Mid-July State of the Garden

The cat wanders through my vegetable garden

Greetings from an early morning stroll through my garden!

The last two months have brought unusually cool weather ranging from the mid sixties to low seventies, and plant growth is lagging behind what it should be for this time of year. We did receive intermittent rain over the past two weeks, though, so everything is starting to fill out nicely in the combined veggie garden/dahlia patch.

So far I’ve spotted a handful of unripe cherry tomatoes, some snap peas, a couple paste tomatoes, an itty-bitty tromboncino squash, and a plethora of small yellow squash growing. Not a lot is happening yet; it’s just finally starting to warm up after weeks of cool weather. The below picture was taken last week, but everything seems to have doubled in size since then, so unfortunately this isn’t a true representation of the current state of the garden. Somehow I keep taking pictures of the cat instead…

Early morning in the vegetable garden and dahlia patch

The dinnerplate dahlias are averaging 3.5 feet tall, and the dahlia patch is starting to look a little jungly (just the way I like it). One dahlia that I purchased as a rooted cutting is already so top heavy with buds that it was lying on the ground, and I had to secure it to a bamboo stake — it felt pretty silly sinking 6-foot stakes into the ground when I planted the dahlias out months ago, but they’re already coming in handy. I didn’t expect much from the rooted cuttings this year while they develop tubers, so I’m quite happy about it.

Out of 40+ dahlias in my garden, only two have bloomed so far: Sonic Bloom and Fuzzy Wuzzy (which was mislabeled as Center Court — I’m curious what will bloom in the spot I thought I planted Fuzzy Wuzzy in).

Sonic Bloom dahlia flowerFuzzy Wuzzy dahlia flower

I’m glad I planted so many roses this spring because the anticipation of waiting for the rest of the dahlias is  k i l l i n g  me. It was so nice to have some roses to enjoy in the meantime. And the cosmos and sweet peas are just starting to flower here and there, so that’s also tiding me over now that the roses have just about finished for the season.

Double-click bicolor violet cosmo flower

I find myself not doing much in the garden these days other than wandering and observing and doing the occasional staking and watering — the wood chip mulch has been excellent for retaining moisture in the soil, and I really only need to water once a week now, and less than that if it rains.

I would like to mention the one downside I’ve discovered about the wood chip mulch, and that is that it’s created the perfect feeding ground for the moles, presumably because the soil is kept moist and attracts many worms and insects. I have to walk through the garden every morning and survey for any damage — i.e. fresh hills and pushed up plants. We’re trying to trap them but have been largely unsuccessful. They’re evasive fellows.

Other than doing battle with the moles, I’m trying to enjoy this downtime, because soon enough the canner will be at a rolling boil day in and day out as I rush to preserve the bounty of the garden. I’ve already spotted a whopping seven yellow summer squash growing on one plant. Yowza. I think I’ll have to look in my Pickled Pantry book and see what I can do with whatever excess we won’t eat fresh.

How grows your garden?

It’s Dahlia Day!

Last year's dahlia blooms
Remembering last year’s dahlias

The lilacs are blooming and Mother’s Day is right around the corner, which means the most anticipated day of the year is finally here — it’s time to plant the dahlias!

I’m hoping to get them done in one fell swoop tonight after work, since we’re going out of town on Saturday. And since there are so many to get in the ground this year, I made a list (organized by height) to guide me — I don’t want to accidentally shade out a 3-ft. variety by planting it next to a 5-ft. variety. I’m not too concerned about color combinations; I’d rather it be a riot of color and a bit of a surprise when everything finally blooms. It’s more exciting that way, wouldn’t you agree?

Since I’m doing wood chip mulching this year, my plan is to push the mulch aside with a hoe, creating wide furrows that I’ll plant the tubers in and then top with soil, rather than pushing the mulch back — Swan Island advises not to mulch your dahlias, so this will be a bit of an experiment in sort-of mulching but not really.

I’m pretty ambitious when it comes to planning tasks for myself after work, and I still have to clean the house tonight in preparation for the sitter, so it’s highly possible I won’t get all the dahlias planted tonight. But I can certainly try!

