August flowers – it’s dahlia time

It’s the middle of August and during the drought the slugs and snails fared badly which means the dahlias did well, with nearly all of them being healthy and strong enough to flower this year.

I grow all but a couple of my dahlia plants in pots. It is not really ideal for them by a long way and has meant regular watering and feeding. I always use a watering can so I can gauge how much water each pot receives. It is time-consuming and tiresome, but essential. Flowering has been better this year with all the sun, but it’s also the first dahlia season since the big ol’ eucalyptus in a neighbouring yard bit the dust.

Dahlia ‘Jowey Minnie’ on the kitchen table.

Of course, dahlias are for me a great source of colour inspiration, but new this year there’s been some interesting almost structural shapeliness with the arrival of dahlia ‘Jowey Minnie’. I think you can appreciate their form more easily in the black and white and muted photographs below than when you’re being distracted by all that colour.

Same flower arrangement. Black and white, muted colour and full colour.

A clear close up of the arrangement shows the fascinating form of ‘Jowey Minnie’. Interesting to us humans, but less so to the bees and butterflies as the complex, tight shape does not make for easy access to the nectar.

Dahlias ‘Jowey Minnie’, ‘Totally Tangerine’. ‘Blue Bayou’ and ‘Bishop of Canterbury’ with ammi visnaga.

Single-flowered dahlias are preferable for pollinators, but even better are the tiny, nectar-rich, easy access flowers of ammi visnaga.

Ammi visnaga, white cosmos and borage. Left fading, right faded and soon for the compost bin.

Yesterday, we finally had some proper rain showers here in Ipswich. The forecast had been for short, but heavy downpours and so on Tuesday evening I cut the few remaining roses that had coped with the recent high temperatures.

Re-reading this it does seem as though gardening is somewhat of a trial, but I enjoy being outside, the physical activity and the rewarding outcome -beautiful flowers. At the same time gardening has made me very, very aware of the precarious nature of food production.

This year it looks as if I will harvest plenty of pears, but have had only a single plum! It was unblemished, sweet and delicious. There were three sweet cherries (yes, that’s only three!) and the birds got all three. There are plenty of figlets, but I don’t expect these to mature and ripen unless we have a long Indian summer. These are a second crop of figs as the very early first crop mysteriously failed. If we hear folk complaining about ‘wonky’ fruit in the shops we should just be pleased there’s fruit at all.

Roses ‘Breath of Life’, ‘L’Aimant’ and ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with sweet peas and borage.

Light or Dark?

I have to say that up until recently I was very much committed to the traditional dark background for a floral image.

You only have to see a few examples of those amazingly skilful and intriguing seventeenth-century Dutch flower paintings to fall in love with the striking contrast of colourful blooms against a very dark, if not black background.

Over the years whenever I have grown enough flowers to put together a reasonable arrangement I have attempted to save the results of my gardening labours by snapping a few floral-themed photos with black backgrounds.

Now this preference of mine came under serious personal scrutiny when I decided to enter an image-based competition where photograph entries had to be uploaded to Instagram. I don’t know if you have ever noticed, but photos on screens can either benefit from the backlighting effect of the screen or be blighted by it.

After some time experimenting with my dahlias I concluded that a bright, almost white background made for a more interesting, contemporary photo and suited the screen presentation a little better. And, then it was a choice of going with either more flowers (above) or less (below). I chose less and although not a winner I was individually thanked for taking part, as were all entrants, which I thought was rather civilised for social media.

Photographing Early Autumn Flowers

If we are honest there are signs and hints of the coming of autumn that occur most years during the course of the average British August. So the recent drop in overnight temperatures and the cooler, misty, damp mornings should not really be a surprise. Here, in East Anglia, as normal, plenty of late-summer flowering plants are still going strong.

Sunflowers ‘Evening Sun’ and ‘Black Magic’ with ammi visnaga and verbena bonariensis

I thought I’d take this opportunity to cut quite a few blooms, gather them together in different compositions and take photographs as a record for future work. I love the colours, individual forms and the various combinations. In my backyard the sunflowers are just getting into their stride and I have so much ammi visnaga finally blooming (after a late start from seed) that it is beginning to look like a weed infestation.

(I couldn’t bear to bin this image, so I photoshopped the creamy white jug heavily reducing its brightness.)

In the bright light on the kitchen table where I usually have any current ‘jug’ arrangement, my loose sunflower bunch looked okay, but when I came to take more formal photos with a dark background the cream jug dazzled and distorted the composition.

Hunting around for something less white I remembered my mother’s copper kettle and switched the bunch to that instead. Annoyingly, in the process of rearranging the flowers into the new container several of the sunflowers dropped all their petals.

As I mentioned the other week the dahlias have been flowering well and the more you cut the more you get – my kinda plant! And, as you can see, the verbena bonariensis eventually grew to its full height and began to flower despite the less than ideal conditions.

Scarlet red decorative dahlias (no label on tubers but a bargain price!) with dahlias dark red ‘Karma Chocolate’, pink ‘Blue Bayou’, orange ‘Tangerine Dream’, and clematis ‘Polish Spirit’ finished off with a couple of sprigs of verbena bonariensis.

There’s not really enough hours of full sunlight in my backyard to create a flower-filled space bursting with colour. In all honesty I think I have been overly optimistic about what I could grow successfully.

Scented, old-fashioned sweet peas and cosmos ‘Purity’ – all grown from seed.

I did plant out the sweet pea seedlings in the best, sunny position available, the prime site. They have flowered reasonably well, but despite doing my usual trench preparation I’ve definitely had less flowers than I did from my old ‘suburban’ garden. I have a feeling I need to make some serious efforts at soil improvement this winter. That will mean adding garden compost to the depleted backyard soil perhaps with the odd handful of chicken manure pellets and finally topping off with a mulch. Additionally, any spare compost mix will be needed to beef up the small area at the front of the house too. No doubt by next spring I will be enthusiastically sowing flower seeds again optimistically hoping for a glorious display all summer.