Staking dahlias with chestnut poles

So here’s the question. Would you drive nine hours in a round trip to find out how someone builds their chestnut grids in the potager?

I’m contemplating it, believe me.

It’s the beguiling shot of the potager of the Prieuré Notre Dame d’Orsan. It’s bothering me. Again. I saw this a decade ago. And I am irked that I can’t see if they use nails or screws or even string to hold together their structures.

And then to make matters worse I logged on to their site to see if I could find more detail.

And just died. I don’t envy many things as I lead a charmed life. But oh my, this is neat. Have a look and then come back to the real world.

You would almost think they had staff. And a workshop where someone chooses the most perfectly straight wood to make their lattice shapes.

Luckily they don’t open their gardens for a month at least and I don’t want to drive 900kms to be enamoured by someone else’s garden.

I decided it was time to sort my dahlia staking and stop sulking.

And do a better job this year.

My reminder was my actual potager a decade ago.

The grids were chestnut. And made by Nicolas who no longer works in horticulture.

They proved to be perfect for about a season and a half until the uprights rotted or were hauled down as I tried dragging myself up from the weeding and planting position and yanked them out of shape.

Bless. Those were the days. Bending down to harvest with a straight back. Thank you Carla Coulson for these amazing photographs.

Can you spot Artur hiding under the peas? My cat Creature would not manage to sit still while someone came to photograph.

And that bare soil would not be orderly for long. She does love to run amok.

Time to make them again.

And first I thought I was onto a winner when I pruned the mulberry and thought I could use those. Rather than just pushing them through the chipper.

Err no. Way too floppy. So it was back to the forest with my trusty saw.

I cut down heaps.

They were positive trip hazards for a while as I stockpiled the huge number I needed.

Only for the top part of the potager. The main big beds are fine. Positively tidy and presentable and I could sell tickets and open the garden with those.

The poles all had to be more than three metres long. So getting them perfectly straight in a crowded forest was a challenge. But I tried my best.

And then I ordered endless one metre lengths of 10mm thick rebar. Reinforced concrete rods. Pause. Have I told you this already? They are only sold in 6 metre lengths so you have to use your charm to get them to cut the rods down to fit in the car. It helps that Madame Felix has finally retired and no longer berates me in her lumber and machine yard. I would never have got away with her staff taking up valuable time cutting the rebar into such small pieces in her day.

I decided that the uprights needed to last longer than a season. And yes, I am about nine rods short. But here is as far as I went.

And to avoid taking my eye out on the uprights I plonked the little terracotta pots that Andrew gave me when he sold his farm.

They were only being decorative in the potting shed. And right now they look fetching and actually make a musical sound in the wind.

I will regret this design choice when the wasps emerge and want to build their nests in every upturned pot. But that’s an agony for summer and not for now.

But wonky. You won’t notice them when the dahlias burst into growth and eventually flower. And I failed at twine tying school.

I was actually toying with an idea from Arthur Parkinson. He uses birch for his dahlias.

But I don’t have a forest of birch on my doorstep. But if you do; his look marvellous. And you can twist the branches to give your climbers some support.

Instead it’s me just muddling along and waiting to get a second wind to cut all the cross bars and find a way to tie them on.

But as it is blowing a gale for the second weekend in a row I’ll stick inside and just ogle other people’s potagers and maybe delve into some knot tutorials on YouTube.