Show Stopping Blooms
There’s nothing quite like the flower show blockbusters for size and colour — and, of course, they can look even better in the border.
We have become so accustomed to seeingoffered for sale every week of the year that it may come as a surprise to some people that all the year round flowering is not a characteristic of the plant. Autumn is its natural flowering season, and though by skilful breeding and selection this season has been extended, chrysanthemums are basically what scientists call ‘short-day plants’, meaning that they flower when days are short and nights are long.
Commercial growers produce these conditions artificially with black-outs by day and lighting at night but though these techniques are not impossible for the home gardener they are difficult, and it is far better to grow chrysanthemums naturally in the traditional way.
For August and September flowering outdoors, obtain early-flowering varieties, and for flowering in greenhouses, conservatories and so on, choose mid-season and late varieties which flower from October to January.
Chrysanthemums can be grown from seed sown in a temperature of 15-18°C (60-65°F) in February or March but this method is used mainly for varieties producing an abundance of single flowers such as the ‘Charm’ , ‘Cascade’ and ‘Korean’ chrysanthemums. Most other types are grown between January and April, and rooted in a propagator inside a greenhouse. The(or ) are potted singly as soon as they are well rooted and are moved on to larger pots as they fill the smaller ones with roots. Soil-based or soilless (peat) composts can be used, but if the latter are chosen feeding must being after a few weeks as chrysanthemums are hungry plants requiring fairly rich .
Outdoor varieties are hardened off forfrom mid-April to late-May in well cultivated soil in an open, sunny position. Late flowering varieties are usually grown in pots throughout, but are stood outdoors from about mid May until early September when they are brought into a light, airy greenhouse. Extra heat is only required to exclude frost or to dry the atmosphere when it is very humid, as chrysanthemums are nearly hardy and it is the flowers which are most in need of protection from frost and rain.
Big plants may need pots up to 20cm (8in) in diameter. They must be kept well watered and regularly fed. Stems are usually reduced to about six to seven per plant, less for really big flowers, and are securely tied to canes. Usually it is wise to pinch out the tips of plants (known as ‘stopping’) some time in May to ensure early branching, and occasionally a second pinching is given in June. If large flowers are required, the side buds are removed and only the terminal bud on each stem is retained. If sprays of smaller flowers are required the terminal bud is removed and the side buds are retained.
When flowering is over, the stems are cut off a few centimetres above soil level, surplus plants are discarded and only just enough are kept to provide cuttings for the following year. Outdoor plants are dug up in autumn and replanted in boxes to provide cuttings. They require the protection of a frame or greenhouse but need little artificial warmth until a few weeks before cuttings are to be taken, when the minimum temperature should be raised to about 10°C (50°F).
The spectacularly showy dahlias are among the most highly developed garden flowers. Until autumn frosts cut them down they bloom from about mid-July in a dazzling range of colours, including almost everything except pure blue, in many different shapes and sizes.
Dahlias are tender but can be grown outdoors from May until October. They make clusters of large tubers, and in mild places these will survive underground all winter, but the usual practice is to dig them up in the autumn, when their top growth has been destroyed by frost, cut off all stems 5cm (2in) above the tubers, lift the tubers from the soil and store them in a cool but frost-proof place in shallow boxes barely covered in peat.
In spring, the tubers are either replanted outdoors in early May or are started into growth earlier in a frost-proof greenhouse either to provide cuttings to be rooted in a propagator and planted out in early June after hardening off, or to be split up into several pieces and planted out when danger of frost is over.
Dahlias can be purchased as rooted cuttings in spring or as pot tubers, that is, small tubers produced the previous year and packaged dry, like bulbs. These are best started into growth individually in pots in a greenhouse or on a sunny window ledge, and planted out in early June. But they can be planted 5cm (2in) deep outdoors during May with reasonable success.
Dahlias can also be raised from seed sown in spring in a temperature of around 18°C (65°F). The seedlings are potted singly and hardened off for planting out in early June. They will flower that same summer but the flowers may differ in colour and character from their parents.
All dahlias enjoy sunshine, warmth and plenty of moisture while they are growing. They also like fairly rich soil. Make sure you stake large plants carefully as the stems are heavy and brittle.
There are gladioli that flower in spring and early summer and others that delay their flowering until late summer and early autumn. It is the latter type that are the most useful since they can be grown all the year round in the open whereas, except in the very mildest places, the early-flowering or ‘Nanus’ varieties must be cared for in greenhouses. This is because the corms start to grow in autumn and because their leaves are quite tender they are at constant risk all winter from frost. The late summer-flowering gladioli remain dormant in winter (store them dry in any frost-proof place such as a cool cupboard), and are then planted in spring, from mid-March to mid-May, about 15cm (6in) apart, their corms covered with 5-8cm (2-3in) of soil sufficient to protect them from frosts. By the time their leaves appear the weather should do them no harm.
The late-flowering gladioli are also by far the most spectacular, with medium to large sized flowers, in long tapering spikes which look well in the border and are excellent as cut flowers. Their colours include practically everything, except pure blue.
All gladioli are grown from corms which, besides producing leaves and flowers, also form new corms above the old ones. These gradually wither away and are discarded when the plants are dug up for storage about six weeks after the last flowers fade. It is the new corms that are retained; the top growth cut off half an inch above them. There may also be a lot of tiny corms or cormels clustered around the main corms and these can also be kept and planted, but as they are unlikely to flower until the second or third year they are best put aside in a reserve bed where their lack of colour will not matter.
All gladioli like sunny places, reasonably fertile soil and plenty of moisture while in growth. Only in the mildest places should you leave them in the soil summer and winter. The only exception to this rule is with Gladiolus byzantinus, a European species (all the rest are hybrids derived from South African species), which has long slender spikes of rich magenta flowers, magnificent in the right setting with plenty of green to tone the strong colours down but disastrous in the wrong company. This gladiolus is sufficiently hardy to be planted permanently in warm sunny places.