Autumn: Gales, Rain and An Absence of Sun, Time to Lift the Dahlias!

First came Abigail, then Kate and finally, Barney. You're probably thinking that these are friends that they came equipped with spades and forks; trugs ready to brim with weeds but they're not. Instead these where the names that the Met Office, along with the British public, attributed to the recent spate of gales we've had. It's safe to say naming gale force winds after a kid's dinosaur that gets on every parents tits doesn't make us think of shrill winds, chapped lips and tears streaming up our foreheads as we try to lash everything down. We haven't seen the sun since September and it's getting us down. 

Weather can drive out a gardeners mojo but there are things to do.


Our view from the hillside is a muted catalogue of greys and rain is always threatening. The ground is so saturated that sometimes we skid on it, caking our legs and wellies in gluttonous mud. 

Winter is nibbling its way into the garden.

Even the hedges have curled back on themselves waiting for winter to bite, and we can feel it starting to nibble at the edges of the garden. The runner beans are wet, dead and far from drying, we will have to cut them down and store them in the glasshouse. The sweet peas have collapsed under their own weight and the force of that bloody dinosaur gale who probably harrumphed his way round our garden singing inane songs about gales and farting has made us jumpy about every wind that passes through the valley.

How to dig up dahlias.

Which may explain why our dahlias now look like that. That isn't Barney manure, it's the remains of our dahlias, blasted by cold winds, blasted by the first frosts and blasting gone. They are the last flowers of the season, they bring joy in late summer and autumn, their passing should be marked by a festival, carnival, possibly a parade or at the very least a child with a pop gun giving a twenty-one pop salute. Though we suspect if Little D did this he would grow bored by pop five and be back in the house by pop seven. Farewell, dahlias, you were bloody marvelous. We're also lifting you a fortnight earlier than we did last year, just showing how wet and cold the end of autumn has been.The garden isn't a place to be today but it's a job we can't put off, once the foliage is gone it's only a matter of time before the tubers start to rot in the wet and cold. There may be a bloke in the audience on Gardeners' Question Time lauding it in the deep beautiful south of Hampshire he can leave his cactus dahlia in the ground and just mulch them but we are in the North, it's wet, it's higher up than the south - in fact it's safe to say that the North is playing a waiting game, in terms of geology, the North is literally rising (don't panic, no mill workers and coal miners are massing in London, there will be no riots in the wet) and the south is sinking into the channel - so we have to dig our's up, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it, mulch! Mulch! MULCH! You got to be kidding us. However, we can take solace that the south is sinking and though it will take a few more million years to happen it does make gardeners in Huddersfield feel very smug about that bloke's dahlias in Hampshire inevitable snuffing it. It may be cold today, it may be wet, the ground beneath our feet may have the consistency of an oil slick but it's time to get our garden fork out and yank up those tubers.

Storing dahlia tubers

The process of taking up dahlia tubers is akin to grubbing up treasure, if you know it's there, you don't want to be driving a fork through a four thousand year old crown. You'd look a berk taking it on Antiques Roadshow and David Battie telling you that it was priceless but now it has four holes in it from fork tines you won't be able to sell it in a pound shop. Go soft, go slow, tease them from the ground or if it's wet and slippery underfoot, swear at the buggers until they miraculously rise from the earth like a zombie in a b-movie. Once you have pulled up the living dead or dahlias, don't forget to stack them upside down in a greenhouse, dahlias love this as it allows the caked soil to dry out around the tubers and for you to brush it off at a later date (wait about seven days and if a hard frost is on the cards cover them over with newspaper or sacking). However, this doesn't work on zombies, stacking them upside down means they could bite your ankles, in the event of zombies in your garden remember the garden advice from GQT, 'Never touch a zombie without first wearing thick gloves and starting a chainsaw, it's best to prune them from the head downwards in swift, decisive cuts'. For the record, this weather is also driving us nuts.

Clearing the ground for winter

Now, we'll fork in some garden compost and go lie down in a dark room and make living dead noises until the sun shows up again.

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