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Snapdragon blog

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: garden

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

A few years ago I grew lots of dark, deep, sumptuous flowers - it was purely fashion, the way that seeing things repeatedly works its way into your brain so that you begin to order lots of seeds with 'night' and 'black' and 'midnight' in their names.⁠⠀
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Navy, Burgundy, Royal Purple, I planted them all, thinking of a vibrant Persian carpet of plants, and then couldn't work out why my garden looked so blooming dull.⁠ ⁠⠀
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It was the sunflowers that made me see the error of my ways - their deep burgundy petals sinking into the surrounding green, invisible at dusk.⁠ ⠀
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Because everyone knows that sunflowers are meant to be yellow. ⁠⠀
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These ones are Vanilla Ice - pinched out to flower at waist height with lots of soft yellow blooms, a lovely cheerful thicket in front of the sweet peas.⁠⠀
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(I'm sure that many people will violently disagree with me, maybe it is the Scottish light . . . maybe it was my combinations or the lack of low sunshine through the main borders . . . but they never ever glowed from inside as I had hoped)
One of my aims in life is to encourage people to make things with their hands. 
I
Simple things, simple skills - I believe that it helps us connect something in our brain that consuming electronically never will. 
This eco-beauty knitting kit is back in stock (click through profile). Everything you need to make facecloths and makeup wipes and teach yourself to knit along the way. 
If you already have cottons and needles then there is a pattern for a more complicated face cloth back in my blogs (search the tag eco making!).
One of the things that I’m gradually getting better at is planting the plants that actually want to grow here, rather than cajoling along ones that really would prefer to be growing in the south. ⠀
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The raised beds went into our productive garden in April - so really only a few months ago - and already it is full of blooms. All are hardy annuals, easy, beautiful, generous plants - sweet peas, calendula, ammi, cornflowers. ⠀
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Sometimes people are snobby about them - because they are simple to grow I think. ⠀
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I’ve written a blog post about how to keep them blooming all summer which you can get to via the link in my profile.
Did you see Gardeners World on Friday evening?  It was all about meadows - a whole hour of life affirming beauty, interesting people making a difference and encouragement to let the edges of your lawn grow wild. I loved it. 
One interesting thing was that there are seemingly 23 million gardens in the UK, many more than I had thought. So much potential. 
We are now planning to create a strip of annuals along the edge of the lawn, in front on the box hedge that bounds the productive garden. 
Anyway it inspired me to get out my old floristry things - these were the kinds of arrangements I did most when I arranged wedding flowers - lines of upright meadow flowers - though obviously they were in water (most often small plastic pots hid by mossy rocks or sods of long grass, high up on church windows.)
These particular flowers are now safely in bottles on my windowsill.
Yesterday morning, first thing, I took this photo of my bedroom windowsill, pale pink roses saved from the rain.⁠⠀
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Their colour made me think of instagrammer @andreacolvile and her love of beautiful pastel flowers.⁠⠀
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Over breakfast I heard of Andrea's death. ⁠⠀
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Andrea was such a light filled person, I loved chatting to her, she was so committed to capturing the beauty around her. ⁠⠀
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Her photographs of her children are joyous, her images of flowers exquisite, all her photographs instantly recognisable as hers.⁠⠀
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A Just Giving page has been set up in Andrea's memory to raise money for research into Liver Research - you can get to it via the link in Andrea's profile.
Are you a binge tidier or someone who manages to keep things looking habitable all the time?⁠⠀
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I am definitely the former.  I am the messiest person in our house and, as I work from home a lot at the moment, the whole place just slides and slides until I crack and tidy it all up.⁠⠀
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Yesterday I was putting together a how to blog post about making alternatives to kitchen towel - and it meant that I needed to set up somewhere for the clean cloths to stay and the dirty cloths to be put and suddenly it was clear that the kitchen was full of things that shouldn't be there.⁠⠀
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So I tidied it up and in that calm moment, in that half half hour or so before the guddle began to build up again, I wished I was naturally neat.⁠⠀
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I'll press publish on the blog post next week assuming that my prototypes stand up to the job!
I lay in bed early this morning listening to the rain. We have French doors in our bedroom and at night they are usually open so that the animals can come and go without waking us up. ⠀
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I could smell the roses, the scent gently drifting in - not these roses which are in the productive garden, but a pink David Austin rose.  A rose that sulked for years that it wasn’t growing in a Sussex garden and then decided last year just to get on with it and bloom. ⠀
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This week is a week of taking things easy, designing new things, working out plans for the next six months, pottering, making rose lip balm. ⠀
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At one point it would have been our busiest week of the year - up early and in the workshop at 7, making hundreds of teachers thank you gifts. ⠀
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I think I prefer just having time to smell the roses. Especially because I have always believed that the best gift from a child is one they have made.
Plastic free shopping is something that many of us are striving for.  I’m really encouraged by how many plastic free options are beginning to appear - we have one coming locally which will be amazing. ⠀
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Produce bags have been the product that I have been asked most for (by miles) this year. ⠀
I’m not convinced that we should really see #zerowaste as an opportunity to buy more pretty stuff though. ⠀
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Instead I’ve put together a step by step tutorial in how to hand sew your own produce bags from recycled fabrics- a perfect gentle activity for in front of the tv. ⠀
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You can click through to it via the link in my profile. ⠀
And then you just need to remember to take them with you when you go shopping. ⠀
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About Snapdragon

At Snapdragon we 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.

Through our communities, both free and paid for, through Jane's writing on the blog, through carefully hand crafted gifts and activity kits, and through our online and in-person workshops we aim to bring people back in touch with the rhythms of a seasonal life.

Learn more about why here

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