Five Top British Gardens for Dahlias

An article in the August 2019 issue of The English Garden has me longing to visit England this fall. Titled “Dazzling Dahlias,” it recommends five spectacular gardens that showcase dahlias in very different ways.

Garden taste-maker Sarah Raven’s garden at Perch Hill (pictured here) is filled with dahlias, especially in the cutting garden, as are the gardens at the National Trust’s Anglesey Abbey where “sweeping borders [are] filled with more than 70 varieties” and Valley Gardens where the 17 acres of park and woodland may be impressive but “the highlight is the incredible dahlia garden, filled with thousands of these gorgeous blooms.”

Sounding even more interesting to me, though, is Cambo Estate Walled Garden in Fife where “instead of neat serried rows” of dahlias they’re “part of a more naturalistic scheme, creating a brilliant summer display in these Oudoulf-inspired gardens.”

And the garden I most want to visit is at Rousham House, the site of one of England’s most important historic landscapes, designed nearly 300 years ago by William Kent, the man who “leaped the fence, and saw that all nature was a garden.” Kent had nothing to do with the dahlias, which came much later, but Rousham’s “magnificent dahlia border is unusual in that it recycles the same 500 tubers that first flourished when the bed was created in 1946.”

If you go to any of these special gardens, please send us some pictures! (And if you're feeling inspired, feel free to order a few of our dazzling heirloom dahlias now for delivery at planting time next spring.)


2 Experts, 3 Fall-Planted Treasures

Galanthus elwesii

If you don’t have an expert head gardener or landscape architect living next door to help you with your bulb-planting choices this fall, here are three expert recommendations we’ve gathered for you. (No need to thank us!)

Galanthus elwesii – Writing in the February 2019 issue of Gardens Illustrated, British head gardener Tom Brown calls Elwes snowdrop “a superb form of this winter favorite,” adding “I particularly enjoy growing this species, not only for the large, white flowers – which can often be twice the size of our much-loved common snowdrop – but also because of the opulent, glaucous foliage.”


The Royal Horticultural Society is also a big fan of Elwes snowdrop, having given it their prestigious Award of Garden Merit.

‘Thalia’ – In his list of “100 Most Beautiful and Useful Plants,” in that same issue of Gardens Illustrated, the renowned Swedish landscape architect Ulf Nordfjell includes this popular old daffodil.

Nordfjell describes it as “a late-flowering cultivar that produces many pure white flowers,” and says it “provides a delicate counterpoint to early shoots of perennials such as astilbes and epimediums.”

‘Duchesse de Nemours’

‘Duchesse de Nemours’ – This grand old Victorian peony is another of Nordfjell’s “100 Most Beautiful and Useful Plants.”

It’s “an old-fashioned, scented, double, creamy-white flowering peony, and a real beauty,” he writes, and “my favorite, especially among carpets of violets.” (And even though it’s over 150 years old, the ‘Duchesse’ is an RHS Award of Garden Merit winner, too.)


Too Hot? Too Wet? What’s It Doing to Your Bulbs?

Hotter summers are getting to be the norm for much of the country, but this year many areas have had a lot more rain than usual, too.

How will it affect your bulbs? It depends.

DAHLIAS – Spring was unusually cool and wet in many parts of the country, and that’s a tough combination for newly planted dahlias. If some of yours failed to sprout, that’s probably why. Next year wait until late spring to plant them, and if the long-term forecast calls for unusually cool or rainy weather, wait a bit longer.

Once they’re up and growing, though, dahlias prefer cool nights, and heat waves can slow their growth to a standstill. But don’t worry. When cooler temperatures return, they usually kick back into gear and go on to bloom normally.

GLADS & CROCOSMIA – Thrips are tiny, almost invisible sucking insects that multiply rapidly in hot weather. If your glads or crocosmia have pale or rusty streaks on their leaves, don’t delay – spray with an insecticidal soap. Since these soaps kill only on contact, be sure to coat the leaves thoroughly on both sides. You’ll probably need to spray again in a week or two, so put a reminder in your phone and stay vigilant.

