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Planting Miniature Irises for Spring

Hello friends,

I can't resist a good plant catalogue, well any plant catalogue really. If one shows up in my mailbox with the plants all decked out in bright and colourful flowers, how can I resist buying bulbs in autumn for the coming spring?

Well I can't of course, and especially when they're tempting me with miniature plants. As you will see in spring, for some time I have been adding to my crocus and Tete a Tete daffodil collections. The tinier the plants the better, in my opinion.

Well this time the Garden Post plant catalogue offered me miniature irises. Teeny tiny irises that would be only 15 cm tall at most, and would be one of the first bulbs to flower in spring. Before I knew what I was doing, four different varieties were in my online shopping cart, and it wasn't too long before 28 bulbs arrived by courier. I ordered miniature irises in shades of blue and purple (Alida, Blue Note, J.S. Dijt, and Painted Lady).

The next weekend I weeded an area of the back garden, near a very small plastic pond with a waterfall that is solar powered. I pulled out my trusty bulb planter I bought a couple of years ago, and got to work.

My bulb planter

I use my bulb planter for not only flower bulbs, but garlic bulbs also. The planter has a handy measurer on the side, so you know how deep to dig the soil depending on what bulb type you are planting. When you pull the plug of soil out of the ground with the planter, you just pop your bulb of choice into the hole, and then by squeezing the handle, it will release the soil back into the ground. If you are planting large amounts of bulbs, the planter will not only save you time, but also wear and tear on your joints too.

It wasn't long until all my new precious bulbs were in the ground. And now I wait, through all of autumn, and then winter, and hopefully fingers crossed, as we move into spring, my new miniature irises will appear. I can't wait to photograph them in all their glory.

Autumn has been such a busy time of year with many harvests and processing of produce happening at the moment. But not only that, I've recently had sinus surgery, followed, by a small complication, and now a sinus infection. I'm hoping to continue recovering from both the surgery, and the infection very soon, so I can get back out into the garden. The weeds are taking over, even though the weather is cooling considerably.

Have a wonderful day.Julie-Ann

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My Decorative and Dinner Plate Dahlias

Hello Friends,

Today I wanted to share with you the rest of my beloved dahlias. As you already know from a previous blog post, I have an obsession with anemone and collarette dahlias—but I also totally adore the big boys of the dahlia world, the decorative and dinner plate dahlias too. These dahlias are the ones you'll pay big money for, and you will also have to compete with thousands of other dahlia lovers in New Zealand to buy tubers before stocks run out.

Cafe Au Lait is the most popular of all dahlias, for both home and commercial growers alike. They are the dahlia that everyone wants in their wedding bouquets. They are probably the most expensive dahlia tuber to buy, and also the hardest one to come across. It took me three years before I could buy a Cafe Au Lait tuber, and the year I finally got it, I actually ended up with two after ordering from two different suppliers.

The big players in the dahlia tuber world are Bulbs Direct, NZ Bulbs, and also Garden Post. They are online suppliers for all the plant bulbs and tubers you could ever want, and their orders are pre-orders for the up coming season. In mid to late winter if you are signed up for their newsletters, an email will arrive telling you that dahlia tubers are available for pre-order. If you're after a Cafe Au Lait Dahlia, don't hesitate, just go immediately to the website and order straight away. Popular dahlias can sell out within minutes of the email arriving in your inbox. For the first three years of trying, this is how I missed out in getting a Cafe Au Lait dahlia of my very own.

Their flowers are as big as your hand, and the flowers can vary from a delicate cream, all the way to an almost purpleish hue. I've been growing them now for a number of years, and I've discovered they aren't the easiest dahlias to grow. They aren't the strongest growers, and they require more water than other dahlias.

The next dinner plate dahlia I own is Cafe Au Lait Twist. It was released in New Zealand in 2022, and I was lucky to get one in the first season. Cafe Au Lait Twist is a sport of Cafe Au Lait, but it has curvy petals, with beautiful pink splashes through the Cafe Au Lait coffee colour. Cafe Au Lait Twist is overall a very pretty dahlia, and I actually prefer it to Cafe Au Lait.

