Dahlia: A Nuisance

…a dahlia is a nuisance, because its tubers have to be lifted in autumn, stored in a frost-proof place, started into growth under glass in April, and planted out again at the end of May.

-Vita Sackville-West
A Joy of Gardening; 1958


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I had no idea what a dahlia was when my husband brought home a bag full of tubers one Spring afternoon.  He had been working on a road project that day and an old Italian man gave him a tour of his garden.  He had brought his dahlia tubers from Italy.  They had been split numerous times since I’m sure, but the DNA from the original remained. I had no idea what would pop up when my husband showed me the long ugly tubers, which I thought looked more like spindly potatoes.  The old Italian man warned Bryan that the tubers must be planted in the ground that week or the flowering will come too late.

I thought I would dig a deep hole and plop the tubers in like some sort of bulb.  No sir!  Like magic, Bryan saw the old Italian man again that week.  Like a wise shaman of flowers he informed my husband that the Dahlia tubers should fear no risk of frost because they are taken out of the ground directly after flowering and put in box of peat moss and placed in a warm spot for the winter.   He went on to explain that because of this the tubers do not have to be planted very deep.  In fact, the tubers like to be just a couple inches below the surface.  Instead of planting the long ugly things vertical like one would suspect and would be the easiest task, one must instead dig a horizontal hole and lay the tuber inside like one would a casket.  This is precisely why they are considered a nuisance and I almost resented the Italian gift, but the flowers are so beautiful it’s worth the trouble.  So every fall we exhume the ugly tubers from their resting place and follow the advice of the wise old Italian.

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Yes, it’s true the tubers are very ugly indeed and looking at it one might think in fact they all should be buried like little caskets because they look to be dead.  I myself threw one unremorsefully into the vegetable garden thinking the last growth had sucked the life out of it.  But to my surprise, my son found it growing amongst the vegetables happy as a clam.  I have since transplanted it into my garden and it is now the biggest, healthiest of the lot. Don’t be fooled by those ugly little tubers, the flowers they produce are one of the most striking flowers of all, in my opinion.  They are related to the zinnia and they have the long lasting quality of keeping itself fresh in water, and I’ll bet they dry nicely too although I haven’t tried.  Perhaps I’ll cut one and see; as Vita always says, “a good gardener is one who makes experiments”.

They are somewhat of a nuisance though, because they can not be forgotten as a perennial or a bulb would be.  Because of our cold climate, they must be raised up out of the ground and stored

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Vita’s Wish For Nasturtium…

What about Tropaeolum speciosum, the flame nasturtium, with brilliant red trumpets among the small dark leaves?  This is the glory of Scottish gardens…

-Vita Sackville-West
In Your Garden
November 24, 1946

Something rather peculiar happened when I was planning my garden back in April.  I knew I wanted to plant seeds, two in particular; the zinnia and the morning glory.  But a picture of a brilliant red flower caught my eye so I picked up the packet to examine it.  I had never seen nor heard of the nasturtium before.  However, I didn’t want to bother with new seeds I knew nothing about so I put it back…or so I thought.

I came home that day and discovered the packet in my purchase bag as if Vita herself had put it there.   I took this as her spirit coaxing me to try them.  I carried her spirit with me a lot in those early days of spring, unsure and uneducated in the way of gardening.  But she helped me very much, and I do believe this was her way of coaxing me along to experiment.   So I did.

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They soon came up in these cute little clumps of lily pad-like leaves and they grew and multiplied; covering the ground, expanding and taking over my bare areas where I needed the extra growth.   I love the leaves with their defined veins reminiscent of exploding stars, and the tiny flowers hide inside their abundance as if they were a secret.   My Grandma came over and noticed them.  She told me that her mother, my Great Grandmother use to grow nasturtiums all the time.  This I never knew.  However, I waited a long time for them to flower.   They took all summer to do so, but they are lovely!  They are indeed like flames among the green, coming in bright orange and brilliant red.

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The other day I experimented by clipping a few of the flowers for a vase.   Although they didn’t last more than a week it was a good opportunity to see the flowers close up and get a whiff of their delicious scent, which is like a delicate baby powder.  They are so low to the ground one would have to get on one’s hand and knees to smell them.  I’ve often thought that next year I should try them in pots.  That way I can move them around to my liking and have them burst and melt over the sides of the pot.  They will also be at eye and nose level for my ultimate delight.   I do recommend these curious ground loving plants. Go ahead and grow something different.  As Vita would say, “Try“.

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Only the Good Die Young…

The charm of annuals is their light gaiety, as though they must make the most of their brief lives to be frivolous and pleasure-giving.  They have no time to be austere or glum.  They must be youthful because they have no time to be old.  And so their colours are bright, and their foliage airy, and their only morality is to be as cheerful as possible, and to leave as much seed as they can behind them for their progeny to continue in  the same tradition.  This, of course is the one thing you must not let them do: all seeding heads must ruthlessly be snipped off if you want to prolong the exuberance of flowers.

-Vita Sackville-West
April 16, 1950

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I love seeing the annuals arrive at our local greenhouse (Bordine’s Nursery).  Proof that we survived another winter and the warm comfort of summer will arrive soon. Every year I plant annuals in my pots and along my front yard.  So around Mother’s day I venture to the nursery and plan out my color combinations for the summer.

 

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I use to hate the look of geraniums.  But lately, I’ve grown to appreciate the nostalgic vibe they possess.  I think I began to like them when I saw an old picture of my Great Grandma’s house in the 1950’s or perhaps 1960’s.  She had a brilliant red geranium planted in an old basket on her yard.  Also, the giving of geraniums on Mother’s Day is a tradition in my family, so you almost have to like them (or at least pretend to).

The red ones are my favorite. There’s something very old fashioned about that red and green Christmassy combination.  I have planted them in my front pots and they have done well.  However, they like sun and won’t flower unless they get a touch of it.  In my opinion, they look best in pots low to the ground so you can watch them lift their colorful heads to you.  Also, the spent stalks must be disposed of to keep them looking their best.

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In the past I’ve been frustrated with my pots on the porch.  In the past I’ve done begonias. They look great if one is sitting on the porch staring down at them, but from the road you can barely see the flowers.  Last year I actually tilted the plants in the dirt so they could be seen better.  However, this year I might try some spiky plants, like Salvia, and perhaps ivy – something that drapes over.  I would like a colorful show for the neighbors and frequent passersby.  Any suggestions would be helpful!

Thanks for stopping!

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