Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Monday, 20 October 2014

Daffy Dahlia

Photo of a large yellow dinner plat dahlia with a red streak on one of the petals
My daffy dahlia - posing for its photo in the large terrace bed 

Whilst I was out in the garden last week, I noticed something slightly different in one of my bright yellow "dinner plate" dahlias. This plant is in its third season here and it's the first time I've seen a streak of red on any of the petals.

Just one flower is affected, so what's going on?

Four possible reasons spring to mind: environmental impact, genetic mutation, reversion, or a reaction to a virus.

Environmental impact

I wrote about how environmental factors affected My Crazy Petunias last year. I found the Crazytunias I grew were sensitive to light and temperature and this in turn affected their flower colouration. I also uncovered a number of other examples (like my Salvia 'Hot Lips') which can differ in response to a number of environmental factors or stress. I don't think that's happening in this case as it's just a single streak of red and it hasn't happened before.

It's all in the genes?

Genetic mutation which gives rise to a different looking plant aka a 'sport' is a well-known way of obtaining new plants. I've already seen a couple of these here at VP Gardens, most notably my Mystery Clematis. It could be a sport this time, but somehow I don't think there's enough of a variation for this to be my favoured explanation.

Going back to mum or dad

Reversion is where a plant goes back to a different form found in its parentage. The most well-known example is where variegated plants revert to pure green leaves. This is happening currently with some of my Euonymus shrubs in the front garden. It could explain what's happening here, but without knowing this particular dahlia's breeding, I have no way of knowing whether there is any red in its genetic parentage.

Give them a break

Virus infections giving rise to colour breaks in flowers are very well known, particularly with tulips. They can produce some spectacularly mottled and striped flowers resulting from infection by the Tulip breaking virus. It was these variations which helped fuel "Tulip mania" in Europe during the 17th Century. I've found one reference to this also happening with dahlias, so this possibility - like reversion - needs further research.

Next steps

In the meantime, I'll apply my Dahlia Duvet as usual this winter and hope I can continue with my observations next year. At the moment I'm tending towards reversion as the cause as the difference is so limited on one bloom. One of my large variegated Euonymus shrubs has just a single small branch which has reverted. If it was a virus, I would expect a more dramatic change, unless the infection is very light.

Quite often with a virus, infected plants get steadily weaker until they no longer bloom. This is what happened to some of the popular tulip varieties in the past. So next year I'll look for more red streaks on blooms and/or any signs of weakening of the plant.

What a living botany lesson my garden is turning out to be. There's always something new to observe and learn, so I'm adding a new Botany label to the blog - to gather together my lessons from VP Gardens.

Friday, 17 October 2014

VP's VIPs: Our Flower Patch

Photo of Sara Wilman and Cally Smart from Our Flower Patch
Sara (left) and Cally of  Our Flower Patch
Picture credit: Clare Green and
Western Daily Press
It gives me great pleasure to feature my latest VIPs -from Our Flower Patch, a joint venture between Cally Smart and Sara Wilman. I've known Cally for ages as she's one of my Local Vocal bloggers and I met Sara last year when she, Cally and I went on our Gardeners' Question Time adventure.

Cally and Sara are keen supporters of the British Flowers movement and earlier this year launched Our Flower Patch. They're so excited and passionate about what they're doing, I've decided to divide our interview into three parts. I didn't want to cut out any of their enthusiasm and I'm sure what they have to say is of interest to many of you.

So without further ado, here's how it all started...

How did you meet?

Several years ago in a flower arranger's garden. We were at an event for women in business. Sara had started growing cut flowers as a hobby and I was working as a freelance teacher running educational activities in primary schools and writing a blog.

Sara offered to send me some pictures of her sunflowers to use on the blog. Bringing up children took over for the next few years but we reconnected again a couple of years ago on Twitter.

How long have you been growing cut flowers/working in education?

I’ve been growing flowers on and off since I was a child but started gardening in earnest when I was a young teacher living in North London in the early 1990s. I had a balcony where I grew lots in pots and then started doing a bit of guerrilla gardening in the secondary schools where I taught. 

