Dahlias from seed: my first years experience

Over last year one of my biggest gardening successes was growing dahlias from seed. I’d heard mixed reports on how successful this method was. With the addition of slugs and snails eating the young dahlias I had low expectations of how many if any, plants I would get. But despite low expectations, I ended up with a mass of dahlia plants. So many in fact we had to give them away. Even the window cleaner got some. So while I am no expert with one-year growing knowledge here is what I did.

I grew Bishop’s Children Dahlias bought from Sarah Raven. I had looked into a few types, some varied in germination, some varied in end results whereas these were meant to be easy. They looked to produce a variety of colours that I was happy to have in my garden.

I lack for a greenhouse or a cold frame. I also live up North in the UK so the winter frosts could have potentially caused a problem. Traditionally these are started in a heated greenhouse to give you a headstart to get the most out of them across summer. If you have access to these things that is great. I’m envious but even without they can still be managed. The seeds are little thin seeds. I used one large seed tray filled with peat-free compost. The seeds were pushed in upright so they were poking out a little. The tray was given water and a lid went on. They had to be kept inside, so initially, they went on the windowsill in our North facing spare room. The light is low in there but I have a couple of IKEA grow lights I put on in the evenings to lengthen the daylight. I don’t know if this was necessary but the IKEA lights are LED types, they don’t get hot like the old fashioned ones so I don’t think they will have done any harm.

I didn’t expect many to germinate having heard about mixed success rates. Just about every single one did and they put on growth rapidly. The seedlings initially grow their rounded leaves before they put on their true more jagged leaves.

From the seed tray, they were moved into 10cm pots to grow on. I grew these in Dalefoot clay breaker compost. At this point, it was still mid-April so there was still a chance of frost. As I wasn’t sure what to do I kept some in the spare room where I’d kept the seed tray. Some went outside in the shelter of a plastic box. The majority went in a really useful box. I moved it out during the day and in on a night until we got into May and the nights were looking warmer.

At this stage, it was tempting to put them in the ground. But I resisted and potted them into a mix of larger pots. Most were 3-litre pots. I reuse the plastic pots, as most can’t currently be recycled, from plant purchases so the size varied. I did this to get them nice and strong before going in the ground. As already mentioned dahlias are slug and snail favourites. The best defence for most plants is to ensure they are healthy enough to survive attacks. While they were in plastic pots on the patio they were less likely to be attacked. The young growth needed pinching out every so often. By nipping off the leading growth you encourage bushier growth and more flowers later on. As they put on growth I fed them with a mix of slow-release fertilizer on the soil surface and a weekly fed of liquid tomato feed. I kept as many of the pots as I could in trays as I was watering every few days to stop them getting too dry.

Once they were up to about 30cm and had filled out I spread them around the border and grew a few in pots on the border. With regular deadheading and more tomato feed, they have given me a mass of flowers through to late October and some hanging on in November. The variation in the packet was great: reds, orange, yellow, pink. The foliage of bishop’s children is rich and dark making for a nice contrast with many of the other late summer plants.

Once the frost’s started hitting I emptied out the ones in pots first so I could get on with planting spring bulbs. Then I’ve dug some out from the border for storing over winter. Opinions vary on whether lifting is necessary but I have clay soil and I think mine would rot. Many people had told me by growing from seed without a greenhouse they wouldn’t have enough time to form decent tubers but I can report they look good. Some are the size of a decent jacket potato. Advice suggests putting them I dry old compost or sand and storing them in a frost-free shed or greenhouse. Mine have gone in the loft. I don’t know that this is a good idea but I’m lacking other spaces.

If they do rot it isn’t a big issue though as I’ve got more seed to try next year. I’m also trying a cactus variety that claims to also be good for pollinators. These will hopefully add a few more colours to the mix and add some variety in shape.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my recount. I am indebted to many people who have advised me through the blog, Naomi Slade’s beautiful book and Twitter about how to grow them and would heartily recommend giving them a try.

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Six on Saturday: 2.1.19 Autumn at the in-laws

We returned from a trip to the in-laws up at Robin Hood’s Bay.  They have plenty of space up on the cliff edge with several distinct garden areas. A solid structure of evergreen plants keeps it looking good through the year. Their garden is still showing plenty of colour. They have plenty planted for long-lasting interest and late-flowering flowers keeping the colour going as we go into November. As ever I’ve gone snap happy shooting their garden but I’m sure you’ll appreciate why.

