The last of the summer flowers


I’ve been intending to share these flowers with you for several weeks, and here they finally are, not least because having a photograph with a picture of ‘October’ in it is a great motivation to get it published before November.

Life has been busy (isn’t it always) since my garden design course started in September. A raft of assignments ranging from plant recognition tests to essays about pest control, from sketchbooks of ideas for a shady garden to a package of graphics drawn in precariously smudge-able Rotring ink has kept me away from this blog, though not from the garden, I am pleased to report.


Bright October sunshine, that special, slanting light of long shadows and glistening cobwebs, has invited me on an almost daily inspection of the back garden, where Aster ‘Little Carlow’ has collapsed among the last of the calendulas, while the cosmos and roses seem to flower interminably onwards, and every low-growing plant is losing a daily battle against the inevitable smothering of fallen leaves.

My dahlias, unfortunately, have been a disappointment this year. Flowers were few, and those that came were on short, reluctant stems. What’s more, I have been sent at least one (if not two) incorrect tubers by She Who Charges A Lot And Shall Remain Nameless. The large coral ‘Watermelon’ I had been looking forward to put forth some very pretty but unasked-for pink and yellow flowers, while ‘Linda’s Baby’ was decidedly peachy yellow rather than baby pink. And it’s not just me affected in this way. I’ve noticed others on Instagram complaining of incorrect orders, while one gardener stated that her very best dahlias this summer had come from ‘a cheap bumper pack from Lidl’ and had been far superior to any special cultivars that she had paid a lot more for. Food for thought.



Meanwhile, the brickwork in the front garden is finally finished! This means that after about a couple of hours’ tidying-up I should be able to take some proper photographs and write a blog post about the maze that has taken me almost a year to complete. Just those pesky assignments to finish first …


Here in these vases we have what may or may not be Dahlia ‘Linda’s Baby’, some of what is most definitely not D. ‘Watermelon’, and some of what are undoubtedly Cosmos ‘Purity’, Aster ‘Little Carlow’, indomitable caledulas, elderberries, and various salvia sprigs. With these tiny vases, flowers can be swapped in and out as they bloom and fade for an ever-changing mantelpiece scene. In the bedroom, meanwhile, a single Rosa ‘Tranquility’ graces the chest-of-drawers, reminding me to take a deep, luxurious sniff of its lovely scent every time I go to choose a pair of socks.

‘In a vase on Halloween’ is not hosted by Cathy at Rambling In The Garden (sorry I’m late, Cathy!) but if you follow this link you will see her weekly Monday vase as well as those of several more punctual garden bloggers around the world, and it will be no surprise (boo!) to find that more than one of them has gone for a spooky theme.


34 thoughts on “The last of the summer flowers”

  1. Good luck with your garden design course. I’ve been a designer for 20 years and love every sing,e minute of it. After struggling for all that time with smudging ink, I’ve not gone over to uni-pin pigment ink pens. I think they are made by Mitsubishi. I was getting a pain in my wrist from holding the other ink pens at that awkward angle to stop them from dripping! Anyway, your flowers are beautiful as always. You are not alone in receiving the wrong dahlias. And it’s not just dahlias that get sent out incorrectly. Very difficult if you are planting to a particular colour scheme. Won’t buy from her again. My best dahlias came from Wilkos for £1. Karen

    1. Thank you Karen – so wonderful to hear that you are leading a contented life as a garden designer, not that I had any doubts that I would be the same! I feel very inspired and motivated by my course and am loving every minute of it. Thank you very much for the tip about alternative pens. Some of my classmates have explored alternatives too, and I think I will do the same as I am getting bored of having to restart my drawings due to excessive smudging, or else spend hours scratching off the mistakes! Yes, I can imagine that for planning a colour scheme the wayward dahlia would be most inconvenient. And what’s more annoying is that you don’t discover the mistake until months have passed. It surely can’t be that hard to ensure that the correct tubers are sent out. I am a pharmacist by profession, and if I pick the wrong drug off the shelf I could end up harming or even killing someone, so we’ve been trained to be competent and also to double check ourselves properly. It’s not difficult, it just takes focus, reliable systems and a methodical approach. It makes me rather cross when other trades and professions don’t bother!

      1. Exactly so! Your pharmacy training will come in very handy as you have to juggle so many aspects of a design to pull the whole scheme together. You have to be organised. You will have a really fabulous time. I’ve never regretted a minute of it! This summer we designed a garden for Rainbows Hospice at the first belvoir show. I was so pleased to be able to use a garden to promote the work of the hospice and raise money too. Good luck xx

  2. I know how it is to get the wrong plants. I order Amaryllis bulbs from a “Shall not Be Named” source and there is usually at least one surprise each season. I do have one reliable source that I go to in person when I really want to be sure of a bulb.
    I am sorry to see the dahlias go also. My stems were scrawny this year as well. Next year I plan to add rotted cow manure months in advance of the planting. I’ll see if that helps.

