What I’ve Been Doing This Week

This week I was so inspired by something I saw on Instagram I almost forgave it for the time it made me think I was the only person in the world who couldn’t afford a $30,000 oven.

Meet Charlie.  More specifically meet Charlie’s garden. Actually most specifically meet the love of my life, my reason for living, the inspiration for every song ever written, every love poem ever written and possibly the eventual cure for depression, hysteria, eczema and bloating – Charlie’s dahlia border.

Yep. I follow Charlie McCormick on Instagram and the moment I saw this photo my whole world slowed down and I could her the beckoning song of Charlie’s Angels. 

I also fell in love with actual Charlie for a bit, but that wrong turn turned out to be very similar to the time I fell in love with Rufus Wainwright.



I see absolutely no reason why I can’t do this in my own front yard. I choose to ignore the fact that Charlie lives in Scotland on what appears to be the set of Pride & Prejudice. 

He has 3 acres.  I have a lavish 400 square feet.

He has a vision, executes it and it looks perfectly imperfect.

I have a wisp of an idea, partially execute it before getting bored and discouraged with my front yard garden and it looks perfectly pathetic. And barren. 


Of course, that’s partly because of the time of year and partly because much like with my living room I have a love/hate relationship with my front yard. It could be SO perfect but so much of my time is spent growing vegetables that I never feel like I have enough time to devote to getting my front  yard right.

Creating a jumbled English Cottage garden that looks authentic and GOOD is harrrrrrd. We’ve been through this. I may  have complained about it once or twice before.

But now in my moment of need, mid-pandemic when I can’t go to garden centres, when I’m out of chips, when it’s still so cold out 90% of things that are green are on a work stoppage, I have been INSPIRED to just screw it and start throwing in dahlia tubers.

Charlie  has generously included a lot of information about his border on his Instagram page. So from that I learned he’s planted  his tubers 15-20″ apart and keeps them staked with some sort of intricate weaving of bamboo stakes, string and I Scottish threats.

If you’ve ever tried to wrangle dahlias you understand. 

I was trying to figure out  how I could whittle my allotment garden plantings down enough so I could devote a full 16′ x 4′ bed to my local food bank. Speaking of my community garden …

ALERT ALERT – Saturday morning the Ontario premier announced that community gardens are allowed to open!  However – gardens aren’t actually open.  They won’t be allowed to operate until each local city’s health department has come up with a set of health guidelines.  We’ve gone from the hands of a provincial government to the hands of the local government.

I’m hoping the local guidelines won’t take longer than a week or two but this is me exhibiting the optimism of a 7 year old who asks for a tattoo for Christmas.

So the dahlias you see above, would get moved to my front yard and the bed they took up at my garden could be used for the food bank.

The ONLY issue I have is that I if I grow these in my front yard will I be strong enough to go out and cut them with abandon the same way I did when I grew them at my community garden?  I’m not sure I’m that strong.

Yes I am. Just yesterday I only ate half of a pizza instead of the whole thing. My resolve is made of steel. 


Speaking of pizza.  That’s one of the things I ate this week. In my effort to support local businesses I’m ordering food that has been pre-made. By someone other than me. That’s a unique thing for me. I rarely eat out and almost never pick up a quick meal. 

A couple of weeks ago I got fish and chips and this week a neighbour and I decided to get pizza from a new restaurant that had the unholy misfortune of opening up smack dab in the middle of a world pandemic.

It’s Detroit style pizza which I had never even HEARD of. I know. Me. The one waving my hand over here with the homemade pizza oven.

Detroit style pizza seems to be a weird amalgamation of Chicago style, slab and magical pizza.

Pizza from MaiPai 

This particular pizza had bee stung honey (spicy), cup and char pepperoni, mozzarella, sweet/spicy tomato sauce and a blob of ricotta. What also makes it unique is that the sauce is on top. IT’S ON TOP.

I tried to deconstruct the pizza but found it difficult to do while mashing my face into it.


Back to the dahlias. As luck would have it an order I placed in January from Creekside Growers arrived this week so I labelled them and will be planting them tonight.  To label my dahlias I wash the tubers, let them dry and then use a Sharpie to write which variety it is directly on the tuber.