Archie the corgi in our new radio flyer wagon
Archie for scale

One thing I’m counting on helping with the extensive dahlia planting is my “new” garden wagon — it was a lucky Craigslist find! It will be perfect for transporting the potted-up tubers to the garden without tipping them over or making numerous trips back and forth. It’s got all-terrain wheels, too, so I don’t have to worry about  having a difficult time pulling it through the grass. It’s going to be a life safer!

Potted up dahlias in our new garden wagon

Some of the dahlias are already putting on quite a lot of growth — I can’t wait to see which one will bloom first! A few varieties that I’m particularly looking forward to are Castle Drive, Tengai, Big Brother, Labyrinth, Terracotta, Papageno, and Wyn’s Mauve Mist.

But, before blooms comes hard work — wish me luck getting all these tubers in the ground; I’m going to need it!

A Severe Case of Dahlia Fever

Dahlias at Manito Park in Spokane, WA

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with dahlias. Last year I grew 22 different varieties in my garden, and this year I anticipate that number will climb to the high 30s. Dahlia people are totally a thing, and I’m unabashedly one of them.

My infatuation began when my husband and I were living in Spokane a few years ago — his parents were visiting, and we decided it would be fun to check out the gardens at a local park. As we exited the rose garden and rounded the corner toward the towering jungle of the dahlia garden, I knew I was done for.

Up until I’d seen a dahlia in person, they sort of made me uncomfortable. They’re so spiky and aggressive looking. (Which, I’ve since learned, is only true for some of them — there are so many different classifications of dahlias: Some have water lily-like petals, some are more puffballs, some are delightfully frilly like petticoats. And that’s just the tip of it!) But as I peered through the wire fence enclosing a forest of dahlias taller than all five feet of me, all I could think about was how I wished I could walk between the towering stems and surround myself with such beautiful and unusual flowers.

A few apartments and a house later, I never stopped thinking about that garden. After moving into our house in 2017, I bought some clearance dahlia tubers from WinCo on a whim. It was near the end of June, a little too late to plant dahlias, but they were already sprouting, so I put them in the ground and held my breath.

My very first dahlia

Only one bloomed, taking its sweet time and announcing itself around early November with a breathtaking display of butter-yellow petals. Only one flower out of six plants, but I was instantly hooked. I couldn’t stop thinking about them.

That winter I researched different varieties and acquainted myself with basic dahlia-growing information. I requested a catalog from Swan Island Dahlias and pored over it one drizzly day with a steaming cup of tea, dog-earing the ones that caught my eye. It contained just enough sunshine tucked between its glossy pages to tide me over until spring, and in the summer we made a special trip to Canby, Oregon, to attend the dahlia festival. You could call me obsessed, if you’d like. I don’t mind.

Autumn stroll with dahlias and cat

Now here I am, in 2019, with a cupboard in the garage dedicated solely to storing my tubers in the off season, and a plethora of new-to-me varieties somewhere in the U.S. postal system, steadily making their way toward me for the next growing season. I’ve got it so bad that I’ve even created a spreadsheet to keep track of the varieties I have!

I don’t know what it is about this particular flower that makes me feel so good just looking at it — no one in my family grew dahlias until they saw mine (dahlia fever is contagious!), so there’s no nostalgia at play with my fascination — and, yes, roses are beautiful in their own way and I’m a little obsessed with them too, but dahlias are something special. If I could choose only one type flower to grow for the rest of my life, it’d be dahlias, hands down.

If you’ve never grown dahlias before, I can’t urge you enough to get your hands on a tuber or two and experience their appeal for yourself. They’re easy to grow, and at the end of the season you’re rewarded with many more tubers than you planted — which you can either save for next year or give away to friends. And trust me, once your friends experience the magic of dahlias, they’ll be begging you for tubers.

Kelvin Floodlight

So, have I converted — I mean, convinced — you yet? You definitely don’t need to go all out like I have, but at least try planting one tuber. Once it blooms, you’ll be so glad you did. And who knows? Maybe you’ll catch dahlia fever too.

