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Journal

The productive garden

snapdragon studio garden

I stopped growing flowers 8 years ago, maybe 9. For a couple of years I was in denial about it, we grassed over one of the areas of flower beds and planted an orchard but the main space, directly behind the house, grew wild, abandoned.

Most of the time it looked terrible - as you would imagine. But sometimes, late in the evening as I sat on the deck with a glass of something, the low sun shone behind it, and the effect was amazing - poppies and grasses, salvias and self sown annuals lit up, glorious.

I spent the next two years begging friends to give homes to my plants, moving the remnants down to the perennial slope next to the workshop to see how they would fare growing with grasses.

Needing to do something, we covered the entire patch in landscape fabric and I began to plan.

The area isn't massive - though there are about 4 acres of land here, most of that is wood and boggy field. We actually properly garden about an acre of ground and much of that is orchard and the front gardens, the poly tunnel, the chicken run.

This bit is about 30 x 20 metres - big for a domestic garden, perhaps foolish for a single gardener, but not really what people think of when they hear about commercial flower growing. It is far from being a flower field.

I love the gardens of the new perennial movement. When I read Noel Kingsbury's book The New Perennial Garden back in 1996 I was stunned by the combinations, the colours and the way that the gardens ebbed and flowed with the seasons. In the previous decade I had been looking for varieties that would work in our soggier climate - more long lasting spires to replace the verbascum, more frost resistant alternatives to the red grasses.

I read and made notes and compiled Pinterest boards while everyone else in the family despaired of having a black plastic, rubbish strewn garden.

I went out of my way to visit gardens that had perennial meadow planting - Scampston in Yorkshire, The High Line in New York, the garden festival at Chaumont.

It was while I was talking to a friend about that amazing garden festival that I realised where I was going wrong.

I talked about how the show gardens have to be planted to develop over a whole season, I talked about the amazing displays in the permanent areas and I talked about how my favourite bit of all was the productive garden by the gate, with its mix of fruit and vegetables and flowers.

And as I talked I realised that all my favourite gardens are productive gardens - Kellie Castle, Perch Hill Farm, - just as you will always find me in the kitchen at parties, you will always find me in the kitchen garden in stately homes.

So I changed my plan - pivoted to creating a space of sweet pea arches and raised beds full of salad, espalier apples and rows of dahlias. Creating a space for pottering, not just for looking.

Interestingly, everything fell into place, it speeded up, there was no resistance, no delay - it felt flowing in a way that my more ambitious, academic plans never had.

We began in October, bringing in soil for raised beds, and already, 8 months later it is looking good. It makes me wonder what other things in life I delay and faff over when I simply need to change my goals.

The following photos show the garden in October (with the first of the raised beds being laid out), January, and now.

snapdragon garden October 2018

October 2018

snapdragon garden January 2019

January 2019

snapdragon garden May 2019

May 2019

The garden will be open as part of Forth Valley Art Beat's Open Studios 8-15th June 2019.

Tags: gardening

Comments: 1 (Add)

Helen on June 20 2019 at 12:46

I recall watching Alys Fowler and her garden sometime back. She changed my idea of gardening and now my kitchen garden has beetroot growing happily with lavender and sweet peas grow around lettuce beds... gardening this area is less time consuming than other parts of my garden x