1. Hydrangeas

The hydrangeas featured when I last visited. They are fading but still providing colour. They have a mixture of stretches of hydrangeas and individual specimens providing colour through the garden. How many other plants can give such a long period of interest?

Alice poising by them.

2. Salvia hot lips

The ever-reliable hot lips still providing bright bursts of red and white. I keep saying I’ll take cuttings from either the in-laws or parents and still haven’t got round to this. Maybe next year, though I’m running out of space in the borders.

3. Cotoneaster

There are a number of cotoneasters dotted around. For much of the year, they don’t really do much but come autumn when they produce their abundance of berries they pay their way. The birds love them too. My own is still establishing but should start providing a few berries next year I reckon.

4. Nerines

I seem to have noticed nerines out and about more this year. I’m not sure whether this is because there are more around or just that I’ve been looking more at what people have going on for late-season interest.

5. Bishop’s Children dahlias

I imagine you’re all sick of seeing these dahlias but here are two I grew and gifted to the in-laws last time we visited. Still going strong. I’m saving a few of my tubers for next year and got some more seed ready to try these again. They were easy to grow and have given me several months of colour when other plants have faded. A definite winner.

6. Roses

My own roses have been a bit pitiful on their second blooms. The wet weather has destroyed many of the blooms. But the in-laws have plenty still doing well.

I hope you’ve enjoyed another trip to the in-laws garden. There is always so much to see. I’ve been busy on my own garden getting things ready for winter over my half-term holiday, but we’ll return to my own garden next week.

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Six on Saturday: 7.9.19

Another week goes by and we are starting the slide down into Autumn. The weather is shifting. That said there is still plenty of colour in the garden. Last year I had several seasonal gaps but I seem to have managed better shifts between different flowers ending and starting this year. So onwards with this weeks Six on Saturday.

1. Butterflies

This year has seen a lot of butterflies in the garden. I don’t actually have a mass number of butterfly favourite flowers in the garden. The verbena is always popular but on the whole, I have more for bees so it has been good to see several species new to the garden this year. The small and large whites have been regular visitors but I think I’ve had them in larger numbers this year. I’ve found them one of the worst to photograph though as they don’t stay still so I was happy with these two shots where they’ve settled long enough to focus.


2. Dinosaur garden

Last week Alice worked on her fairy garden. This week she has built up her patio area with a dinosaur garden. She found this dinosaur at the beach. The shards of rock I’ve had laying around for a while and I’ve been intending to use in a succulent planter but they suit this well. The dwarf conifer I’ve had in a pot for a while not really doing much so it’d found a purpose.


3. Bargain Hostas

I walked past a church sale last week of pure tat but they also had some plants for sale at 50p each. So I filled my bags with as many hostas as I could carry.

These are probably going to be used for pots on the patio. I’ve potted a few up along with some I’ve had sat in their plastic pots for a while. From left to right the twisty foliage is dream weaver, then a blue leaved halcyon at the back, fortuneii at the front with the nibbled leaves, one of the church sales at the back, then blue mouse ears at the end. I’m thinking if use these for the patio it will link some of the front and back garden planting with lots of the same plants repeated throughout. I’m considering some bulbs around the pot edges for the start of the year. Maybe dwarf irises or Muscari that will die down as the hostas come back up.


4. Choisya

The choisya is having a second burst of flowers. The yellow rose that grows up out of this is looking like it might manage a second burst as well.


5. Nights drawing in

The nights are starting to draw in earlier. While I may well be glum about the lost time in the garden I’ve found some advantages. Sitting in our little new extension room I’ve found my garden seems to draw in the bats for the early evening. I can sit on the sofa and they are swooping right up to the windows. Wonderful to watch!


6. Dahlia, not Rebecca’s World

I bought this tuber from Thompson and Morgan. It was meant to be Rebecca’s world which is red and white. While Alice switched some labels and I don’t think she did with this one. But even is she did this doesn’t look like any I ordered as I went with almost all dark options. That said it is a stunner. The buds have a rich purple edging before it opens as a large white flower. The purple has gradually faded to pure white.

