Thursday, 13 April 2017

the dahlias arrive

I was crawling around the middle of the turning circle rootling weeds out from between the paving slabs when the post van arrived, so I uncoiled myself and went to take the post to save the postman from having to get out of the van and trudge up to the front door.  He had a small, flattish box ready for me on the dashboard which I realised with a little surprised thrill of pleasure must be my dahlias.  I ordered them from Halls of Heddon back in very early February, and left it to their discretion when to dispatch them, working on the basis that I had a frost free greenhouse.  They are what Halls call mini plants, that is well rooted cuttings, and it's handy that the next few days are forecast to be lightly overcast, so they will be able to settle in the greenhouse without my worrying that they are getting too hot.

I love the Halls catalogue.  I don't buy from them every year, since dahlias are fairly reliably perennial given a modicum of luck, but it's fun to try a few new varieties every now and then, and the choice Halls offer is massively more than you will find in any garden centre.  The young plants grow away very well, barring catastrophes with heatwaves or major watering errors.  In fact, if you know what you are doing you can get an enormous plant by the end of the first growing season, as shown in one of the slides at last year's garden club lecture by a local dahlia expert.  I've had some disappointing experiences with tubers, both mail order and packed in plastic bags at garden centres, that have turned out on close inspection and sans packaging to be desiccated or damaged, so I'm happy to take my chances with the mini plants.

I followed the enclosed instructions exactly, potting the little plants into nine centimetre pots using John Innes number 2 compost, and watering them in.  I am not supposed to water them again for a few days to give the roots time to settle, and I am supposed to shade them if there is a hot and sunny spell.  Fingers crossed, there won't be.  This is the trickiest part of acquiring a new dahlia.  If planting tubers you need to be careful not to overwater them in the early stages, or the developing root system may rot.  It can be tricky in hot weather, as they can make a lot of top growth quickly and you feel that they must need plenty of water, but if you've got one that's failing to develop or whose stems have gone brown and died back in mid season it's worth checking what's going on below ground.

It's long enough since I ordered the plants that it will be like a new shopping experience looking them up and reminding myself what each one is supposed to do.  I know there is a very pale yellow single, destined to go in a pot alongside pots of the pale yellow Cosmos I'm growing from seed, and the light blue Convolvulus sabiatus I haven't actually ordered yet.  There is a dark red single that will make a great pairing with the purple leaved and red flowering snapdragons that are coming along in a cold frame, apart from the fact that I haven't yet worked out where to put this pleasing display and the snapdragons are still only an inch tall.  Most of the others flower in shades of pink or mauve and are intended to go with the conventional pink Cosmos and existing pink dahlias.

As the tender things in pots that have been overwintering in the greenhouse begin to push out new leaves it is becoming pretty clear that some of them have quietly died at some point.  Could have been the cold, since we had a couple of sharp nights when I didn't set the heater, or overwatering, or leaving them too dry in an attempt not to overwater them.  It is hard to say.  A couple of silver leaved Plectranthus that were right up against the glass are not showing any signs of life, and I fear there is no life to be shown signs of.  They were raised from seed, and I still have some seed left, though it must be very old, plus one plant in the conservatory that's being very slow about leafing up but is definitely stirring, so I could take cuttings from that later in the season.

It's more annoying that Salvia 'Love and Wishes' has got no signs of buds at all, and worse than that has got the subtly dried out, angular look of death that comes to shrubs where there is no sap rising.  I got that at the Great Dixter plant fair, and thought I had been very careful with it. Various sources sell them by mail order, but it is galling to have to pay the delivery charge when you only want one or two plants.  I suppose, thinking back to the dahlia delivery, that if nothing died there wouldn't be room to try new things.

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