I plant them with the writing side facing upwards in a shallow tray of dirt so they get a head start before I plant them out. This also helps prevent any rotting from too much rain since dahlia tubers can rot if they get too much water prior to sending out shoots.

That Instagram photo of Charlie’s dahlias really did make me feel a whole lot better about the future. Prior to having something so beautiful to think about working towards, every day felt like this.

Here’s hoping you’ve also found your own Charlie’s Angels to look forward to.

What I've Been Doing This Week

Have a good remainder of your weekend!


→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←



  1. JC says:

    I am faithful reader of Charlie’s husband’s blog http://www.pentreath-hall.com/inspiration he’s a famous English architect (Ben Pentreath) who posts lots of lovely shots of Charlie’s endeavours too.

  2. Patricia says:

    Hello Karen,
    The photo of your dahlia bouquet caused me to just now order $75 worth of dahlia tubers.
    I also started following Charlie.
    Yesterday I made 150 homemade Oreos. It was supposed to be 75, but they taste better with the filling on top of only one cookie. Half are double stuff, half are mint. They’re nearly gone.

    – Patricia

    • Karen says:

      Yeah. We’re all living the same life. We’ve all regressed to wanting to be surrounded by beauty and snack foods. Our true selves have risen. ~ karen!

  3. Barbara Sances says:

    I keep subscribing! But so glad to get the emails again. I totally followed your instructions and inspiration to make the cob oven. It was intense, but so worth it. I appreciated your detailed photos for the process. I plan to make another at my new home. One thing missing in all of the you tubes and info I read from many cob artists, is the need for a roof. They do not do well in the rain. Iived in California at the time, and after a hard rain, I couldn’t use it for about 2 months. I look forward to all your information and shared knowledge. Thanks

    • Karen says:

      Hi Barbara! If you do a coat of lime plaster there’s no need for a roof. The lime plaster protects the cob. It does need to be reapplied every few years though. SO happy you made one! They’re just so much fun to have. ~ karen!

  4. Jan in Waterdown says:

    Holy $hit Batman!! I just read about the community garden news on my CBC app and flew over to here, cuz I hadn’t read it yet (dahlias schmalias lol) and scrolled down and saw your “Alert!” So happy for you and all our local gardeners!! Wtf were they thinking? Hopefully your local city rep and our mayor will get it right!
    I hope our provincial government do the same before the wholesale greenhouse growers have to throw out all their flowers 😔

    • Karen says:

      Thank you for being excited for me, lol! I know. It was a stupid thing to shut down but I don’t think they really understood what a community garden was or how the majority of them operate. ~ karen!

  5. Vikki says:

    OMG—Charlie not only has dahlias, he has a Corgi. Ideal life!

  6. Karen Purpero says:

    Hi there. I love but have avoided Dahlias for two reasons:

    1. They’re expensive
    2. I thought you had to dig them up in the fall and store them somewhere?

    I know #1 is correct. But….Does handsome Charlie really dig up that border every Fall and replant in the Spring?

    • Karen says:

      Handsome Charlie is in England (I thought Scotland, but now I think he’s in England) where they’re just a bit warmer so they don’t need to be dug up. However, he DOES dig them up every 2 years to split them. :) That’s the key. Dahlia tubers are expensive but if you store them properly (in wood shavings or the like) they’ll continue on for generations. And in one season a single small dahlia tuber will grow huge and can be split into (usually) a minimum of another 10 tubers! ~ karen!

  7. Rebekah says:

    Since other places with community gardens have already established rules (see, e.g., https://www.edmonton.ca/residential_neighbourhoods/gardens_lawns_trees/community-gardens.aspx), maybe Ontario locations can review and adapt these so planting can get started? Southern Ontario is already quite a bit further along in their season, so hopefully localities can come up with their rules for safe gardening asap!

  8. MichelleR says:

    Yippee !!the Ontario government just declared that community gardens are an essential service. Now go and get your hands dirty Karen.

    • Karen says:

      Not quite yet. :) We still have to wait for our individual cities to give us a set of safety guidelines to adhere to. Could take another couple of weeks. But soon! ~ karen

  9. leisa says:

    Gorgeous dahlias!

    Community gardens could try the “even” “odd” approach. Where gardens designated are even or odd and the “evens” can garden on even days of the week and “odds” garden on the odd days. That way there is a space between the allotments. Just a thought 💛

  10. Ella says:

    As luck would have it, Epicurious published a whole blurb including a recipe for Detroit style pizza this week.