High heat can also make narrow-stemmed glads like ‘Atom’ grow in a zig-zag fashion as they droop slightly during the day and then grow upright again at night.

LILIES – Thanks to plenty of rain, the lilies in my garden this year have been taller and more floriferous than ever. One Henry’s lily, for example, is currently almost eight feet tall – two feet taller than usual – and loaded with three dozen buds and blooms. But since this summer has also been unusually hot, the flowers haven’t lasted as long as they usually do, and some varieties – such as ‘Pink Perfection’ – haven’t been as richly colored.

PEONIES – Peonies usually like ample water, but warm, humid conditions can spur the growth of mildew and fungal diseases that disfigure their leaves and rot their stalks. At the first sign of these problems, remove the diseased tissue and throw it in the trash, not the compost. Then sterilize your pruning shears with bleach or alcohol before moving on to another plant.

TULIPS & HYACINTHS – In the spring, tulips like cool temperatures and plenty of moisture, but once they go dormant, they can rot in soil that stays too wet for too long. This is also true for hyacinths, to a lesser extent. If you’ve had an unusually rainy summer, there’s a good chance fewer of your tulips and hyacinths will return and bloom again next spring.

Although it can be frustrating at times, I think our dependence on the weather is one of the things that makes gardening so enriching. It keeps us on our toes, tuned into nature, and gives us a hands-on understanding of what climate change can mean for all of us.


Eat Your Weeds – Delicious, Historic Purslane

purslane thriving in my garden

Purslane is the weed of the moment in my garden right now. I swear if I look away for just a day or two, areas that were perfectly weeded are covered with big sprawling mats of it.

With its flat, succulent leaves, purslane is part of the Portulaca genus which also includes the heirloom annual moss rose. Its seeds germinate best when soil temperatures reach 90 degrees, which explains why I’m seeing so much of it right now. And it does grow quickly, producing seeds just three weeks after it sprouts – which can remain viable for up to 40 years! Plus any pieces that get missed while you’re weeding can root and grow into new plants, so I’m sure I’m going to be battling purslane in my garden forever.

But here’s the good news – purslane is both tasty and nutritious, and it has a deep history.

“The moisture-rich leaves are cucumber-crisp, and have a tart, almost lemony tang with a peppery kick,” writes Laura Vozzella in the Baltimore Sun, and it’s frequently compared to watercress and spinach (though to my taste buds it’s milder than all of the above). It’s also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and even melatonin.

"wild purslane" in Gerard's Herbal, 1597

“Fresh young plants” are best, writes Sandra Mason of the University of Illinois Extension, “especially young leaves and tender stem tips.” She recommends eating it “in salads or on sandwiches instead of lettuce or pickles. Next time order a ham and purslane on rye,” and adds that purslane “can also be cooked as a potherb, steamed, stir-fried, or pureed.”

According to Wikipedia, “archaeobotanical finds … are common at many prehistoric sites” in the eastern Mediterranean, and by the Roman era purslane’s “healing properties were thought so reliable that Pliny the Elder advised wearing the plant as an amulet to expel all evil.”

In his great Herbal of 1597, Englishman John Gerard described two forms, “garden purslane” and the similar but smaller “wild purslane” which “cometh up of his own accord in allies of gardens and vineyards.” (Sound familiar?) It was “much used in salads, with oil, salt, and vinegar,” he said, and he listed over a dozen herbal uses for it, from provoking appetite and soothing toothaches to treating hemorrhoids and “killing worms in small children.”

I could go on and on – who knew a weed could be so interesting? – but I’ll just recommend a couple of excellent articles if you want to explore further: the Baltimore Sun’s “Purslane: A Weed Worth Eating” and “What to Do With Purslane” at

Happy weeding – and eating!