Hardening Off Dahlias

The heavens have just opened, first warning sign was the distant thunder, then the plummet in temperature and then the wind being sucked into the clouds like that moment with Dakota Fanning and Tom Cruise in the flawed War of the Worlds movie (seriously, his ex-wife and her family are all sat in the lounge in Boston playing bridge while the rest of the world burns) and everyone in the car park notices that this is typical British weather. Martians? We get them falling from the sky every summer. It's not a British summer unless something floods, freezes or is cancelled. This is the kind of stoicism that saw us win the war, we simply are incapable of celebrating good weather. The last time we had a really hot summer people spoke of standpipes, hosepipe bans and falling levels on reservoirs. Our litany is: 'We're all doomed' and then we will sing Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Hitler whilst re-enacting the moving arrows in Dad's Army to shouts of: 'Knock it off, Dave, you look a right wazzock'. The heavens have opened, it's bouncing, not flouncing, not even the kind of rain you want to walk out in after too much heat. This is the kind of rain that does indeed bounce off the ground, up your trouser leg and smack you in the crotch. This is rain made of girders. Now, after all those cultural references to television and film it's time to talk dahlias.

dahlias, gardening, hardening off

Dahlias are so deeply unfashionable that they have become the hot thing to grow in your garden. That's how fashion works, something is deplored, hated, laughed at and then secretly taken home by a few thousand people who don't tell anyone else they have it. Then they all show up with it at the same place, at the same time and have the same 'I-had-this-before-it-was-fashionable' looks on their face. Cool people are cool because they are deeply unfashionable to the point of being fashionable. That's the story of dahlias really. Your Grandad grew them. He grew them in the 1950s. He grew them when bras were pointed like warheads, screen idols stood over underground vents with air blowing up their wazoo (seriously, all that stench rising from the subway is not sexy) and reds lurked in the cupboard. The good old days of brown derby soup and caning. Oh, can you hear how people are applauding for the past? That's why dahlias have become fashionable again, they hark back to another age and they are incredibly simple to grow from seed, store and have year after year. Yes, you too can have a little vintage in the garden but for God's sake step away from the Gladioli not even Morrissey could save them.

vintage, gardening, dahlias, life on pig row

We sow our dahlias in February, you will need a packet of dahlia seeds (we grow bishops children which are deeply fashionable, cool and sexy. They are the Rita Hayworth of the flower world), a seed compost and a windowsill heated propagator (the kind that give bottom heat - no, not that kind of bottom - the gentle heat that comes upwards into seed trays and seeds). Fill the trays with seed compost, and in windowsill heated propagators we tend to fill two seed trays to one packet of seeds. Sow the seeds across the compost, lightly cover with compost, water and put the seed tray lid on and leave. Within a fortnight you will have seedlings, and then prick out, pot on and if you have brought some tubers (this is what those seeds will turn into) then you can see how to start them off in a video here. Either way, you will get to the point when those dahlias will have to come out from undercover and this is called hardening off. Hardening off is a simple way of getting those plants use to your garden (do this with plants from garden centres too). Over a week put your new plants outside, they will have to get use to that British weather (seriously, we have twelve types of rain and they all fall in one hour) but bring back undercover each evening as the sun wanes. Then one night, normally a Friday night you will forget they are outside, you will be too busy watching Monty Don on the BBC, mid-scream at his wonderful soil that is weed free you will yell at Monty: 'Me bloody dahlias, sodding hell'. Then they will be hardened off or dead. That's the mantra of gardening.


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