dahlia fan club summer 2014

Dahlias I have spied this summer in friends’ gardens, botanic gardens and municipal plantings – Otaki, Paekakariki, Palmerston North….


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I was quite chuffed to snap a bee AND a butterfly together….

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This one – you will just have to believe me because there is nothing to indicate scale – was the summer-winner for gobsmackingly beautiful – in real life it GLOWED and it was as big as a dinner plate, no lies. (That’s why it’s almost on the ground – the plant could not support it’s heft.)




Dahlia Fan Club’s first blooms!

(A quick recap for the uninitiated.) The Dahlia Fan Club started as an online Pinterest board where my friend Emma and I post pictures of lush Dahlias….then we decided to take it offline into our backyards, and planted dahlias for this summer…

Well, I planted mine far too early – following the instructions on the packet and not realising that the baby plants were very frost tender. Fraser graciously shielded the fledgling plants with a frost cloth every cold night, so the blooms you are about to see are largely due to his efforts. Anyway, because we’ve had a warm, wet spring – I have flowers already! (They are supposed to bloom in ‘late summer’.)


Also, happily the dahlia Magnus chose which looked brown on the photograph of the packet, is actually a wonderful dark red. Yay! No poo-flowers!


I planted five, and two are still tiny stunted things, no sign of bloom….but three, funnily enough BOTH of the ones my children chose and one of the ones I chose, have really gone for it! The two that are still small are both ‘pom-pom’ varieties, so maybe they are slower growing than the ‘starburst’ flower shape?

The one Willoughby chose looks like this when it first unfurls:



…and then like this after about a week:


First Dahlia Fan Club SUCCESS. I can’t wait to see what my other two look like and to see Emma’s when they come up.  I positioned them around the outside of the chicken run, so that I can see them when I sit on the porch, which I do for a lot of the summer…and indeed, they are so bright the eye travels directly there!


Other posts relating to the Dahlia Fan Club, on here and on Emma’s blog:

The Dahlia Fan Club is born (Emma)

Dahlia Fan Club goes offline & some nice vintage Dahlia images

The Dahlia Fanclub goes offline

Emma buys her Dahlia Bulbs

I buy my Dahlia Bulbs

Dahlias at The Eden Project

Dahlia Cottage in Featherston

Canterbury Dahlias

Dahlias of Holloway Road

Emma and I take our first Dahlia Fan Club Field Trip, to the Victoria Esplanade iPalmerston North

I am officially a plant nerd.




mycology walk

After I read that Emma had spotted an autumn toadstool on her walk, I had a yearning to go on a mushroom/toadstool hunt in the bush. So last Sunday I took my family out for a ramble around a bush track on the Woodville end of the Manawatu Gorge, looking out for autumnal fungi. I was not disappointed!



There were some wonderful red toadstools.

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Bright orange fungus:


Tiny ethereal mushrooms (hard to photograph! This one was not much bigger than a pea and I liked the way it was growing upwards towards the light from underneath a log.)




Warty armies of toadstools:

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Odd phallic looking ones with speckles:


I don’t know enough about wild mushrooms to know if any of these are edible, so I let them be and just took photographs.

After our walk, we stopped for a simple picnic of pikelets and feijoas.


Back home in the fridge was a package of field mushrooms my friend Nat had picked from her farm. I cooked them in garlic, onions and lots of green herbs, stirred in cream right at the end of cooking and ate it on pasta. Amazing.


And of course, I can’t go anywhere these days without spotting a dahlia:



dahlias of holloway road

I love the scrappy charm of Holloway Road in Aro Valley, Wellington. It has a long history – it’s one of the earliest settled streets of Wellington and it was a working class enclave from it’s beginning. The people with money settled in Karori and Thorndon, the workers settled in Holloway Road. I always try to make time for a walk along Holloway when I go to Wellington – I like to look at the ramshackle gardens and falling-down houses and then there is a gorgeous nature reserve at the end of the road, for that weird feeling of being in the wilds in the centre of the city.

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Last time I went, I found a few dahlias. The hot pink one was retina-searing bright, I spotted it from miles away.

The trees lean towards each other in the nature reserve, creating a natural archway. It’s very welcoming, like they are pulling you away from the concrete and back to the dirt.



picking up what the wind drops

I took a walk to a nearby section where an old house had recently been demolished. They are building shops there. I dug up a wormwood plant and rescued an iron gate from a skip which I’ll use as a frame for beans in the vegetable garden. 