It looks like I still have a few more weeks of colour coming through but things are definitely on the wane. I’m pretty tired after my first week back at work. I’ve changed year groups at school and getting to grips with new routines. Luckily the little helper has been to hand to keep on top of the watering. Enjoy your weekends.

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Six on Saturday: 31.8.19

It’s almost the end of my Summer holiday and I’ve made good progress with the front garden. The front border is gradually filling up and the plants will fill out over the next year. The back garden has been neglected a bit but the dahlias and zinnias have filled this late Summer period well. I’m gradually building up to having a good level of seasonal interest throughout the year.

1. Gladioli

I’m not that keen on these gladioli and pulled a lot out last year but obviously didn’t get them all. They were bought as a cheap mix. They have reliably flowered each year and come out in the blousiest colours. They do add some late Summer colour which I appreciate, but I’d like more definite stronger colours.

2. Perennial sweet peas

These are next doors but they flop over Alice’s mud kitchen nicely. They come back each year and so long as I keep cutting they’ll keep flowering for a while. I didn’t manage to grow my own this year as we were limited for space for seed trays with the building work going on. These partially make up for it.

3. Fairy Gardens

I got criticised last week for not including my little star, so she’s back. She has been working on her fairy pot displays currently. She is rapidly becoming very girly. Everything has become all about the unicorns or the mermaids. She bought a fairy kit for her birthday a while back now. It came with grass seed which rapidly grew out of control and I have enough grass to cut without mowing the fairies lawn too. So the dying grass has come out to be replaced with sempervivums. I drilled a few holes but I’m not sure it has good enough drainage so we’ll see how it lasts but won’t look worse than the grass.

She then got a new fairy kit this week. She decided she wanted it the brightest pink in the pack. This one came from the Irish Fairy Door company. It’s a nice little kit with the door, paint, felt-tips and colouring book and special key. We only paid £4 for it though whereas it’s £16 online.

Then we glue gunned it to a pot and added stones around the door and she has set it up within a bucket planter. All her found objects have been put in. Acorns, conkers and pine cones. So it may have some odd seedlings in a few months. Then we put a few more sempervivums for flowers dotted around.

We also made it to garden village in Hull this week to see the fairy doors. Alice found her name along the avenue of trees.

And she got a ceramic toadstool to add to her garden.

4.Fern-Dryopteris

Part of my parents garden is being dug out for an extension. They kindly offered it to me. It is quite a beast. At about a metre heigh and similar spread, it took some digging. If I’m doing any more plant removing I need to remember my own tools. Spades are meant to be cutting tools not bludgeoning tools. For future reference here is a video on how to sharpen tools parents. I have been spoiled for nice tools over the last few birthdays and Christmas so have got used to top-notch tools. Though I do appreciate the fern it is looking grand in a shaded spot next to the lilac where little has thrived. I think it is probably some form of Dryopteris and will need well watering in for a while as this isn’t really the ideal time to be moving a plant of this size.

5. Nasturtium

I planted dairy maid last year. These have come up in the same spot but have flowered much brighter orange. So I’m not sure if these are the self-seeded offspring or something different. I did let Alice loose with some of the free magazine seeds that could be sown direct. So these could be the result of her random scattering as I think there were some nasturtiums amongst what I gave her. Next year there will also be poppies in places I haven’t planned. Keeps things interesting and ensures all spaces are filled. These are adding a nice bright burst where I’ve cut the lychnis back so I can see the sedum as it is coming into flower now.

6. Dahlia soulman

This dark beauty came as part of the Sarah Raven short dahlias for pots. I featured the other half last week. The growth has sprawled sideways out of its pot. These were meant to be short and not need staking, but perhaps a short stake might have helped tidy the growth. The flowers are stunning. It’s been one of the last to flower. It doesn’t currently have as many buds as others. but the few flowers I’ve got justify the effort.

It’s been a boiling week in the garden. The first proper week of Summer weather and now back to work. I’ve got a bit of work to do in the back garden. We’ve got two railway sleepers to make a step outside of the sliding doors. I’m not sure how well this will work but it didn’t cost much to get them and they can be used for something else if they don’t work there. Then the edge of the house has a gap of rubble. I was going to see if we can plant sempervivums into these spaces to tidy it up and suppress the weed growth.