    Here you go:



  11. Dee says:

    Thanks for the lovely little piece of Dahlia loveliness. I so enjoy all your adventures especially now when stuck at home 24/7, however I do have one little question for you. When I just accidently clicked (yea right) on a picture of an aged Robert Redford on my computer a few days ago there you were front and center taking a little squirt of his world famous CBD miracle oil with a different name AKA Lacey from New York. Yikes, WTHey? Tell me you really are still the Karen we all know and love?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Dee. I’ve been getting a LOT of people telling me about this. But it’s a scam ad so very hard to track down. And no one ever sends me the actual link that the ad is on, just a screen shot of it. Unless people send me the links I can’t track them down and threaten them with legal action. ~ karen!

    • Margo Goffin says:

      I just saw that same ad, and wondered if Karen was aware of it.

  12. Jennifer says:

    I have been admiring all of the dahlias on instagram lately too, but was shocked at the price and unavailability of many of the tubers. Have you tried propagating them from cuttings from the tubers rather than planting out the whole tuber? I might have to try it if I can actually get my hands on the varieties I want since they are so limited. https://www.flowerpatchfarmhouse.com/propagate-dahlias-cuttings/

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jennifer, yes I’ve done propagating. And yes dahlia tubers (the nice ones) have to be ordered months in advance of the actual season. I order mine in the fall or sometimes around January. You can’t propagate the first dahlias you order because you’re normally sent a single tuber which will only have 1 or 2 eyes on it. Once that grows and you dig it out in the fall, you will have manyyyyyy eyes and you can split the tuber in the early spring and start propagating or splitting the tubers into singles. ~ karen!

      • Sandra D says:

        Does this mean the Dollarama dahlia’s I just bought in a package are not nice and won’t grow?

        • Karen says:

          LOL, no they’re perfectly nice and will definitely grow. I’ve grown them from Dollarama myself. They just don’t carry specialty dahlias. They carry the most common dahlias. The same goes for Home Depot, or Lowes or any store like that. Dahlias are like tomatoes in a way where people who are really into them are always looking for the most interesting or rare varieties. ~ karen!

  13. Colleen says:

    Karen, I love the idea of planting dahlias around a pathway. I have a similar naked pathway in my front yard. However, my front yard yard seems a bit formal for dahlias. My front has shaped holly, tall Ilex, azaleas, boxwood and rhododendrons. Two some day lilies and stargazer lilies I added. The previous owner clearly had a landscape designer place everything perfectly. I have only replaced the hydrangeas which struggle still. I guess the house is formal looking too Colonial revival stucco.

    My back yard is quite different and packed full. Think two faced in DC comics, or is that Marvel? I have apple and pear espaliers (thanks to you!), combination multi bud cherry trees, apricots, peaches, plum… now I am just bragging, veggies, clematis, honeysuckle, hydrangeas, lilies, roses just about everything. No room for dahlias at all.

    I wonder if if encased my front pathway with dahlias in the front, I might destroy what some previous owner worked so hard to establish. But I am tempted still.

    • Karen says:

      Stick with the formal garden Colleen. I LOVE a formal garden with boxwoods etc. My house is literally a stone cottage, very similar to what you would find in England, which is why that’s the type of garden I go with for it out front. IF my house were more statuesque or formal I’d absolutely go with a more formal garden. (still with vegetables etc., but more boxwoods, pea gravel and formal structures like a French potager. ~ karen!

  14. Jane says:

    There’s a restaurant in town that opened a few years ago and it has Detroit style pizza (it also has interactive tables on which you order, read the news, play games, and such). Until then, we had also never heard of such pizzas. Man, was it good! Since you have the pizza oven, Karen, you might be able to replicate it. The trick is the rectangular (aluminum?) pan, which, apparently, bakes the crust really nicely. I recall reading something about leftover metal after the war that they found a use for.

  15. Emie says:

    I hear you on never hearing about Detroit Style Pizza. I recently heard about a Grandma Pie, Grandma Style Pizza, and “pizza à la Nonna” my favorite name for it. I’ve never had one but I’d like to one day. From what I’ve read it almost always square in shape and rustic. What your Nonna would make at home. It’s on my list of foods to try one day.

