The October temperatures have been good for the heating bills and good for the dahlias, but, sadly and worryingly, not good for our future as they are another indication of the changing climate.
I thought at the beginning of this month, as I was cutting a couple of sunflowers and a few dahlias for an arrangement, that this was going to be the last floral hurrah for the backyard, but as you can see it wasn’t. We are nearly at the end of the month and I’ve just cut another full bunch of dahlias. The weather has been so mild that even the dinner plate dahlia ‘Belle of Barmera’ has had long enough to produce another three full, shaggy blooms.
Of course it’s not just the dahlias still blooming. There are some roses that can produce the odd flower up to Christmas, but this gorgeous rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ doesn’t usually achieve that in my backyard. Sadly, this single stem of eleven blooms will be the last for this year. And, as I conclude this post I have Yves Montand singing the plaintive ‘Les Feuilles Mortes’ on repeat in the background. It’s that time of year.
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.
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.
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.
Single-flowered dahlias are preferable for pollinators, but even better are the tiny, nectar-rich, easy access flowers of ammi visnaga.
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.
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.
On Monday of this week the IPCC published a report that has finally shocked our complacent media into taking the climate crisis seriously. Even BBC News has well and truly jumped off the fence of ‘balance’ and stopped giving airtime to climate change deniers such as Nigel Lawson. And, they even posted the headline – Climate report is ‘code red for humanity’.
Of course, for many, many people of this country this wasn’t news, but, sadly, a confirmation of the dire situation humanity faces. Where I live, as yet, the worst we have had has been tropical, monsoon-style heavy showers, but no actual flash flooding. Mind you I do live on a hill towards the top, but my father lives down on Ipswich Waterfront. He has received several flood alerts, but luckily high tides and torrential downpours have not coincided and only the nearby car park has flooded.
On a lesser issue all this rain and continuous warm damp has provided super optimal conditions for the slugs and snails. My backyard has been invaded and overwhelmed by snails. First they ate all my runner bean plants, then they started on the dahlias (always a favourite with both snails and slugs) and now they have moved on to the lilies. I have been growing lilies for over 20 years and, yes, in the past I have had to fight off the dreaded lily beetle, but this is the first time my lilies have been shredded by snails.
Finally, in exasperation last week I went to war against these pests. Now, firstly I didn’t use slug pellets as they are a disaster for the wildlife and, rather incompetently, I had already missed the window of opportunity earlier in the season for deploying nematodes. This has left me with only one option to sally forth in the drizzle at dusk, hunt them down and physically destroy them.
It has been very unpleasant and I have wondered how the professional growers of fruit and vegetables produce largely undamaged crops. I know really, mostly they use pesticides, but not for me as I garden organically. In a small, urban space without a pond for frogs or any town-dwelling hedgehogs visiting to snack at the snail bar, my backyard is devoid of predators except for me with my torch and wellies.
I don’t know about you, but I remember as a child washing mud from locally grown potatoes, picking out tiny slugs whilst preparing lettuce and cutting the odd worm or maggot from an apple. These days we appear to have forgotten the effort and resources that have been used to get near ‘perfect’ fresh food to the shops, but, perhaps this is about to seriously change. Apart from the immediate difficult weather, the climate crisis is already bringing droughts and floods and generally unseasonable weather to other parts of the world, and worryingly there are signs of the beginning of strain on our system of food production.
The IPCC issued another report (not this current ‘Code Red for Humanity’ one), a report that contained an entire chapter about food security back in August 2019 – you hadn’t heard about that? Neither had I. Disappointingly, looking around at all the great and good elected to govern us and lead by example, they too, don’t appear to have heard about it either and, even if they have, they’ve taken no action. Two years on from that report and with COP26 this November and following/despite the publication of the Code Red warning, it’s all still very much business as usual.
The four horsemen of the Apocalypse may be on the horizon but let’s instead fret about exam grade inflation, refugees crossing the Channel and propping up the aviation industry as everybody is (apparently) entitled to cheap holiday flights!
Here’s a thought regarding climate crisis action “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” John Bunyan (1628-1688).
