Garden diary

In praise of the dahlia

 

This year has been particularly good for the dahlias at Allt-y-bela. This time last year we took stock of the range and performance of our dahlias in the cottage garden and decided make some changes. We got rid of them all except for two cultivars: Dahlia 'Cafe au Lait' and D. 'Naples'. We then put together a plan to improve the late season performance of the cottage garden. We asked a local nursery to propagate and bring on our dahlias early in the season (space is at a premium at Allt-y-bela) then when they arrived and were planted out, we set about feeding them weekly and watering them profusely throughout the summer. The autumn display has not disappointed and we've had a constant supply of dahlias for the house without it ever seeming to have an impact on the garden display. I have been ruthless with deadheading though, as soon as a flower begins to fade I've removed it, and these dead heading patrols have been as close to daily as I can manage. Never before have I managed dahlias so intensively and never before have I had such fantastic results!

On the 2nd November I set out on my usual dead heading round and took some pictures of the display which was still showing no signs of slowing. The next day I came in to find a light frost over the garden, walking up to the cottage garden I didn't expect any real damage on the dahlias and at first it looked like all was well, and then I looked more closely; every flower had been damaged and a good proportion of the leaves showed the slight darkened transparency which means that the dahlias are finished. I really couldn't believe it, it seemed so unreal. For the next couple of hours I worked around the garden, hoping that the damage wasn't as complete as it looked, but it had to be faced. By the end of the day all of the dahlias were lifted, cleaned and drying ready for storage with the notable exception of the Dahlia merckii which is still going strong. It's no secret that I've become a Dahlia merckii convert this year and its relative hardiness is just another string to its bow.

We're now in the rather strange position that our sweet peas that we left to set seed are flowering on after the dahlias have gone! It's been a great year for the dahlias and I've certainly learned a lot about how to get them going and keep them flowering. Now it's all over for another year I am rather sad to see them go, it's another sign that winter is closing in!

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

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Autumn Equinox

 

There's a red oak on the way into Usk from Allt-y-bela whose first few leaves are tentatively beginning to change colour. There's an elder too whose top most leaves, that sit proud of the top of the hedge line, are also turning, and yet the days are still warm. In the middle of the day it's still warm enough to be summer but the darker mornings and mists have arrived heralding the beginning of autumn.

Today (22 September 2016) is the Autumn Equinox and it's the perfect start to autumn; light overnight rain that has refreshed the earth has given way to blue skies and a mellow warmth. In the kitchen garden the nets over the brassicas are jewelled with rain drops as are the multitude of complex little webs which have been carefully constructed by industrious spiders. The sweet peas are still flowering strongly but their moment has long since passed, it no longer feels right to cut these symbols of summer for the house and so I'm letting them quietly run to seed now, enjoying their display in the top corner of the kitchen garden.

Over the past few days I've noticed that our beloved Dahlia 'Naples' has started to look a little stark in the cottage garden, the grey misty days have left them looking very white against the grey green landscape as some of the accompanying flowers have started to recede. Today however they look magnificent in the sunshine, the delicate pinkish tinge of the young flowers adding depth to their display. The asters are emerging now as well, taking over the mantle of those flowers whose glory days have passed, and soon the asters will fully compliment the dahlias lifting the border into one last great display before the cold winter takes them.

The Autumn Equinox is a marker of change in the garden, in the landscape and in the year and it's the change that is so enchanting and beautiful in the garden. Now is a time where you can look forward to the wonders of autumn while revelling in the tail end of summer.

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

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Enter: The Dahlia

 

One of the many wonderful things about having a garden is being able to pop outside and cut a few flowers for the house. Whether you choose to pick wild flowers and grasses, astrantia or phlox from the borders or specially grown beauties like sweet peas, there are few things that brighten up a home more than flowers.

At Allt-y-bela the picking usually starts with wild narcissi in early spring, followed by tulips and then wild flowers and stems from the herbaceous borders, before moving on to sweet peas, chosen here for their scent as well as their colour. But now it is the turn of the dahlia to take centre stage.

This year has been a great year for the dahlias at Allt-y-bela; the plants have been stronger and taller and more floriferous than last year. The flowers have also been bigger and their colours truer. Amongst the many dahlias in the garden Dahlia 'Vancouver' has become a firm favourite of mine. It has a cactus type flower with an opulent purple edge, which fades towards the centre. It really looks stunning as a single specimen in a vase. Arne has a particular weakness for Dahlia 'Naples' which is a very sophisticated flower; double but very neat and sculptural, it is a kind of antique white, rare and special, it's definitely one for the connoisseur.

In the kitchen garden are two small beds which are devoted to cutting flowers, in the spring they are packed with hundreds of tulips which go to brightening the various rooms in the house and at this time of year they are full not only of dahlias but also sweet peas, cosmos and gladioli. This year as something of a departure from the norm we have grown vegetables including sweetcorn, peppers and squash, as well as edible flowers such as calendula and nasturtiums, amongst the cutting flowers.

As ever though nothing stands still at Allt-y-bela and this year we have used one of the beds in which we grew potatoes to trial some new dahlias. We have three new varieties; D. 'Veronne's Obsidian', D. 'Glorie van Noordwijk' and D. 'Classic Swan Lake'. The latter is a dark leafed, dark stemmed variety with creamy semi double flowers while D. 'Veronne's Obsidian' has unusual, almost black, pinwheel flowers that are very unique. D. 'Glorie van Noordwijk' is perhaps a tone lighter than the colour of the house at Allt-y-bela and I can immediately see its appeal. Its flowers are cactus type, strong and bright with just a hint of translucence.

Each of these new additions has something out of the ordinary to offer. The nice thing is that none of them would have been my choice, I'm much less brave when it comes to experimenting with strong colours and unusual forms, but I certainly wouldn't rule out my writing in a year or two's time of my complete addiction to any one of them. Innovation requires risk and whilst Arne continues to innovate my horizons continue to broaden.

Words: Steve Lannin

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

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