  16. Grammy says:

    I love dahlias with a passion, but never had a whit of luck with them in my Sacramento garden. In fact, my attempt 30 years ago to build an “English” garden but using only those plants that would do well in our very cold, rainy winters (but no snow) and our blistering hot, dry summers (it doesn’t take more than a few days of 105º to take a toll on lovely blooming things) ended up taking me about 12+ hours daily of work to maintain and it still didn’t look anything like the lush landscapes in my garden books. The garden gods spoke and I listened. Now I have some succulents and a few hardy shrubs that can get along on their own and a smattering of roses. I look at other people’s lovely gardens online and enjoy the view with most of my anger at what I can’t have tucked away for more important things. So I am ecstatic that you will fill your front yard with beautiful blooms for all of us to coo about.

    I have found something recently that I can feel good about: I have forever baked my own bread and cooked for the entire family (first my parents and brothers and later my kids and husband and now a grandkid) since I was 12. I don’t do a lot of canning and other kinds of preserving these days, but I have the equipment to do so and can if it comes to that.

    I continue to grow veggies and have a couple of citrus trees that produce wonderful oranges and lemons, and last year I set about starting a serious herb garden that is thriving. So I really feel sorry for the people who have no experience with any of that, because I don’t fear having no food or not knowing how to prepare anything, but there are so many who can’t fend for themselves. I don’t have a huge surplus because I decided years ago to curtail my veggies to what we can use here, now. But I planted some extra the past couple of weeks in order to share with those nearby who need things.

    With the pandemic restrictions, I can’t go in someone’s home to teach them how to cook, but I can send them links to sites like yours and to YouTube videos that will help them know what to do with the sourdough starter and vegetables I can leave on their front porch. Keep showing everyone how to do the things we all need to know, I’m certain you’re helping real people in more ways than you’ll ever know. Your expanding the space you can use for your food bank donations is a direct act of goodness for those who need help in your community, but keeping up your “day job” by showing more and more people how to do things by (and for) themselves is a big deal, too. Doing it in your witty and interesting way is the cherry on top.

    Keep up the good work, and I can hardly wait to see your “new” front yard in bloom.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks for saying that Grammy. I’m just deciding right now what to plant in the food bank bed actually. Apparently they get a lot of “weird” carrots, lol, so I’ll probably do a big chunk of those because I know my carrots grow out really nicely. And then something that they wouldn’t normally get from a food bank. Like melons for instance. :) ~ karen!

  17. Sally says:

    Ok – am I going to be the only person who puts up their hand to admit that I don’t get the card trick? Can we please have a ‘look away now if you don’t want to know’ thing and have someone explain it to me?! (I know it’s going to be SO simple and obvious, but…).

    • Karen says:

      LOL, sure. LOOK AWAY ANYONE WHO DOESN’T WANT TO KNOW HOW THE CARD TRICK IS DONE. I assume you did the trick Sally and he did indeed remove your card. That’s because he replaced ALL of the cards. So there wasn’t a single card in the second look at the cards that was the same as the ones in the first. He removed all the cards and replaced them with all different ones therefore there was a 100% chance your card was removed. ~ karen!

  18. margaret says:

    Where on his Instagram page has Charlie included a lot of information about his border? I don’t think I get Instagram…

    • Karen says:

      You have to go to his Instagram page and then scroll to where you see the photo of his dahlia border. From there you can see his description of the border and if you read through the comments he’s answered all of them. So his answers are in the description and in the comment section. :) ~ karen!

  19. LOIS M BARON says:

    When I scrolled to the picture of the dahlia tubers, at first I thought they were dehydrated chickens/chicken parts. And THEN I thought the writing was names you’d given the tubers, like Nancy and William and Frank, the way my daughter names her car Wilson and her rubber duck Liza. I was very confused for a moment there. (Will stumble off to bed in a sec…)

    The dahlia rows is fabulous and I will never go to all the work of making it happen, so I am so glad you shared the pictures and making a dahlia delight for us all too.

  20. Nancy says:

    Dahlias are the flower most like a Golden Retriever puppy gone Sputnik. Happy, crazy, anything goes. If you ever go to Tacoma Washington, go the dahlia experimental garden at Point Defiance. You will take 30 million pictures and laugh til you’re sick. Good luck with the 🦠.

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