Hope you’re enjoying your weekends and get some time to enjoy your gardens.

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Summer Holiday: Part 5-Peppa Pig world

Before we headed down we had checked out what was in the area and Paultons Park was high on our list of things we wanted to take Alice to. We wanted a few days we thought she’d really enjoy though I didn’t have high hopes of it being a great day but we knew she’d love it.

We had good fun on the rides. The park was busy but as there were quite a lot of rides we didn’t have massively long waits for anything. Even while waiting there was quite a lot for Alice to still look at. Alice was at just the right point where the rides were exciting but not too scary.

Alice enjoyed spinning Amy round on the Windy Castle balloons. Amy wasn’t as keen.

I don’t think life gets much better than riding a dinosaur.

We hired one of the buggies as we didn’t have our pram down on holiday with us. It came in use for piling the bags on and for Alice when she wanted a break from walking.

We did well with the weather. It rained for a short burst soaking everyone through. We’d brought our waterproof trousers which came in use and meant we had a period where the waiting time on rides dropped dramatically. Alice was miserable in the rain.

But quickly recovered.

The park also has animals dotted around. I enjoyed seeing them. Amy and Alice were too excited for Peppa.

Alice enjoyed meeting the characters.

She was most excited for George oddly.

The planting and gardens were excellent around the park. Almost worth the price of admission alone.

The hydrangeas were good though not up to Exbury Gardens level. But they have become the standard by which I am now judging all hydrangeas.

Dahlia love was strong.

And where else am I going to find Peppa topiary?

The main cafe and soft-play building had a spectacular green roof including vents on the roof that channelled the wind to cool inside.

I think Amy enjoyed the rides as much as Alice.

Alice sat with her souvenir of the day, Mr Dinosaur.

I didn’t have high hopes for Peppa Pig World, but we actually had a great day. The park was well organised. We didn’t have to pay for lots of hidden extras once we got in. The plants were fabulous. A lovely family day out.

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Six on Saturday: 24.8.19

This week I’ve been spoilt for choice for my six. Some will make it into next weeks six, while others haven’t made the cut. I’ve somewhat neglected the back garden while I’ve been sorting the front garden but I’ve discovered bindweed so I need to very carefully weed the borders to try and stop it establishing.

1. Zinnias whirligig

I started growing these from seed in trays. I then moved them straight into the ground and forgot about them. Then when I saw flowers emerging I almost removed them as weeds but asked for an ID on Twitter. The pack came with a variety of types in. They’ve been popular with the insects and there very pretty. I’d grow them again but I would probably put them further forward in the border as they are hidden a bit behind dahlias.

2. Clematis

This clematis was already in the garden when I took over the garden. It barely flowered so I gave it a hard prune and it has been giving a few more flowers each year. It is growing out of a thicket of shrubs and then gradually colonising the top of the fence.

3. Agapanthus

I planted these as bulbs last Autumn as they formed part of our wedding flowers. We had our anniversary this week and one is in flower. The others have put on foliage this year but no flowers. I’m growing them in pots as the advice states they like to be crowded. Hopefully next year I’ll have a few more to show.

4. Cosmos candy stripe

I’ve grown double click and candy stripe as a big mass. Double click featured a few weeks ago. Now it’s the turn of the candy stripe.

So far the majority of the patch has come out as double click but I have a few of the candy stripe dotted through. These are white with a pink edge. They are recommended as good for insects and I’ve seen a good group of hoverflies over them each day.

And a few other insects enjoying just resting on them.

5. Lily ‘Casa Blanca’

This almost didn’t make the cut this week but I decided I’d include it. It flowered while we were away and was getting past its best when we returned. It’s a pure white lily from Sarah Raven as part of her scented collection. The lilies have suffered from lily beetle this year. I’ve grown this in a pot this year but I may move it into the ground for next year. I’m not too bothered if it survives as it isn’t really exciting enough as just one. I’d need to but a couple for proper impact. It doesn’t really work in combination with my other plant choices.

