Angela Strickland, with her fabulous dahlia-filled garden at Fleetlands Farm, Newtown. Pictures by www.mathews-photography.com
I LOVE people with vim and vigour — those who develop, maintain and build upon their passion.
One such is Angela Strickland, who, on the edge of Newtown Marshes, maintains, and grows, her enthusiasm for that showiest of flowers, the dahlia.
Angela, from Fleetlands Farm, puts in more than 600 dahlia tubers each year into the heavy clay soil of the garden surrounding her beautiful farmhouse.
The garden of the farmhouse, which has been in the family for nigh on a century, unsurprisingly is truly a riot of colour.
Angela and her father, Ted, and mother, Ivy, before, have been growing dahlias at Fleetlands for over 30 years and they take up around half an acre of the ground surrounding the house.
They are of many varieties and colours: cactus, pompon, decorative and ball, even the occasional 'dinner plate’.
The stunning reds, pinks, yellows, whites and purples are a truly fabulous sight from July onwards, until, and just before, the first frosts.
But after harvest festival Angela digs every tuber out and stores them throughout the long winter months in large polystyrene boxes.
It is truly a labour of loving care and a 12-month dedication.
Once in storage, the tubers are all labelled in their separate boxes —Arabian Night, Griotte, Black Wizard, Seattle, Eveline, New Baby and many more lovely names.
At the end of March the dahlias are split into separate tubers and are ready for planting out when the soil has dried out and the temperature has risen, usually during May, but very late this year after the cold and wet spring.
The soil will have been rotavated and manured, and so the whole cycle begins again.
Angela has to go through this painstaking process because she gardens on heavy clay which means that if she was to leave the tubers in the ground they would most certainly rot.
This weekend, Calbourne church is holding a dahlia festival, starting today (Friday) and visitors to Calbourne can enjoy the huge selection of Angela’s dahlias decorating the interior of the beautiful church, which badly needs a new roof.
The church dates from the 13th century and has connections to William the Conqueror. The spectacular Norman font and 14th century brass are well worth a visit on their own, without the riot of flowers.
The dahlia festival is open to visitors from 10 am to 4 pm each day and there will be dahlias for sale — 90 plants of nine different varieties in pots, ready for planting.
I am told there will also be a very interesting exhibition of affordable art by three prominent local artists — on view and for sale in the church’s Simeon Chapel.
Tips on growing top class dahlias
Those who garden in similar conditions to Angela should follow her, and the Royal Horticul-tural Society’s, model for top dahlias.
Cut down foliage and use a fork to carefully prise plants out of the soil.
Dry off naturally and then clean away any soil clinging to the tubers. Trim stems to 15-20cm (6-8ins). Trim off any fine roots.
Place tubers in shallow trays and pack with a peat-free compost or dry sand, leaving the crowns exposed.
Store in a dry, cool, frost-free place, cover with newspaper if a hard frost is predicted. Inspect tubers regularly and discard any that are unhealthy.
Those who garden on more well-drained soil can probably get away with leaving dahlias in the ground.
Plants should be cut to the ground after the first frosts have blackened the foliage and covered with a 7.5-15cm (3-6ins)-deep layer of bark chips or garden compost to protect them from frost.
Dahlias are tolerant of a wide range of soil types and situations but best planted in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun when danger of frost is over, in May to early June.
Incorporate plenty of organic matter (one or two buckets per sq m/sq yd), such as well-rotted manure, into the soil prior to planting and use a general purpose fertiliser.
Plant tubers in their flowering position — 10-15cm (4-6ins) deep. Stake as required and pinch out shoots to promote bushiness.
Keep well watered and once flowers appear feed with a high potash liquid feed every two weeks from July to early September.
Insert canes on planting and tie in as growth develops.
Pinch out growing tips once plants reach a height of about 40cm (16in) to encourage branching.
For giant blooms restrict the number of flowering stems to three to five per plant; for smaller blooms allow seven to ten flowering stems per plant.
To produce a long-flowering display and strong stems, remove the two pairs of flower buds developing in the leaf axils below the terminal bud and deadhead as flowers fade.
Bedding dahlias need no staking or disbudding; just pinch out the growing tip to encourage bushiness and deadhead regularly
Start tubers growing in early spring indoors. Divide the tubers when shoots are 2-3cm (about an inch) tall by separating them into portions ensuring each section has both roots and shoots. Pot each section into a separate container and grow on.
Alternatively, take basal shoot cuttings from sprouted tubers; dip into hormone rooting powder and plant in a free draining compost.
Using a propagator, maintain the temperature at 21C (70F) until rooted, usually in around two weeks. Pot on rooted cuttings in individual 9cm (3½ins) containers and soilless compost.
Bedding dahlias are easily grown from seed sown indoors. When seedlings are large enough, prick out into modules or small containers and liquid feed every two weeks.