The genus Pulsatilla are a group of attractive perennial wildflowers native to the Northern hemisphere and distributed across a wide range of Europe and SW Asia. In our own gardens we can enjoy growing Pulsatilla for their magical early spring flowers. The flowers are soft and the foliage is covered in delicate grey-green hairy foliage. After flowering the attractive silky seed heads last for many months.
In the wild Pulsatilla grow in grasslands where the soils are alkaline and of limestone origin. They are herbaceous which means they die down in winter by losing their leaves and they also have deep tap roots. In early spring the leaves re-emerge before they flower and tend to bloom for many weeks. Often called the Pasque flower as they bloom at Easter and make an ideal companion plant for many early spring flowering bulbs such as miniature daffodils, crocus and muscari. Like many of these, Pulsatilla are an invaluable source of early season nectar for pollinators such as bees.
Plant Pulsatilla in well-drained, alkaline soils with full to partial sun. In wetter climates, these herbaceous perennials are best situated on sloping beds, a rockery and in raised beds so their roots don’t sit in waterlogged soil over the winter season. They thrive in cold weather and look particularly beautiful with a dusting of morning frost on their silvery foliage. Each year it is a good idea to allow the plants to release their seeds before cutting off the old flowers stalks to allow them to gently re-seed themselves in your garden. Once young seedlings emerge they can be transplanted without too much difficulty to your desired location. Once established they produce those long, deep tap roots and do not like being moved so leave them in their situation.
Vibrant Dahlias are one of the most widely grown and much loved cut flowers. Their brilliant blooms come in a wide range of colours, flowering from mid summer until the first frosts. Almost every garden is suited to Dahlias whether that is in the border or an attractive container.
Dahlias like full sun and free draining soil, where they will thrive and bloom abundantly, but also grow well in large pots. Dahlias are not hardy and should not be planted until the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has past. They are best started in a heated glasshouse or polytunnel during the spring and are hungry plants that require quality compost or well-rotted manure.
When you plant your Dahlia tubers dig the hole 12-15cm deep and place them horizontally with the growing eye facing up. Then refill the hole with soil. It is important to remember Dahlias get quite large, so allow at least 45cm of space between plants.
These beauties require generous amounts of water throughout the growing season if the summer is warm and dry. When you are just starting to grow them they should only be watered when you see the first green shoots breaking through the ground. Overwatering before shoots are visible can lead to tuber rot. Once the plants reach 30cm tall, give them a pinch by snipping out about 8cm of the growing centre to encourage low basal branching, which increases flower production and overall stem length.
As for pests slugs and snails damage young plants. You may want to put down slug and snail bait at planting time and periodically throughout the season. Nematodes are also an organic option that is safe for both children and pets, and works well. It is important to stake the plants as many will get tall and this will prevent them from falling over.
While Dahlias are not a very long lasting cut flower, you can get 5-7 days from stems picked at the proper stage. Since Dahlias don’t open much after they’ve been harvested, it’s important to pick them almost fully open, but at the same time not overly ripe where they have begun to brown. Check the back of each flower head, looking for firm and lush petals as these make the best cut flowers.