6. Dahlia Tamburo

This was another Sarah Raven choice and has been a stunner. It’s been sold as a small variety for pots. I have only used one short stake and I think it would have managed without. The dark flowers are absolutely stunning and it has taken pride of place outside the extension window visible to all.

Lots of insects have been settling on the large flowers as a convenient resting point to survey the garden. It has been a good week for wildlife in the garden. I’ve had swarms of long-tailed tits of up to 40 coming in, tons of insects and a lot of frogs around. These dahlias seem to be hot spots for posing insects wanting their photo taken.

The dragonflies have been regular visitors. I love seeing the dragonflies and this year I think I’ve had more than ever. The size and their primaeval nature make them fantastic to watch.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week six as much as I’ve enjoyed admiring them. As well as the much-needed weed of the back garden I’ve got a large fern donated from my mums garden to plant and a couple of gorgeous heucheras to plant. Happy gardening!

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Six on Saturday: 10.8.19-Summer colour

We have gone off for a breakaway this week, so this weeks six has been pre-written. The garden is reaching a zenith of full flowers with many of the finest flowers reaching their peaks. It’s a nice point of the year where I have to choose six rather than struggling to locate six things of any interest. Much of the time I choose plants for long-lasting foliage more than flowers but this week we have six bright choices.

1. Cosmos-double click cranberries

These were grown from seed purchased from Sarah Raven. I grew several varieties moving them inside and outside when it was still chilly. But unfortunately several of the seed trays were flooded by rain and many of the cosmos seedlings died off. These, however, have flourished into a wonderful thick patch.

2. Fuschia-Alice Hoffman

I’m not a big fan of fuschias but this one has proved hardy enough and I like the contrast in the flowers and the dark leaves. I’ve kept it confined to a pot and cut it back each year and it seems happy with this arrangement. It is flowering well.

3. Hydrangea paniculata-Limelight

I’ve featured lots of other peoples hydrangeas but haven’t shown my own off. I planted two of these in the back garden and one in the front garden. These came from Thompson & Morgan. I didn’t expect much from them in their first year but they are looking fabulous. They should only get better as they grow taller. I was worried about how the one in the front garden would do with the sea winds but so long as I keep it watered it should be fine. The combination of a shaded North facing garden and lots of heavy rain this SUmmer has helped it settle in well.

4. Solenostemon/coleus

Coleus changed name this year to Solenostemon but I’m sure it will still be known as coleus for many years to come. I grew a few varieties from seed. These have been used in the ground as filler in the front garden, as house plants, and a few in pots on the patio which had bulbs in before. The foliage comes in a wide variety of bright colours adding to the mix between the hostas and ferns.

5. Peacock butterflies

After the excitement of the influx of painted ladies, the garden has seen lots of peacock butterflies. Just as colourful as this week’s flowers.

6. Dahlia’s Bishops Children

These dahlia flowers have been the results of months of work and I am very happy with them. For people who have followed their progress through this blog and Twitter, you will have seen them grow through lots of stages. It is my first year growing dahlias and I am enjoying the bright bursts of flamboyant colour they offer. These were bought from Sarah Raven as seeds. Almost every seed germinated and I’ve kept most going to end up with just shy of 30 plants. I didn’t expect as high germination rate or to keep them all alive. I’ve passed lots on to friends and family with plenty to go in my own garden. Amy even passed one onto the window cleaner to clear the patio. Some have gone in the border, some in pots.

They flower in a range of colours. So far I’ve had deep pink, red, yellow and orange flowers. The foliage is lovely in itself. Dark, crimson foliage with pointed leaves contrasting well with the hosta fortuneii on the patio. I was concerned about these growing quickly enough up North to flower well. With colder temperatures, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get them outside with time for these to grow enough to flower from seed. But I didn’t need to worry. These have grown spectacularly. I will probably try saving some seed for next year.

The forecast for our week away is lots of light rain so while we might be having a wet time away at least the garden will be looked after. Hopefully, I will return from my break having visited one or two gardens to report on. We are potentially going to Peppa Pig World. Not somewhere you’d think I’d voluntarily go but Paulton’s park also has gardens including Japanese gardens so I might manage ten minutes seeing those. Enjoy your Sundays!

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