I have just been to a meeting of my new garden society. The chairman announced at the start of the meeting that they are already up to 85 paid up members, which is a very good tally. In my experience of hobby based local clubs the membership secretary is often still badgering people by the end of March to see if they want to renew their subscription. Five of the 85 members were new this year.
Tonight's talk was on dahlias. I have no ambition to grow dahlias for show, and was relieved to hear from a professional that I seemed to be doing most of it right if all I want is a display for the garden, but his explanation of how to take cuttings was very useful. Mature dahlia stems are hollow and don't root at all reliably, so you need to take cuttings when the shoots are still young and before they have had time to become hollow. This I knew in theory, but his photographs brought home to me quite how small is small, no larger than my ring finger, and I have quite small hands.
There was also detailed advice on feeding, where I could do better than my general regime of blood, fish and bone for everything, and tomato food for things I want to flower. Apparently with dahlias you want to start them into growth on high nitrogen, then switch to high potash to promote flowering later on. Tweaking the way I feed them could also cure the tendency of some flowers to flop over under their own weight, by stiffening up the stems.
I switched off while he talked about spraying for pollen beetle, though. I am not prepared to conduct any kind of blanket spraying operation outdoors, not just because of my bees but for the sake of the general garden ecology, and it did strike me that while he was lamenting that he had ended up spraying four times last year because of the weather, I hadn't sprayed at all and hadn't suffered any major insect problems. Given a few days the birds and the ladybirds and hoverflies generally sort everything out. Bunches of flowers will soon rid themselves of pollen beetles anyway, since once indoors the beetles move towards the light very quickly (I know, they came in with the sweet peas last summer) and you can just sweep them up off the window sill. I am not growing cut flowers for sale, though.
Although it was only my second meeting, or my third counting last year's coach trip, I am already up to at least eight people who knew me by name, three committee members, two of whom I also see at the Plant Heritage meetings, two people who were fellow mature students at Writtle, a couple who also go to the music society concerts, and another Plant Heritage member who was on the lily study day and runs a small bulb business. A good lecture on a subject one's interested in is always enjoyable, but it's nice to meet people as well.