The third dahlia in the Cafe Au Lait family that I own, is Cafe Au Lait Rosė. This dahlia was also released for the first time in New Zealand in 2022. The flowers are absolutely beautiful, a bright, but also a delicate, rose pink. The shade is darker as the flower opens, but turns into a lighter ombrė shade as the flower gets older. In all truth, Cafe Au Lait Rosė is my new favorite dahlia. I love to go out in the garden and just look at it. The plant is strong and sturdy, and definitely worth buying.

The next dinner plate dahlia I own is Dahlia Penhil Watermelon. The curved petal flowers are absolutely huge, and much bigger than your hand. The flower is a mix of peach, lavender and the tiniest hint of yellow. Because of the very large size of the flowers, the flower stalks I've found aren't strong enough to hold the flower heads upright. Dahlia Penhil Watermelon, is still a very pretty plant though.

My next dinner plate dahlia I own is Penhil Dark Monarch. Another huge dahlia, it's thin, but gently curved petals are a beautiful smoky plum colour with hints of yellow. It's another one of my favorite dahlias.

My next dahlia is a cactus dahlia called Orfeo. Although the berry red colour is quite stunning, the plant itself isn't strong enough to hold up its own flowers. It has to be staked upright, or else it falls on the ground.

And my last big dahlia in my garden is Dahlia Pink Magic. I also bought this dahlia in 2022. I love the delicate pink stripes on the cream base colour. It's probably one of my most demure dahlias in terms of colouring. Because it was a long hot summer in the garden because of drought like La Nina conditions, I didn't get many flowers, but hopefully I'll get more next year.

So that's all the big dahlias that I currently have in my garden. I don't have the space to add anymore dahlias into my garden, but you never know, if another beautiful and perfect dahlia comes along, I may have to squeeze it into one of my garden beds.

Have a wonderful day,


Want to discuss my post? Feel free to chat with me on Instagram or Mastodon.

My Homegrown Basil Experiment

Hello Friends,

We love eating basil, whether it be fresh in salads or pesto in summer, or dehydrated to add to dishes in winter, so back in the winter of 2022, I added three different types of basil seeds to my Kings seeds order. As I have a PhD in plant biochemistry, I'm always up for experimenting with new plants to see how they grow and what their harvests are like.

The three varieties of basil I chose were, Organic Basil Sweet Genovese, Basil Gustosa, and Basil Lettuce Leaf. Sweet Genovese is the basil everyone usually thinks of when it comes to pesto, and also for eating fresh. This basil tastes fresh and clean, and grows well in a glasshouse, and is the type I've grown for years. Basil Gustosa is also a Sweet Genovese type, but was bred for growing commercially in pots with vigorous growth and good disease resistance. Basil Lettuce Leaf is the strongest growing and most highly prolific of all basil varieties. The leaves are twice as large as normal basil leaves, and the leaves themselves are crinkly.

I sowed all the basil varieties in mid-September and grew them up in the glasshouse in pots until October when they were dug into the glasshouse soil.

The basil plants all grew strong and healthy. There was little difference in growth between the Sweet Genovese and Gustosa basil varieties, and they looked similar. The Basil Lettuce Leaf had leaves much bigger than the other two varieties, were lighter in colour, and they were very crinkly. During its growth the Basil Lettuce Leaf was attacked by caterpillars, where as the Sweet Genovese and Gustosa were not.

It wasn't long before our first basil harvest was picked.

Of the three basil varieties, Sweet Genovese basil was the most like the common basil grown and eaten. It had a sweet taste that wasn't too overpowering. The Gustosa leaves were similar in size to the Sweet Genovese basil, but it's taste was a little more peppery than Sweet Genovese. The Lettuce Leaf basil's leaves were much bigger, and had a slight aniseed taste.

We made a batch of pesto by combining all the basil types, and as you can imagine it was delicious. Because of how expensive pine nuts are, we usually use Mother Earth Slightly Salted Cashew Nuts in our pesto. We only buy them when they're on special, and they are salty enough that no extra salt is needed to make the pesto.

The bulk of our basil crop is dehydrated in our dehydrator for later use in the colder months. We bought our Sunbeam FoodLab Dehydrator in August 2022, and have used it nearly every day since then for drying herbs, flowers, fruit, and vegetables. We couldn't live without it now that we own one. We also bought some accessories for it online, so that we have more finer trays for herbs, and also more silicone non-stick sheets for making fruit leather.

