Boxes of Dahlias


Where do you stand on box hedges? Do you view them as a classic staple of formal gardening or a lamentable gardening cliche that were old hat when Vita Sackville-West was a lass?

Probably, from the above photograph, you have worked out where I stand. My vegetable garden at Clear Springs is defined by these rustling lines of deep green. Box although haling from the Old World are as tough as any native in my garden and will forgive me when I don’t get around to clipping them. I can hack back inches and still they reveal glossy green foliage that look like I had planned it this way all along. It looks great all year round and is happy to take the supporting role to the more spectacular floral offerings, like the dahlias, calendula and artichokes that you can see in the photograph.

And now allow me to mention the dahlias. My grandmother grew them: a great big fat row of them that ran the full length of one of Pa’s vegetable gardens. No two plants were the same variety, the flowers all astounded me as a child. Their colours and shapes absorbed my fascination.

I grew some myself in my first little garden. Dainty white pompoms. I thought they were a miracle.

And as I grew up, I realised that they were not terribly fashionable so kept my interest in them quiet, unless it was for the giant tree dahlia, which was somehow ok according to the horticultural fashion police of the time.

But in my wonderings and observations of old style productive gardens of the inner urban migrants of multicultural Melbourne, I noticed that these proto-cottage gardens were usually adorned with a splendid example of a dahlia. Usually the most garish and strangely coloured dahlia known to science. There might be quite a few plants, but of the one variety. Frugal gardeners dividing and multiplying a specimen that they love. Makes sense.

And thus my own little row of dahlias. One variety that I acquired as a gift fifteen years ago. It has grown in the same place pretty much since then and unlike my industrious grandparents, who dug and stored away the bulbs every year so that they wouldn’t rot, mine have remained untended and undivided. That is, until now. Only a few months ago I divided and replanted about half the bulbs in a little row, expecting them to grow into great big shrub like creatures before flowering in the late summer.

However, the division must have somehow stimulated their urge to flower and low and behold I had a lovely little display for Christmas. The combination with the calendula pleases me greatly and not just for the serendipitous nature of its creation. What would the fashion police say? Hopefully, by now I have learnt not to listen too much to the pronouncements of these mythical creatures.


Happy New Year!