September is a month that really divides opinion. If you’re of school age (or perhaps a teacher) its approach can be a mildly depressing one. You look forward to the summer for ages and then in a blink of an eye it’s gone and it’s back to school in an itchy new uniform. If summer is about freedom then September is all about buckling down.
If you’re a gardener however September has a very different quality. I often debate in my head which is my favourite month to be outside working. There’s attractions and drawbacks to all of them but what September generally has (in the UK) at least is a helpful lack of extremes.
There’s enough heat not to have to wrap up. More importantly there’s still heat in the soil meaning there’s still plenty going on. It’s a good time of year to oversow patches of lawn, scatter wildlower seeds and plant overwintering onion sets. More generally though it’s a good month to garden.
It feels like the foot has been taken off the pedal a bit. Weeds have begun to slow down. There’s less to do. In the high summer you can sometimes feel as if you’re running to stand still with lots of jobs demanding your attention. Add to that long dry spells and all the watering involved and it can feel like there’s little time to actually enjoy the garden.
September offers that window of time when there’s still warmth and colour but less pressure to keep on top of things. As well as dahlias, things like rudbeckia, eryngium and lavatera are all going strong. In my garden the cosmos patch keeps throwing up new flower buds, sedums are coming into their own and the geranium I gave a mid-summer tidy up are now offering a second flush of flowers. If you’re growing vegetables it’s a time of wondering what to do with all those squashes.
The light takes on a special quality in September too. If you’ve fruit trees the ground is scented with fermenting windfall, the insects seem to turn a little woozy as spiders spin dew scented webs everywhere I put my head.
It’s just a shame it’s all too fleeting. If the first half feels like summer’s final flourish, then the second half can be autumn’s entree.
It’s a good time to be outside and I always feel satisfied at having got through the demands of another horticultural summer.
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.