Basil is dried in our dehydrator at 35˚C for a number of hours. It is ready when the leaves snap after they have been cooled to room temperature. After that they are stored in a glass container for 48 hours to check no further water has been released into the container.

When we dried all three varieties of basil in the dehydrator, both Sweet Genovese and Gustosa dried quickly. The Lettuce Leaf basil however, took a long time to dry as its leaves contained much more water than the other two varieties.

After the basil is dried I ground all the basil varieties together using our Breville Coffee and Spice Grinder. It is designed for grinding all sorts of herbs, spices, and also coffee, and we bought it online when someone was having a sale.

After experimenting with all these basil varieties over the Spring and Summer, I have decided that in future seasons I wish to grow only the Sweet Genovese and Gustosa varieties. Even though they do not have big leaves like the Lettuce Leaf Basil, they still have good plant growth, and are resistant to caterpillar attack. They also dry fast in the dehydrator, which is what we harvest most of our basil for. The mix of the two varieties also brings a good combination in terms of taste, so that's also a bonus.

I am having sinus surgery this Friday (17th March), and will be recovering for a couple of weeks, but have already prepared next weeks blog post for you.

Have a wonderful day,


Want to discuss my post? Feel free to chat with me on Instagram or Mastodon.

Gardening - My Anemone and Collarette Dahlias

Hello friends,

Today I thought I'd share with you all the anemone and collarette dahlias dotted around my garden. Now that we're in autumn it's only a matter of time before the first frost of the season hits them, and the flowers and plants die down for the winter season.

My first introduction to dahlias was by my Aunt, who was a big dahlia collector when I was growing up. I remember many happy weekend afternoons following both, her and my grandfather around their back garden as they worked, and admiring my aunt's many dahlias. I thought they were big and beautiful, and wished for some of my own one day.

I started collecting dahlias myself when we were living in Wellington. I came upon a bedraggled dahlia tuber sitting in a bag at a garden store, and took it home in order to rescue it, and gave it a new home. That dahlia was Dahlia Lucky Number.

Dahlia Lucky Number is a big dahlia, measuring over 1.5 m tall and is a prolific flowerer, with hot pink flowers the size of a dinner plate. Because it is a collarette dahlia, with the heart of the flower exposed, it is very popular with both bees and butterflies. In truth, it is one of my favorite dahlias.

It wasn't long before I picked up another dahlia, this time the Keith Hammett bred (he's a New Zealand breeder) Dahlia Mystic Sparkler. Mystic Sparkler is another collarette dahlia, and has beautiful dark foliage which shows off the hot pink and yellow flowers. This dahlia is also attractive to birds and bees as well. This dahlia is compact, and grows well in pots and planters.

When we moved back to Dunedin in October 2019, my dahlias had already arrived ahead of me. The winter of 2019, I had dug up all my dahlias, trimmed them, and couriered them down to my sister in Dunedin, where she put them into her garden for the upcoming summer season. Once we had found a home down there, and after the summer season (and the first Covid 19 lock down), we dug all my dahlia tubers up, and I took them home to plant in the ground.

But meanwhile, in October 2019 after we had moved into our home, I couldn't resist picking up another Keith Hammett dahlia from the garden store, and planting it in my front garden. Dahlia Mystic Enchantment is a dahlia related to Mystic Sparkler. Mystic Enchantment has the same characteristics of Dahlia Mystic Sparkler, except it has florescent orange flowers, and is an anemone dahlia. Bees are also attracted to its flowers, and the plant is a very prolific flowerer.

More recently I've picked up another Keith Hammett Dahlia, this time the collarette dahlia, Protegee. It has the same dark foliage as Mystic Sparkler and Mystic Enchantment, but it's flowers are bright pink in the middle, surrounded by a lighter pink.

And another Keith Hammett Collarette dahlia I've also acquired recently is Dahlia Home Run. It has pretty, bright pink flowers, and adds nicely to my ever growing collection of Keith Hammett dahlias.

And as if I couldn't get enough of Keith Hammett's dahlias, he has a website where you can buy seed packets containing dahlias seeds from his breeding experiments. Each seed will give rise to a dahlia that has never been seen before. You will never know what you will get. I've bought seeds from his Beeline, Beeline II, and Sunflower collections, and sprinkled them around my garden. The photos below show the variation I've gotten so far from my seed sowing.