Snapdragon social

I am a bit of a womble.  My Studio is a layering of things that have been found, things that have been saved, things that have been given to me - I like to be surrounded by a bit of history. ⁠⠀
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I am known as an avid skip diver so people kindly keep me things.  This weekend I am off to pick up 13 sash windows rescued from a skip.⁠⠀
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This is my dye cupboard - the mordants and other powders, the piles of fabrics and yarns, my newly started record book and the glue to paste the swatches in.⁠⠀
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It has had a hard life - the back is patched with hinges as plates, there are many, many layers of paint and a door has gone missing along the way.  It is perfect.⁠⠀
Back when I grew flowers commercially the area that is now ‘the orchardy bit’ was rows and rows of spring bulbs.⁠ In the years where the deer didn’t eat the tulips they looked magnificent, stripe upon stripe of pure pigment. ⠀
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When I turned my back on growing for money, we simply took out the beds and levelled it, turning it back to grass.⁠⠀
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The tulips quickly gave up - never brilliantly perennial here anyway, they took the opportunity to fade out fast.⁠ Well if you don’t want us . . . ⠀
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The narcissi loved it though and every year appeared back in their serried rows through the grass. ⁠There was something disturbingly grave like about them.
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My planting  ever since has all been an attempt to disguise that - feathering the edges, making little islands, trying to make it all look haphazard.⁠⠀
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Gradually it is working - this is the edge of what would have been a bed of Narcissi geranium (best vase life, along with best scent) - now happily interspersed with a pheasants eye and a little lemon coloured one I have lost the name of.
Abundance.⁠⠀
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And the hedges beginning to vibrate with that gloriously specific spring green.
This week has been about experimenting.⁠⠀
Experimenting with all the ways to dye with daffodils, experimenting with the new e-course part of my website, experimenting with shooting and editing videos on my phone.⁠⠀
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My business hero is @sethgodin and his mantra is 'ship it' - a way of saying that the best way to learn is to make things and get them out in front of people before they are polished and 'perfect'.⁠⠀
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So I took his advice and combined all three experiments. Today's newsletters will have links to a free e-course all about dyeing wool with daffodils.⁠⠀
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I have been absolutely amazed by the colour you get from faded daffodil flowers (see the second photo). It is a bright, yet somehow soft, golden yellow which is now adding an amazing zing to my pile of plant dyed fabrics.⁠⠀
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I am prone to obsessions.  My brain hones in on topics and rabbit holes away, a constant background chatter to my life.⁠⠀
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It annoys the people I live with as my world shrinks to one topic. ⠀
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My camera roll shows me it is three years ago this week that I returned to natural dyeing with plants, concentrating on using only the plants growing within a couple of miles.⁠⠀
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Three years of experimenting with plant after plant, three years of googling and reading obscure articles and piling up samples. ⁠three years of conversation about mordants and modifiers. ⠀
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Three years is a short time in such a slow craft. A blink of an eye. ⁠⠀
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But already I can see a difference in my skill.⁠⠀
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This is a corner of the cupboard where I stash my fabrics and yarns building up enough for a project.  These have all been dyed this year - with barks and cones. ⁠⠀
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This week I am dyeing with bright deadheaded daffodils and the golden yellows will join these soft terracottas and pinks while I dream up something to make.
I grow very few white flowers. ⁠⠀
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White summer flowers tend to mark in the rain - white roses look like discarded tissues, white dahlias spot brown.  Even cosmos purity - which I do grow - goes droopy and grey in a way that the coloured versions don't.⁠⠀
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The petals of spring bulbs however seem rain resistant - so I can indulge my love of white flowers and enjoy them backlit by the morning sun on the Studio window shelf.
Bright and light and pretty.
I am spending a lot of time in the greenhouse at the moment - playing an endless game of jenga with my seed trays.⁠⠀
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Many of the seedlings are for the community gardens - being planted out gradually under fleece. We are biding time, taking the cautious route so that we minimise the risk of everything being wiped out by a very cold night.⁠⠀
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We still have a full month of frosts to go here - little ones of -2 or 3 are manageable, an extra covering of fleece, some bricks to act like a storage heater.  Most hardy seedlings will recover from getting their tips nipped a bit.⁠⠀
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Last year though we had a really cold night in mid May, when growth was going well and sappily. It blasted the blossom and killed many of my hardy veg too. Slightly too late to resow.⁠⠀
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Speak to the older generation of gardeners and they all sowed and planted out much later than is the fashion today.  They perhaps had a point.
I wrote in my Friday letter this week about the sudden lifting of the uncertainty and inertia that had been dogging me for a few months.⁠⠀
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It's always easier to write about these things once they are resolved - do you find that?  Once I am unstuck and lolloping along happily again, I can look at it all and not get sucked down.⁠⠀
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Of course all this talk of getting going again, of new plans and exciting things . . . . it all actually means hard work. ⁠⠀
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Head down, working through an actual written plan kind of hard work.  Not always my natural strength.⁠⠀
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So yesterday I rearranged the studio window shelves and cleared the working table, ready for an uninterrupted start today. ⁠⠀
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An attempt to keep momentum.
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About Snapdragon Life

At Snapdragon Life I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

 

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