pride is a concern however you might want to go for its orange flushed, yellow flowered cousin ‘Bishop Of York’.

We can probably overlook the fact there’s not an actual Bishop Of York.  Everyone knows York has got an Archbishop.