On Tuesday I saw that the weather forecasters were telling us to expect the arrival of autumn proper. This was code for prepare for a noticeable drop in temperatures accompanied by wind and rain.
Just as the light was fading, I grabbed my secateurs and nipped out into the backyard to cut any blooms that still looked half decent.
I cut dahlias, cosmos and sunflowers. It was more in error than by design I had planted three sunflower seedlings six weeks later than the main sowing and they only started blooming last week.
And, the dark pink cosmos has been very late this year getting into its stride. With the bright yellow sunflowers and the deep fuchsia pink of the cosmos I didn’t think I’d be able to make a tolerable arrangement, but it turned out that the dark red dahlias saved the day.
What a difference a backdrop makes? I prefer the black to the more contemporary choice for floral images which, I have recently noticed, is grey.
It has been a very mixed summer of weather here in the UK. My part of the country, East Anglia, is known as the driest region and earlier this summer the farmers did have their large-scale, agricultural sprinklers out for a while. However, it’s been all change for August with a significant low-pressure weather system bringing high winds, heavy rain and thunderstorms. Just the kind of weather we need for all those delicate flower blooms – not.
Continuing my recent resolution to try and see a silver lining to any negative situation, I decided that the loss of flowers in the backyard would be transformed into a gain of floral colour indoors.
To that end I cut several small bunches before the storms arrived . . . to brighten up my office . . . . . my workroom . . .
. . . and the kitchen.
Annoyingly, when I was cutting the dahlias I noticed an unstaked sunflower had already bitten the dust and the runner bean flowers were fairly bashed about too.
But I do have my fingers crossed that the delicate white flowers were already pollinated otherwise there won’t be any beans to pick in the coming weeks.
It is only the middle of August, but the cooler weather has reminded me that the autumn is just around the corner. Nevertheless for the time being this is my floral muddle on the kitchen table, scented and colourful – mustn’t grumble too much.
Well, it is the end of July so there should be some flowers in the garden. My hollyhocks, sown from seed earlier this year, won’t bloom until next summer, but I spotted this beautiful single pink variety in our local park.
Of course summertime is the season of plenty in the flower garden and there really, really must be some to cut for the house.
Disappointingly, there are not as many as I would have hoped, but it is a start.
And, naturally, just as my late-sown sweet peas are getting into their stride, Mother Nature gifts us a mini heatwave. And, sweet peas do not like the heat.
It can all be a little disheartening, but that’s the standard trials and tribulations of gardening.
As if all this heat wasn’t enough, last Friday we had torrential rain through the night and I woke up to find the big old hydrangea at the front of my house had split in two.
The sheer number of huge, sodden blooms had weighed down the shrub until one of the two main stems split. I have had to remove nearly half of the plant. I stuck a handful of blooms in a vase and have strung up some stems to dry, but sadly most of it has been chopped up and added to the compost bin.
Nevertheless there is good news, the remains of the hydrangea is still adding some oomph to the pot arrangements at the front of the house.
Last month we had strange weather. February had days feeling like spring and I saw people walking around in T-shirts! In climate terms a week of warm weather in February is disturbing.
However, March, so far, is turning out to be more like a usual March. It has been very, very windy, but that hasn’t affected these British grown tulips. They come from some of the extensive glass houses in Lincolnshire. Growing under glass has enabled British tulip growers to compete with imports from overseas and there are no air or sea miles. Growing under the protection of glass also lengthens the season for growing all kinds of cut flowers. Have you noticed how stocks (Matthiola incana) have joined the buckets of roses and lilies commonly available? However, for us domestic gardeners in East Anglia it will be another month before even the tulips are blooming in full force.
This year I resisted the temptation to plant seeds in February. I am holding my nerve even with the indoor sowings. I am trying to avoid weak, leggy seedlings as I don’t have a greenhouse to provide consistent good daylight.
It is early days in the ‘new’ old backyard and too dreary to photograph with piles of rubble left behind by previous owners. Although it is a small space, it’s going to be a long old haul to sort out, but some pots of pelargoniums and dahlias, and a mini swathe of hardy annuals should at least add some colour for this summer.
