Showing posts from May, 2020

Absolutely fabulous dahlias

It always makes me want to giggle when I hear American gardening friends talking about DAH-lias. It reminds me of Patsy and Eddy in the television comedy Absolutely Fabulous.
Yet my American friends are right (and I am very rude to want to giggle). DAY-lias, as we call them in the UK, were named after the 18th-century Swedish botanist Anders Dahl, a student of Carl Linnaeus (yes, him again), whose name is pronounced the same way as the Dahl in Roald Dahl.
However you pronounce them, dahlias are superb plants with spectacular flowers. Native to central America, all the thousands and thousands of varieties we have today are descended from plant material sent back to Spain in 1789.
By the way, if you are the sort of person who loves soft pastel colours (and who doesn't?), there are dozens of dahlias in soft subtle colours as well as the traditional bright jewel shades. Check out these soft pink ones below.

I've always been a bit wary of growing dahlias because they are prone to …

George says: grow pelargoniums

Ivy-leaved pelargoniums growing in a hanging basket outside George's house
Pelargoniums or geraniums? Storksbills or cranesbills? What's the difference and does it matter? We all talk about geraniums when we mean pelargoniums, but for the sake of clarity (and because I am pedantic) I have used the term pelargoniums throughout George's article. This is to distinguish them from hardy perennial geraniums, which can be grown in our climate all year round without any protection. We can blame the confusion about the name on Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who came up with the idea of binomial nomenclature - the idea of giving every living thing a name that described its genus and its species: for example, Homo sapiens. In 1753, Linnaeus formally described what we now call pelargoniums and geraniums as geraniums. It wasn't until 1789 that the French botanist Charles L'Heritier reclassified the two groups. (Have you ever noticed that when botanists reclassify plants, they …

George says: grow super-scented sweet peas

Have you ever sown sweet pea seeds in the cardboard tubes from loo rolls? George and I were speculating the other day whether this was what had caused the panic-buying of lavatory paper in the weeks before the coronavirus lockdown. Just think, perhaps all the UK's gardeners, worried about growing their sweet peas, were rushing to the supermarkets to stock up on cardboard tubes? What did they do with all the toilet paper? Probably used it to line their sweet pea trenches. I never quite understood what the lavatory paper stockpiling was all about anyway, so our explanation makes much more sense, I think. By the way, the tip about lining the trench with newspaper can be adapted for planting other things too. It's a good idea if you're planting a hedge, or growing runner beans - any situation where you are planting rows of things and need to retain moisture while they establish. Follow George's advice and enjoy some gorgeous sweet peas this summer.
Autumn-sown sweet peas growin…

George says: Enter the ballerina! It's time to talk fuchsias

Today, fuchsias come in all sorts of combinations of red, white, pink, purple and even blue, but the distinctive red sepals on species such as Fuchsia magellanica – and the lack of scent – are clues that these elegant flowers are designed to be pollinated by birds. Not just any birds, but hummingbirds.
Fuchsias always remind me of ballerinas, with their long skirts, and protruding anthers that look like tiny little legs in pointe shoes. In fact, the fuchsia flower is designed to make life easy for its hummingbird partners, allowing them to hover beneath the flower while inserting their long curved beaks into the corolla.
I'm always very jealous when I see hummingbirds in American gardens, but while we may not have hummingbirds here in the UK, we can grow fuchsias. George explains how.

The versatile fuchsia can be found in every garden, either as a hardy variety, or in hanging baskets, in patio pots, or as standards or pyramids, plus the straightforward potted plant. The range of colou…

George says: Grow fabulous begonias for rainbows of colour

The picture on the left shows my Aunt Flo (on the left) and my Uncle Bill, who was the founding president of the East of Scotland Begonia Society. I went to school in Fife, where they still live, and I can tell you that if you live in the east of Scotland, where in winter the wind whistles straight over the North Sea from northern Europe and Siberia, you need every bit of summer colour and cheerfulness that you can find. Flo's full name is Florence, but my nickname for her is Auntie Flora. It seems appropriate, because she judges exhibition begonias. I would never dare show her any begonia I have ever grown, but I do like begonias of all kinds. They are often treated in the UK as annuals, but they are actually tender perennials, and will come back year after year. Let George explain how to do this. The picture at the top of the page is one of his begonias, and I'm sure even Auntie Flora would approve.

Begonias are some of the most versatile plants around. There’s a variety for …