The Inevitable First Frost

Our Green Kitchen

I realize I haven’t written much in a while — I’ve been canning applesauce, picking pears, roasting pumpkin seeds and meat, trying (unsuccessfully) to keep on top of NaNoWriMo, and just being my usual busy self. We painted our dining room a beautiful dark green a few weeks ago, which certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m head over heels for it. It really gives the room some life.

This month has been jam-packed with one commitment after another, leaving me little time to finish up my garden tasks. By the end of October, we already had something scheduled for every weekend. And with the nearly 4pm sunsets now, there’s no time after work to get outside — I arrive home with the dark and the chill in the air. Maybe I’m being melodramatic, but even taking out the kitchen compost in the evening seems like such a chore these days. I miss the sun.

We had our first killing frost last week. My beautiful Cafe au Lait dahlia had a mere two days of bloom time before the frost killed everything in the garden. She sure was stunning, though, and I’m still so very elated that I got any blooms on her at all.

Corgi and Cafe Au Lait Dahlia

It’s been bittersweet chopping off all the blackened, shriveled dahlia plants, but it’s also a bit exciting to pull up the tubers and see how much they grew over the summer. And of course, there’s a sense of satisfaction in dropping all the yard waste in the compost — yesterday’s plants will aid the growth of tomorrow’s seeds.

Digging Dahlias

I still have not planted the garlic or the tulips. I have yet to finish my sheet mulching (though I’m close to being done). But I did get my quince and persimmon trees in the ground, and the dahlias and gladiolus are all dug and stored, and I’ve started preserving all the pears I hoarded from our tree. Small, slow victories — and maybe “slow” is justified as the season continues to shift and wind down; I have such a hard time not judging myself by productivity levels. I could learn a thing or two from the natural progression of the seasons.

Lifting Dahlia Tubers

I’ve started fussing with my indoor plants again now that nothing is growing outside, save for the camellias — they bring such joy on gloomy days. It’s nice to see something so lovely thriving in colder weather.

Anyway, just wanted to pop in and say I’m still here! Incredibly busy, but still here!

A Day With the Dahlias

By now I’m sure many of you have caught wind of my *slight* dahlia obsession — I don’t know what it is about these flowers, but they bring an instant smile to my face and make me so happy just looking at them.

So, naturally, I insisted we attend the Swan Island Dahlia Festival two weekends ago. I’d been counting down the days for months and making a mental list of all the tubers I was interested in ordering, since they offered a 10% off discount if you ordered during the event.

Unlike the tulip festival we attended in the spring, the dahlia festival was free — both parking and admission — which is always a plus in my frugal heart. There were display gardens set up which guided you through a stunning array of blooms as far as the eye could see. Each flower was tagged with its name, and many people stopped to take pictures so they’d know which ones they wanted to order. (I did not do this, as I already had in mind the ones I wanted and didn’t want to be tempted to buy more.)

img_3012

There was also a large indoor display to peruse, but it was packed with people and not quite as enjoyable as strolling through fields of flowers in the sunshine. It did offer the opportunity to get up close and personal with nearly every variety, though, which was really nice. And the displays were all unique — my favorite was the one in the picture above, featuring the cute stuffed pig!

One of the things I liked best about the festival was seeing all these flowers in person, because the photographs in the catalog don’t always do justice. There were some that stopped me in my tracks, and when I looked at the tag was shocked to see they were ones I hadn’t really cared for in the catalog. The colors just seemed so much more vibrant in person.

At 1pm there was a two-hour seminar on dahlia arranging, care, and culture, which Jordan sat through with me because he’s a great husband. I skipped the dividing demo afterward because he’d been so patient with me from the get-go, and it was getting late in the afternoon. I put in my order, qualified for a free desk calendar, and back home we went.

I ended up ordering more than I anticipated, but I don’t feel too awfully guilty because I know how excited I’ll be when that box arrives on our doorstep in the spring. I’ll be adding more peach and purple dahlias to the garden next year — purple is Jordan’s favorite color, and I’m a sucker for anything light pink or apricot colored. My order for 2019 consisted of:

If you’re in Oregon or the Southwest Washington area, I highly encourage you to check out the festival next year — there’s not much better than an afternoon outside with stunning flowers!