When I walk I am looking for stray plants and clues of what other humans are doing, their leavings, their signs.

So many gardens are neglected and full of mistakes – odd plantings, strange schemes gone wrong. It’s a lexicon of thwarted plans, migration, human error. But I love all the gardens, all of them. I love where weeds come in and grow where no one thought there was any dirt. I love the twee tidy gardens around the brick units where the widows live – all pansies and polyanthus and tight little roses. I love the student flat gardens with the crushed comfrey and the gnarled old lemon trees. There is a place deep in my heart for the gardens inside the gates of kindergartens – old tractor tyres full of marigolds and strawberry plants, glitter and matchbox cars.

These dahlias were planted behind a tin-shed, hard up against a damp bank…..in entirely the wrong place and where no one can see them (except me, because I creep and snoop) so I pick them and drop them at a friend’s door.


I pick up windfall apples from the house across from the supermarket. They are a bit bruised but will do for pie. At another house someone has left ice-cream containers of passionfruit for $2 each on their fence. I take one and leave a coin in the letterbox.

I don’t fully understand my own instinct for gleaning. It’s more than acquisition. It’s something to do with control, and side-stepping capitalism and burrowing into a universe where people trade in fruit and the urban environment is one big shared playground. I like my own company but I spend too much time in it and then I read the street and try to draw meaning from the random and the incidental.

Occasionally a garden is stunning and special and makes perfect sense, but these gardens are rare:


Right now, there is an American oil company doing exploratory drilling in the hills near Dannevirke. If they find enough, they have plans to frack for oil. Local farmers and  Iwi have been protesting there this week and it is getting almost no media coverage. There are similar exploratory tests going on near Whangarei, but for gold.

I have been following the effects of fracking in Pennsylvania, USA where fracking for natural gas has been happening for some years now. None of the news is good. Profound pollution, deformities and stillbirths in animal stock, rising cancer rates and the tap water is flammable.

Hold a lighter to your running tap and it lights up. Imagine.

Parts of the Manawatu River are so polluted from intensive dairy farming and factory run-off IT SPONTANEOUSLY CATCHES FIRE.

Water on fire. Water on fire.

On the way to pick the youngest up from school I pass a house with a big walnut tree. There are walnuts all over the path, so I pick them up. I always carry a cloth bag in my hand bag for spontaneous foraging. It’s like maybe if I notice the trees enough, maybe if I honour the fruit enough, maybe if I pick up enough windfalls and rescue enough plants….maybe then…? Maybe then.

The Dahlia Fan Club takes a field trip…

A great thing about a fan club having just two members, is that it is easy to convene. (I think this is also why I am in a writing group of just three people.) Emma was in town on Sunday, so The Dahlia Fan Club took a stroll to the Victoria Esplanade to seek out the Dahlias dotted here and there, they are usually in top form at this time of year, however because of the drought we’ve been suffering here in the Manawatu, they weren’t up to their usual standard. Still, we spotted a few good ones.

We also looked at the Dugald McKenzie Rose Garden, and I took some photos there too, however looking through the photographs when I got home I surmised that dahlias are simply more photogenic. Each dahlia has it’s own character – whereas a rose is a rose is a rose…. 

This Dahlia thing is catching on – Emma’s friend sent her these photographs of Dahlia Cottage in Featherston. 

Cue gratuitous Dahlia photographs…darlias_5 darlias_4 darlias_3 darlias_2 darlias_1

The Dahlia Fan Club


My dear friend Emma and I have decided to take our Dahlia Fan Club off the screen and into the world. Emma has blogged about her plans here and our Pinterest page here. (We had 300-ish followers within a couple of days of making that page, so there are a lot of Dahlia fans out there!) Details of my plans are to follow, but for now – here are some things I’ve discovered about Dahlias so far…


New Zealand has a National Dahlia Society.

The best time to plant them is July/August – according to the nice lady at my local gardening centre – this gives Emma and I the winter to prepare our Dahlia beds.


I was inspired to try growing my own dedicated Dahlia garden by this video. I recommend watching it with the volume turned off so you don’t have to listen to Martha Stewart because…ugh. (Plus she pronounces Dahlias “DOLL – leeahs”.) But gosh – Betty’s dahlia garden is truly magical.

Emma and I love to do old-lady-ish things, like drink tea from china tea cups, coo over old textiles and share copies of UK Country Living. I’m excited to take our Nana-core ways up to a whole new level with this Dahlia-growing, tuber-swapping activity.