    1. It sounds like a good idea. I confess mine probably got a little dry this year (didn’t everything) and a good bucket or two of organic matter might be part of the answer. So useful to have a reliable supplier! I must find one of my own…

  3. And I for one will always let the supplier know and ask for a replacement/refund, which apart from one nameless clematis company they have always been very happy to do – with the advent of emails it is such an easy and quick thing to do. I remember those blooming pens from my Town Planning degree – and they dried up easily too… I have been a huge fan of Pilot Hi-Tecpoint for many years for general writing (gave up a fountain pen to use them!) and any maps or diagrams I might be drawing. They don’t dry out and come in different thicknesses of point and colour. So pleased to read how much you are enjoying your course despite the workload, but I know how organised and diligent you are. The little inkpots and other teeny-tiny vases are a great way of using short-stemmed dahlias (why didn’t I think of this?!) and I am so pleased you have found time to share them with us – AND look forward to seeing how the front garden has been transformed…

    1. Perhaps if enough of us went to your efforts and complained to the companies involved, they’d clean up their act somewhat. Thank you for the pen suggestion – I will give those a try as I think they have a good range from Pilot in our local Ryman’s. Yesterday I destroyed the nib on my thinnest Rapidograph (while shaking it vigorously as the ink wasn’t flowing), and they’re too expensive to continuously replace.

  4. I have to buy my Dahlias from Lidl as there isn’t a supplier here in Italy. I’ve been happy with most of them and even when the tuner has seemed small they have gone on to produce more than a hundred large flowers in a season. I was intending to order a few specials from the UK next spring but maybe that isn’t such a good idea.

    1. As long as you’re open to dahlia lottery, which you might win … I’d be sorry to totally put people off. It’s just that some people really MUST have the one they ordered (for a colour scheme, for example) in which case, seeing the dahlia flowering in a pot before buying it might be cheaper in the long run. I can’t believe no one in Italy sells dahlias. Amazing! You should open a nursery… I’ll eagerly buy mine from you if you promise to send the correct ones!

  5. Your photos have a wonderful clarity and light to them, Joanna – they’re always a delight – and these are beautiful flowers in lovely vases. There’s no excuse to be sending out the wrong tubers, bulbs, seeds, especially when they’re expensive… I hope you’ve fired off an email. I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying your course. I have a certificate in garden design but only completed half my garden design diploma because my youngest child arrived half way through and I ran out of energy and time to finish it! I absolutely loved spending all that time focused on plants, design, gardens, etc, though. Such a treat. Look forward to seeing your maze in due course.

    1. Yes, treat’s the right word. It’s wonderful to be immersed in plans and drawings all day! Thank you for your kind words on my photos. For clarity … a monopod, steady hand, fastest shutter possible, and some tweaking in Lightroom are key.

  6. Wel, done, it sounds as though you are enjoying your course. I never buy dahlias from She who Charges Too Much and we all know who you mean. But I like looking at her collections for ideas. I have had wrong seeds and like wrong dahlias you find out when they ruin your carefully planned colour schemes. I bought some little inkpots on eBay after seeing yours last year.

  7. I grew my Dahlias from seed this year, so all the colours have been random, so a real surprise from bright pink to primrose yellow. I would definitely agree that the stems on mine have been somewhat short though. Your flower images in all your beautiful containers and vases are quite perfect !

    1. Thank you for your kind words …
      And if you cut the dahlia stems further down the plant, you end up losing too many other buds, and mine are too scarce for that. Inkpots to the rescue for this situation…. Growing dahlias from seed is something I’ve considered in the past, but I think I need to accept that they just aren’t suited to my situation. Something to try once I have a huge greenhouse and sunny garden, in about a hundred years’ time. Those brightly coloured surprises must be fun to anticipate.

      1. Wow, I wouldn’t dream of doing that. I threw away the Rapidographs at least 20 years ago. Pencil on gridded vellum when working outside and usually some combination of ink and pencil.

      2. I have to do what they tell me in class! But am looking forward to trying alternatives on the side so will give yours a shot just as soon as I work out where to buy vellum. I was impressed by a garden designer I met last year who was an accomplished artist and did all hers in exquisite watercolour. Therefore I now want to learn watercolour too.

      3. Nothing beats a color rendering of a garden! That will be fun for you. Vellum should be available at any art supply store. It is sold in rolls and pads.

  8. A beautiful grouping regardless of provenance. I must say that I got a wrong Dahlia and the nursery emailed me just as it was about to bloom to alert me to the problem. They then sent me the correct bulb for free the following year. But, as it turned out, I liked the mistaken bulb (which they were not even sure of the name) more than the one I ordered.

  9. Very frustrating for you. And interesting to read about others’ trials with the Cost-a-Lot source. The catalogue is so enticing that it does pull you in to buy. Like others, I’m just using it now for inspiration and buying elsewhere. All the best with your garden design course. I’m going to be reviving a largish neglected garden and find my mind overwhelmed by possibilities for border planting!

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