Back in England once more and showing a couple of Italian friends around Northumberland. We were returning from a visit to the pretty village of Blanchland, a riverside walk and lunch in the pub with a ghost upstairs. On impulse I first turned into the narrow lane leading to Aydon Castle, just for the flavour of yet another border castle to keep out those belligerent Scots.

Off again, my next impulse was to drive up to Hall’s of Heddon, a nursery garden devoted to dahlias. It was getting late, but the gate was open, but the driver of the only car parked there said it was closed. I asked if we could have a quick look anyway at the glorious coloured stripes stretching across the fields, and he then asked where we’d come from. I played the trump card, Italy, and he then gave us a tour with lengthy explanations of the world of dahlias. Who could have imagined that there would be about 50,000 varieties? Yes, 50,000. Not all viable, apparently, and some lost for ever. The catalogue goes all over the world, sending plants from Heddon as far as South Island, New Zealand.

I’m familiar with the pompom dahlia, or the large ‘dish mop’ varieties, but apparently fashions are changing. People want new varieties that attract insects, and they have developed flowers with looser petals and much more pollen in their centres. Such flowers attract hundreds of butterflies.

So business is good then? Not exactly, he says. The dreaded spectre of Europe has reared its ugly head. Apparently not content with wishing to regulate the curvature of bananas, they now want to make all commercially produced plants conform to certain leaf sizes, shapes and colours. This all makes sense as far as agriculture goes, but our man in Heddon is very worried. He says that it will affect at least 60% of his dahlias and will probably put him out of business.

We need to support this worthy local business in any way we can.


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