Autumn at the cut-flower garden and a farm update 🍂

publishedabout 1 month ago
6 min read

The New Provincial

October 2023

After the busy summer months, when comes October, gardeners, just like nature, need a good rest. Autumn is the time to put the garden to bed, reflect on the past few months and plan the next growing season. In today’s newsletter, I’ll list everything you need to do now for great spring flowers.

But before we dive in, I have a small farm update for you 👀

Farm update

You might have noticed the absence of the September newsletter, and that’s because I’ve been caught up in a major project — we're buying a house! To be precise, an ancient 1890 house that’s seen better days. The past few months have been a whirlwind of house viewings, bank meetings, and gathering quotes from a slew of builders. Given the extensive renovations ahead, I’ve decided to scale back on flower growing next season.

What does this mean for the newsletter?

Not much! I’ll still be sending you a monthly flower newsletter complete with a detailed gardening plan. However, brace yourself for occasional glimpses into my house projects, especially once I start revamping the new garden. As I roll out new content, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you enjoy the most! Feel free to reply to my emails — I genuinely love reading your responses.

Will I stop growing flowers altogether?

Absolutely not! Finding a house with a spacious garden was a priority for me. This year, I experimented with growing flowers at an allotment, but it didn’t quite work for me. Visiting the allotment proved challenging amidst a busy schedule, and I sorely missed the convenience of strolling in my garden between meetings or during lunch breaks. I’m thrilled about creating a thriving cut flower garden at the new house, and I can’t wait to bring you along on this exciting journey.

Now that the house news is out, let’s jump into our Autumn gardening plan.

Autumn tasks

  1. Divide and transplant perennials: As temperatures cool down, perennials shift their energy to their roots, making it an ideal time to divide and transplant for a blossoming display next year.
  2. Retag all dahlias for accurate identification: Labels tend to fade in the summer sun, leaving me scratching my head by September. While dahlias are still in full bloom, I take some time to identify and re-label the plants, gearing up for tuber division later on.
  3. Soak ranunculus and anemone corms for pre-sprouting: Give these beauties a head start by soaking the corms and planting them. I usually keep them indoors as they sprout.
  4. Dig up and store dahlia tubers: While a bit labor-intensive, this step pays off if you’re aiming to increase your dahlia yield next year. Choose a sunny day to dig out, wash, and thoroughly dry the tubers before dividing, tagging, and storing. I’ll include a link to a fantastic book that guides you through the entire process.
  5. Clean up the garden: Remove and compost all annuals, taking a moment to reflect on potential changes. Once the garden is tidier, it’s the perfect time to analyze and identify improvements for the next season. Is one area getting too much afternoon shade? Did your layout complicate watering? Is poor soil or nearby large plants affecting a specific area’s performance? If you decide to tweak your garden layout, lay down tarp over the winter months to suppress potential weeds.
  6. Plant spring bulbs: Tulips, narcissi, alliums, hyacinths, fritillaria, muscari—plant them all! If space is tight, consider growing them in pots using the lasagne method.
  7. Gather leaves for leaf mulch: Collect fallen leaves and store them in bins or plastic bags to create nutrient-rich leaf mulch.
  8. Seed trays in the greenhouse: Get a head start on sweet peas, scabiosa, nigella, cornflowers, bupleurum, and larkspur by sowing seed trays in the greenhouse.

Flower of the month: Dahlias

Dahlias kick off their blooming show in the summer, but it's at the onset of autumn that they truly shine. It's almost like the cooler nights give them a second wind. During this time, their blooms become even more vibrant, and the plant hits its productivity peak. With proper care, you can enjoy their flowers all the way up to the first frost.

🌱 Type: Perennial but often gown as an annual if you have cold winters

🗓️ When: Plant the tubers directly after the risk of frost has passed

🌞 Where: in full sun, in well-drained soil

👩‍🌾 Harvest: from early July to late October

💐 Vase life: 5 to 7 days

🐝 Pollinator friendly: Yes

🥀 Drying: Yes, for some varieties

📚 Pressing: No

Dahlias are a diverse bunch, and you’ll find one to suit every taste. They fall into 14 distinct groups, each with its own characteristics: single-flowered, anemone-flowered, collerette, waterlily, formal decorative, ball, pompon, cactus, semi-cactus, miscellaneous, fimbriated, star, double orchid and peony.

These groups come in various sizes and colors, each offering unique qualities for floral arrangements. It’s worth delving into the specifics of each group to find the ones that appeal to you. Personally, I’m drawn to ball, formal decorative, and anemone dahlias. However, I tend to steer clear of large dinner plate dahlias, with the exception of the famous Café au Lait, as I find them challenging to incorporate into arrangements and bouquets.

Here are some of my favourite varieties:

Great Silence

Totally Tangerine

Jowey Frambo


Café au Lait

Linda's Baby

Growing dahlias is a breeze if you follow a few rules:

  • They’re sensitive to frost, so only plant them outdoors after the risk of frost has passed. If you want an early start, plant them in pots in a greenhouse and then transplant them outside in early summer.
  • Keep slugs at bay, as they can wreak havoc on young plants. Preventative measures like beer traps a few weeks before planting out usually work best.
  • Pinch your dahlia seedlings for more stems once they have a few sets of leaves.
  • When harvesting, don’t hesitate to cut deep; this encourages the plant to produce longer stems. Sacrificing a few buds is okay—the more you cut, the more the plant will produce.
  • Stay on top of deadheading; leaving dead flowers slows down the plant and reduces blooms.
  • For the longest vase life, pick the flower when it’s about 3/4 open.
  • In less wet and cold winters, you can leave dahlias in the ground. Trim the plant to the roots in autumn and cover the base with mulch. If that’s not an option, dig them up and store them in a dry place over the winter. It’s labor-intensive but yields more tubers and, consequently, more flowers the following year.
  • Increase your yield by learning how to divide tubers. A viable tuber needs an eye, a neck, and a body. The eye (or eyes) will eventually swell and sprout. Size doesn’t matter; a tuber may be small or oddly shaped, but it will grow as long as it has these three elements.

I could write endlessly about dahlias, but Erin Benzakein from Floret has already covered it splendidly. I highly recommend their book on dahlias, covering everything from colors and shapes to dividing and storing tubers, even creating your own dahlia variety.

If you need more flower content until next month...

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The New Provincial

Join me as I attempt to grow organic flowers, create calligraphy art or simply share the joys of living creatively. You can expect loads of pictures of dahlias, craft projects and, every now and then, maybe a picture of my cat!​

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