Monday, October 7

Back to the drawing board

We have a large bed on our allotment plot where we have grown dahlias in the past. The trouble is we have really become fed up of all the hassle associated with dahlia growing. If you leave them in the ground you have all the palaver of covering them with a plastic sheet and straw and if you try to dig them up and store them it's an even bigger chore.

We've tried growing them from seed but it takes too long for them to reach flowering and then often the flowers disappoint so this year we decided to ring the changes and sow annuals instead and create a beautiful patchwork of flowers!

I sowed the seeds in curves and lines so in theory I could pull out weed seedlings. The trouble was that the seeds grew so very very slowly. By the end of July there were just a few smatterings of colour as shown in the bottom right of this collage.
The weeds outpaced the young plants and really we were too busy looking after the edibles to spend hours weeding the patch.

So now we have instead of a patchwork of colour and loveliness a few patches of colour interspersed with bare soil or weeds. Believe me what you can get away with in a photo doesn't stand up to close scrutiny.
There are some individual gems although only one or two cosmos germinated and then they are only just starting to flower! Maybe I should have started the cosmos indoors instead of sowing direct but self sown cosmos seeds seem to manage outdoor germination with no problems.
I added some phacelia which the bees are enjoying
It's not the choice of plants that are a problem, although some varieties failed to germinate. The problem was in my execution of the plan.


Next year I will be trying again but this time I will be sowing in trenches in weed control fabric. I've already started the bed set aside for this by planting some biennials which at the moment are growing away well. 
 Let's hope this method produces a better display next year.


31 comments:

  1. You seem to do well using the weed control fabric. Its great to some masses of colour and the bees and butterflies enjoy it too. (The pink and blue flowers are very striking together).

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    1. Where the biennials end you can seed weed control down ready for the annuals next year. Interestingly when we were away last week we visited an NT property in Somerset called Barrington court and were surprised to see that they used weed control fabric throughout their kitchen garden.

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  2. Gardening is always a learning curve and we learn from our different ideas each year. The flowers still look amazing even though you say there are gaps and the bees are clearly enjoying them. I used to use the weed covers at my cottage and was successful (apart from the rabbits!) xx

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    1. The patch in the photo was the good area, Chel

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  3. I only grow the odd dahlia, far too much work, as you say, otherwise. It looks like you'll have a fantastic display from your biennials alone, the annuals will just compliment them.

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  4. Have you ever tried the packs of seeds that are marketed as "Wild Flower Mix" or similar? I presume they would be more likely to withstand the conditions on your allotment than the "softer" cultivated types.

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    1. I have tried a couple Mark but many include perennial plants which I don't want to grow on the plot. Also they haven't really done any better than these have - in fact worse. I really want to choose what to have in my mix as with the mixtures you never know what is coming up and often one thing ends up dominating. I want things that the insects love but also look good and produce cut flower material. The mix of flowers that have grown are swarming with bees so I'll probably more or less sow the same varieties as this year only differently.

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  5. You're not wrong about those biennials - they look very healthy! I always start Cosmos indoors because it's a big plant and I like to get it growing away fast. If you get a few of them growing well, you'll have a lot of that ground covered, which will help to keep the weeds down when you have better things to do. Might a few cheaper perennials among the annuals, interspersed with some lavender (I'm still striking cuttings) help to reduce the work? Oh - and Nicotiana grown pretty close together makes a fantastic weed suppressant. I love Dahlia, but I don't grow them due to a lack of time.

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    1. I've always started cosmos indoors in the past too, Crystal but as some seemed to self sow successfully I thought that I'd try direct sowing as the greenhouse ends up stuffed with vegetables. A few plants cosmos are now flowering

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  6. Probably recycling old tales, but in my youth my father used to lift and store dahlias, hundreds of them. One year (1965?) the frost got three quarters of them and we planted the rest next spring, it turned out that every single one was purple and white Edinburgh. That was the end of the dahlias for us.

    Our garden is awash with Nicotina - this year's experiment. Rather too successful perhaps as even though it wasplanted at the back of the beds it has flopped over the top of the shorter plants in front. Even without deadheading the flowers just keep on coming and the smell is a bees dream.

    I had a similar experience to yours with my pathside bed (which has no Nicotina). I found it hard to tell the young weeds from the young plants. Fortunately a certain tipping point arrived after which the "flowers" got ahead of the weeds .

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    1. I think one problem was the size of the bed too, Mal. To try and weed it I would have risked walking on seedlings. Eventually many of our flowers powered through the weeds but we did have quite a few monster weeds and some types of flower didn't do very well in competition with them

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  7. I do like my Dahlias but agree they are a lot of work. Looks like your weed supressing fabric method is doing well and looks like the way forward!

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    1. I think another issue with dahlias for us, Damo is that all the work seems to result in a very short flowering season. Our plot neighbour grows a good selection and I am always urged to pick some for the house if I want some.,

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  8. We are lucky here we can leave Dahlias in the ground over winter and only have to dig them up to divide ever few years. Those biennials look really stong and healthy. I once sowed cosmos in a flower bed and they never came up and guess what the year after they did! Strange, maybe yours will do the same?

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    1. We've left dahlias in the ground in the past Sharon but have had to cover with straw and plastic. Them they seem to take ages to get to flowering stage so the bed isn't really 'paying its way'

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  9. Seeing your weed control fabric being put to good use had given me the idea to grow my strawberries that way next year

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    1. It works for our strawberries, David. Last week we had a few days in Somerset and visited Barrington Court. They used weed control fabric a lot there and had just set out a bnew strawberry bed with it.

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  10. Sue, what are the big semi-double pink flowers next to the batchelor's button?
    I attempted a "wild garden" this year (after having seen a very attractive one) but it was a failure. With time, it might improve. I tought that putting in thugs would work out. However, the weeds choked out the thugs (Sweet Cecily, bracken, cota tinctora, etc). This fall I added more tough perennials, we will see what happens.

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    1. They are godetias, Alain. You can get short varieties too. Good luck with your wildflowers

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  11. Wonderful flowers. I tried direct sowing some this year, but none survived. Next time I'm going to have to sow them in little pots I think.

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    1. I've sown it trays previously, CJ but they just take up too much space and with concentrating on getting vegetables planted they end up being planted our late.

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  12. Impressive array of biennials - and you truly are the weed suppressing membrane Queen! Good luck for next year, there's a lot to be said for growing flowers like a crop on an allotment, the solid rows of colour have an impact all their own, plus somehow it is easier to pick them.

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    1. Lots more membrane going down this winter, Janet.

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    2. I also should have said that I will mix up the seed next year so it will have a mix of types of flowers in each row. I've done a similar thing to the biennials as the bed is split into two halves and the lines of plants are arranged differently in each half.

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  13. Well the flowers look lovely and it's good to see the bees enjoying them. I would like to have seen a panoramic shot of the flower bed though to see if I agreed with how badly you thought it looked. I'm sure my opinion would have been different judging by the other photos you have posted!!

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    1. You can't really appreciated the disappointing bed in a photo Tanya. No larkspur came up at all and just a few cornflowers. There are lots of weeds in there too.

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  14. Well, that all looked rather marvelous to me....but sad about the larkspur, a plant I love. I hope it all works out next year.xxxx

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    1. Patches like the one in the photo are lovely but generally there isn't the coverage that I wanted, Snowbird

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  15. Great idea, Sue :-) I love to experiment with planting too and genuinely love to follow what other gardeners do to solve issues they are not happy with. We are always learning - gardening really isn't a dull, static interest :-)

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