When we moved to Wiltshire and the children were born, more time and less money led me to grow more and more. When the children started school I volunteered to run a gardening club and eventually realised that the crop we grew which fitted best with the school terms and which sold best was cut flowers. Selling flowers enabled us to run gardening activities in a self sustaining way at school. In these times, where many schools are cash-strapped, this is a definite bonus.

I’ve always been interested in gardening and used to help my Nan in her garden as a very young child. I bought heathers and other plants to pretty up the bland patio at my student shared house in University, and loved buying my first house as I could really make my mark on its garden. 

Growing flowers specifically for cutting started as a bit of an accident when I was offered an allotment. I bought “a few” flower seeds, as I didn't think I could fill an allotment with veg, and soon realised I had more flower seeds than veg seeds! So my own cut flower patch was started on a separate piece of land a friend owns near my house. It has expanded several times since and is now growing as a business [My Flower Patch - Ed].

How did the idea for Our Flower Patch (OFP) come about?

I was interested in developing activities for my school gardeners specifically on growing more cut flowers for sale and asked Sara to help. She agreed and we met for a coffee. The idea grew from there. OFP was born in a coffee shop in Devizes, where we were taking advantage of their free wifi. We got through a lot of coffee and by the end of the morning we had a business name, a domain name, a long list of ideas for educational activities and a seed supplier on board.

We realised that growing flowers in schools fits really well into the school term set up, as there is something to do as soon as the children come back in September. They can be straight into sowing hardy annuals for earlier blooms next year, and with further seed sowing in the spring, there will plenty of blooms for them to harvest before they break up for the summer. There is always something to be done when you are growing flowers, so it is ideal for young people who like to be involved in a project, see it develop and follow it through.

How long did it take to get from idea to launch? What (if anything) changed along the way? 

We launched on St David’s Day (March 1st) 2014 - perfect for two Welsh girls who love flowers -with a view to spreading the word and signing up members from the start of the Autumn term. It took us about 4 months from idea to launch.

We thought we’d write a package of printed materials at first but decided that teachers value ongoing support, advice and networking opportunities and bite size chunks of information so decided to make everything available online and to build a community of growers. 

Our Flower Patch was born as a membership website with some publicly accessible sections and now, an additional blog where we post information, advice and ideas for growing flowers and getting children outside doing things and having fun. 
Thanks Cally and Sara. It's great to have an insight into how OFP was born and how quickly your ideas grew in that first meeting.

We'll be catching up with them again in 2 weeks time to find out more about their work and have a further bathe in their enthusiasm.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

GBBD: Aster novi-belgii 'Waterperry'

Picture of Aster novi-belgii 'Waterperry'

Asters are the final plant to come to my garden and my terrace bed revamp this year. I was put off them as a child because the Michaelmas daisies we had (as they were often called then) were those sorry, leggy and mildew ridden specimens so often seen in 1960s gardens.

My picture shows a very different aster called A. 'Waterperry'. I bought it as a souvenir of a wonderful visit to the garden last September, where this particular cultivar was discovered. The garden's famous long border contained many asters, all very healthy with not one jot of mildew to be seen. They made me revise my thinking on their garden worthiness.

It also gave me the nub of an idea for my revamp of the garden this year. Most of the plants I've chosen are gifts from friends or have strong associations with them or places I've visited. I now have two terrace beds full of memories and good times as well as marvellous plants.

Photo of Aster novi-belgii 'Waterperry' draped over a garden wall
For some reason I planted this particular aster at the back of the lower terrace bed, thinking it was one of the taller ones. I've just checked the label which says it grows to just 40cms tall.

It seems however that my instinct was right in placing it at the back, because it's far taller than it should be*. The flowers are using the back wall as a kind of shelf, where they've arranged themselves most prettily.

The picture to the left gives you more of an idea of what they've done. It means the flowers look like they're forming the front of the top terrace bed rather than the back of the lower one.

Have any of your plants performed in an unexpected way this year?

* = Looking at Waterperry's picture, I'm wondering whether I have the right plant. Website picture colours can vary widely though...

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Update 20/10: there was an @oldhorts visit to Westonbirt Arboretum at the weekend and Pat Havers - Waterperry's Head Gardener - was there. Today she's kindly confirmed I do indeed have Aster 'Waterperry'. Theirs has grown much taller this year too and thinking about it, so have plenty of other plants in my garden this year.
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