Gardening: Come dally in the dahlias: Anna Pavord invites you to a glorious last fling before summer's lease expires

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The Independent Online
WRITE IT in your diary. It has been in mine all year. Tuesday 14 September, Great Autumn Show day. There is still time, but only just, to apply for tickets for the private view arranged for Independent readers, on the evening of the first day of the show. (See the coupon for details.) Dally among the dahlias. Contemplate the conifers. Swoon into the sweet peas. Brackleys, the sweet-pea specialists, will be at the show with

a prize-winning late crop of blooms.

There is a pleasantly wild sense of a last fling about the Great Autumn Show. You feel you have to make the most of each flower. It is unlikely that you will be able to bury your nose in sweet peas again this year. Or capture the smell of the old-fashioned roses that Peter Beales will be exhibiting.

And this year, my hero William Robinson, of Forton, in Lancashire, will be back after an unprecedented absence last year. Mr Robinson's vegetables are the only things at the show that can give the dahlias a run for their money. Anything with 'Mammoth' in its name is likely to have originated at his seed company in Forton. You may have heard of his Supreme Quality Mammoth Improved onion, which, fed and nurtured as a champion ought to be, can develop pectorals the like of which you may never see again.

This year, the Robinsons are bringing a new bean to the show, a climbing French bean called 'Kingston Gold', with pods the colour of butter. They have always been a good source of supply for unusual beans. 'Rob Roy' is one of theirs, with pods of cream splashed with red, and they also developed a similar variety, 'Rob Splash', which has cream pods speckled with purple. Their stand, with tomatoes spilling out in brilliant rivers, leeks lined up like militiamen, is a masterpiece of showmanship.

There are quieter pleasures, too: autumn crocus, cyclamen and a wide range of other autumn-flowering bulbs from Jacques Amand and Rupert Bowlby. Mr Bowlby puts on the kind of stand you wish you could transport, lock, stock and colchicum, to your own patch. He has the beautifully chequered Colchicum agrippinum, for instance, which I have been watching for anxiously in my garden over the past week. The flowers zoom out of the ground in a most spectacular way, the leaves following much later. Fortunately, you can buy at the Great Autumn Show. If my colchicums haven't put in an appearance by next week, I will be heading towards Mr Bowlby's stand. I hope to meet you there.

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