I have many more Keith Hammett dahlia seeds stored away, so who knows what colours I will get in the years to come as I sow more seed. But these aren't my only dahlias, I also have a number of stunning dinner plate and decorative dahlias also, and I will show you those as well in the coming weeks.

If you are new to dahlias, and are unsure how to look after some of you own, I really recommend the book, Discovering Dahlias, by Erin Benzakein. It contains detailed information on looking after dahlias, and has many great photographic examples on how to do things like dividing dahlias etc.

Autumn, is certainly settling in down here in the deep south, the nights are getting longer and cooler, and trees are starting to change colour. As I am having sinus surgery late next week, the next week in the garden will be very busy for me, getting jobs done before I will be recovering for the next three weeks after that. I have spring bulb orders arriving soon, and I would like to get them in the ground as soon as possible, otherwise hubby will have to do them for me, which should be fun...

Have a wonderful day,


Want to discuss my post? Feel free to chat with me on Instagram or Mastodon.

Autumnal Knitting - My Days to Come Blanket Is Still a Work In Progress

Hello friends,

Happy Autumn to those of you living in the Southern Hemisphere. It's been a long and hot summer here in Dunedin, but over the last few weeks the sunlight has been dimming little by little, and the neighborhood deciduous trees have ever so slowly begun changing color. We have a big Japanese maple tree in our backyard, and the edges of some of the leaves have already started turning red.

At this time of the year I start to ponder the wonderfulness of autumn. I think of beautiful falling leaves, bright orange pumpkins, cool rainy days, the first hot chocolate of the season, and warm knitted things. And when it comes to thinking of knitting, my thoughts always settle on the unfinished blanket stored in my craft room.

Back in September 2021 I'd just finished knitting a thick woolen jersey, and wanted to knit something a little easier, a blanket that would keep me cozy and warm over the autumn and winter seasons to come. Down here in Dunedin where we live, we usually get around 40 frost days, and usually if we're lucky, a couple of snow days as well. And when we don't have frosts or snow in autumn and winter, it is pretty much always just cold.

I've always admired Fifty Four Ten Studio's blankets on Instagram, and so after perusing their website, I chose their The Days to Come Blanket. I love the simplicity of its modern geometric design, and the fact that the blanket would be double-sided, and the pattern was simple enough that I wouldn't need to refer to the pattern as I knitted it in front of the TV.

The pattern calls for an aran/worsted weight yarn, but I had on hand a 3 kg cone of double knit salmon pink possum/merino yarn from a Woolyarns sale. After knitting a test swatch with a slightly smaller needle to account for the yarn (yes, you should always knit a test swatch, and wash it afterward too), I was ready to make a start on knitting my blanket.

I, of course, chose the largest size version of the blanket, which was an XXL measuring 46.5" wide by 54" long, because if you're going to knit a blanket to keep you warm, you should make it as big and cozy as possible. So therefore, I cast on 214 stitches...

The bottom border was next, it was pretty easy knitting, as it was all plain stitches, but I noticed it was taking around 20 minutes a row, and once I got to the pattern itself, the realization dawned on me. Each pattern row was taking around half an hour to knit. The knitting itself was easy, but it was taking ages, every night I worked on it I could only manage a couple of rows...

So ever since September 2021 I've been slowly working on my The Days to Come Blanket. I've been knitting it more in Autumn, Winter, and Spring, and hardly ever in Summer. The possum/merino yarn is very warm and cozy, it's just too hot to work on the project in the middle of summer, especially now that it's big enough to sit on my lap while I'm knitting. And I only work on it for about an hour a night when I do pull it out of its project bag, so that's not helping either.

My blanket is currently measuring 44" wide by 29" long, which makes me just over halfway done, I need to knit around another 25". Once I get to the expected number of pattern repeats, I'll have a better idea of how much more I need to do to get the right size once the blanket will be blocked.

I mentioned recently to hubby that I hoped to get it finished by this winter, but that's only three months away. I have been pulling it out to knit every couple of days over the past month, but at only two rows a night, there hasn't been much progress.

In order to remedy this, I have now brought my Days To Come blanket knitting project downstairs, and my aim is to get at least an hour done each night while watching the Chase on TV. Hopefully this will mean I reach my goal before the first of June...

Have a wonderful day,


Want to discuss my post? Feel free to chat with me on Instagram or Mastodon.

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