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Journal

Overwintering Dahlias - What I do

The dahlia is a plant that originates in Mexico - there it grows wild and the Aztec name was acocoxóchitl.

It is suited to warmer climates and in most parts of the UK needs to be protected from the frosts of winter. There are a couple of main methods of keeping them away from frost. Some people lift the tubers and store them in sheds, cellars or garages. However, if I take anything indoors it tends to die or be eaten by mice, so this is what I do instead.

That Aztec name acocoxóchitl gives the clue to why I think most dahlias freeze in the winter. The word translates as 'hollow stemmed plant' or 'water carrier' - and the stems were used to carry water on journeys.

In the garden - if you chop the tops off your dahlias to neaten them up over the winter, you are creating hollow straws for rain water to be channelled straight down to the tuber underground, pretty much guaranteeing that it will freeze over the winter and turn to mush.

Instead I do nothing for the first 3 weeks after frost - I just leave the tattered mush of a plant to gently collapse, closing up the tops of the stems as it does so.

Then I remove any broken stems - the ones that snap and fall over - and pour a dry mulch of some sort over the tuber. This is usually spent compost from my tomato plants and garden pots. The rest of the plant remains intact - flowers and collapsed stems stopping the water from getting into the stems. I check the mulch after heavy rain to make sure it hasn't been washed away, and top up if needed.

Last year I added a second mulch of sheep fleeces to half the dahlias to stop the need for topping up. Many fleeces have no commercial value at the moment, something that seems ridiculous, and farmers are often glad to have them used. Wool fleeces make a great insulated and slug repellent covering in the garden*.

To keep the dahlias cosy I simply stuffed the fleeces carefully around the bases and then left them alone until late March/April when the soil begins to warm again.

This does mean that you have a garden that looks a little as though there are rather scruffy sheep lying all over it - and that may bother you. Last year both lots of dahlias came through the winter fine here - the ones with the fleece mulch and the ones with the old compost mulch - but though we had a lot of rain (and I did need to top up the compost mulch a couple of times), it wasn't a particularly frozen winter.

* I have been offered a large bag of fleeces by a neighbour, so I am intending to cover all my fallow vegetable beds with them over winter, possibly over a layer of manure and grass clippings to make a kind of sheet mulch. They are also wonderful for planting hedges and trees into as they keep the ground weed free and gradually rot down. The ones I put on the beds for the winter will probably be reused in some tree planting we have planned for the Spring.

Tags: gardening do

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Every year the sudden sink in light catches me by surprise. ⁠⁠
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Usually I first see it when I fail to take a photo. When I can't get my camera to capture what I want. When all the advances I've made in my photography get swamped by not knowing what to do to make a difference to something so ethereal.⁠⁠
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Yesterday - taking a photo of the Studio windowsill with its seed heads and berries - I hit a problem of grain.  All my images looked dull, in focus but somehow lacking light.  I randomly changed camera settings and lost half the morning peering at a screen foolishly trying to edit light back in.⁠⁠
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In the end I messaged my friend Rebecca @poshyarns - whose photos capture light in the most beautiful way. She called me back and talked me through, and even gave me the confidence to ditch my tripod. ⁠⁠
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And suddenly the light came back into my photos and the murk was gone. ⁠⁠
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If Rebecca ever decides to teach I will be right at the head of the queue.⁠
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#howihueit #simpleandstill #capturequiet #beautyyouseek #calm_collected #aseasonalway #aseasonalshift #cornersofmyworld #slowlived #slowandsimpledays #quietchaotics #ihaveathingwithwindows #ofsimplethings #beautyinsimplicity #floralstories #allthingsbotanical #underthefloralspell #slowfloralstyle #petalsandprops #nestandflourish #livethelittlethings #thehappynow #ihavethisthingwithflowers #moodforfloral #cornersofmyhome #aseasonalway #slowlivingforlife #aflowerfilledlife
Kat @katgoldin took this photo of me a few weeks ago on a photoshoot that consisted of her telling me to 'just do the things you do and ignore me'.⁠⁠
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Despite having been friends for ages, she had never seen me embroider - the buzz and shimmy of the needle on fabric. ⁠⁠
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Sometimes seeing things through other people's eyes helps you see them anew yourself. Kat's joy in the emerging lines helped me see that what I've created here in the studio is a very special and precious thing.⁠⁠
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The doors to the Studio Club - which is basically a seasonal exploration of all that goes on here - open again in a few weeks time.  You can sign up to get a personal invite via my profile. ⁠⁠
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You can see how good I am at 'ignoring' - my face is quite clearly mid laughter.⁠⁠
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This is perhaps a bit of a downbeat photo for my 1000th post. messy faded daisies in the Studio Meadow.⁠⁠
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But I think it pretty much sums up what I hold dear - imperfect, natural, wild.⁠⁠
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Today my elder daughter graduates from drama school (a year late), in two days time my younger daughter turns twenty one. ⁠⁠
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A weekend of reflection, celebration and joy lies ahead.
The last of the dahlias. They are declining with the light. ⁠⁠
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Though you can't see in the photo the doubles all have that mucky chicken bum at the back and the singles have dropped their petals.⁠⁠
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The best things in the garden at the moment are the sanguisorbas - bought from @quirkybirdgardener in the summer - and settling in so well that one is now as tall as me.⁠⁠
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They've always been one of my favourite cut flowers - these white ones remind me a little of of lambs tails.
Home⁠
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After an incredibly inspiring couple of weeks. ⁠
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We ended up our holiday at Camp Goodlife @thegoodlifesoc - where it seemed that every single person we spoke to was making a positive change in the world. From creating new ways of running restaurants to connecting people to the land to making beautiful clothes to teaching children about growing food. 
And for everyone, these changes were centred around joy. ⁠
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I loved our trip but I’m so excited about getting back into the Studio this morning. 

📷 @katgoldin
Thistledown is so beguiling. ⁠
The soft cream catching the light, waiting for goldfinches to alight. ⁠
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I’m heading to Hawarden today to join the lively people at @thegoodlifesoc and teach about foraged colour and dyeing socks with all kinds of plants. I’m hoping to be able to harvest some thistles as they give a particularly beautiful mustardy yellow.
Though I grew lots and lots of straw flowers for Christmas wreaths back when I had a proper commercial flower business,  it was only this year that I slowed down enough to really see them. ⁠
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I’d assumed that they wouldn’t be good for insects until fully out - flat dulled daisies, past the point of picking - but actually wasps seem to pollinate them when they are still tightly furled. ⁠
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This patch was wasp central for weeks. ⁠
A few butterflies flitted about, but mainly wasps⁠
I am somebody who needs distance to see a bigger picture. ⁠
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For the past couple of months I’ve been really struggling with where Snapdragon Life is, and how to get from here to where I want it to be. ⁠
I filled books and books with notes but was going round in circles - unable to commit to anything with the kind of conviction a small business needs. It was all too fuzzy somehow. ⁠
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Now I am away from the Studio. ⁠
Right in the middle of two weeks of walking and eating and photographing gardens and meeting friends and suddenly it is all much clearer. ⁠
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I now have 5 sentences written in my phone notes and a high clear soaring route to take. ⁠
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The multi talented @katgoldin took this photo of me in the Studio before I left - part of a photo shoot that took almost three years to actually schedule because I will do almost anything to avoid being in front of a camera.
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About Snapdragon Life

At Snapdragon Life I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

 

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