Expecting the best, I have already had a poke around in the pots of the overwintered dahlias and, fingers crossed, so far they’ve come through the winter. From now on I just have to watch out for early slug damage to the tender new shoots.
At last I have a rough plan, you could, at a stretch, call it a design for the backyard. It has been just over a year since I moved in and I have been observing the sunlight and shade patterns and I can see I have my work cutout to achieve any kind of flower garden. Disappointingly, there’s more shade than I had expected, not least from the enormous eucalyptus tree three gardens down.
It is a long-established tree and is easily 10 feet or so taller than the surrounding three-storey houses. As I write, its upper branches are violently whipping around, bending this way and that in the strong winds. It is really quite inappropriate for a Victorian terrace backyard and it overhangs six gardens. I am guessing it was originally planted to screen out the neighbours at the bottom of the garden and has just been left to grow and grow by a series of non-gardening homeowners.
Finishing on a more optimistic note I am looking forward to more of this
As we are almost into September the temperatures have finally dropped enough for my sweet peas to bloom. They were an impulse purchase, reduced to clear at the DIY superstore when I was buying yet more paint. In all honesty they were planted too late, in too small pots and then were unfortunately hit with the heatwave we experienced this summer.
Apparently, high temperatures cause sweet peas to pause their flower production, they prefer cool nights and cool days, so that would be a normal English summer! But finally, yes, they are blooming.
Another impulse purchase of desperation back in May were some random dahlia tubers. They too have eventually begun to bloom displaying ‘surprise’ colours mostly neither colour combinations nor shades I would choose if picking from a dahlia catalogue.
The very dark red ones are fine and can stay, but I have been busy in the backyard ticketing the rest, yellow, messy yellows and muddled pinks as ones for the compost at the end of the season. Somehow they just made the dreary backyard (not even a work in progress as yet) look even more of a dump. However, when I chopped off all the flowers and brought them in (any flowers indoors are better than no flowers at all) I was genuinely surprised that they made a passable arrangement.
Now I have the dilemma of whether to keep them or not. Mmm, actually that will be probably not. If I had more space or an allotment where I could grow flowers just for cutting I would, but in such a small backyard all plants will have to work hard for their space and fit into my overall scheme.
Oh yes, there will be an overall scheme, but, deep sigh, it is all going to have to wait at least another year.
It is October, but the dahlias just keep on blooming. Some flowers are a little windblown and tatty, and the big blooms of dahlia ‘Crazy Love’ have been nibbled by earwigs, but they are still worth cutting and bringing indoors to cheer up a gloomy week.This is the second week of October and that’s three small fresh flower arrangements with no heated greenhouse or air miles involved. Flowers grown with the addition of homemade garden compost and watered with recycled bath water. I am rather pleased about that although it has been a battle with the slugs this year.
And, as I cleared away last week’s dying flowers I thought they still had a charm and grace in their faded condition worth photographing and perhaps using as the starting point for a scarf or two.
Finally, even the zingy lemony yellow dahlia (a potluck purchase as an unidentified tuber) has earned its keep as I have realised it’s acceptable in a blue and white vase on the kitchen window sill.
August in the garden, even when not hot and sunny, has a very different palette to the pastels seen at the beginning of summer.
I used to have a bed filled with bright pink echinaceas and hot orange rudbeckias, but these prairie lovers have been squeezed out as my garden has matured.
I miss my prairie, high summer bed which is now in the shade of a Bramley apple tree. It really is a bit too gloomy, but I have strategically placed large pots of dahlias to give it a lift.
Another part of my garden that has changed significantly is under the pergola. This area is now in fairly deep shade cast by the wisteria and a vigorous grape vine. However, towards the south-facing edge a blue hydrangea and some lily pots have just enough light to bloom, but they most definitely require regular watering.
I do love the scent of lilies, but in the end, on a dull August day, the vibrant, visual zing of a bunch of dahlias jolts me into remembering it is high summer after all.