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Snapdragon blog

The Productive Garden

making a producing cutting garden

Scotland is a challenging place to grow many things - the cold nights and wet weather make anything remotely tender very hit and miss. I have a great list of plants which bloom abundantly in the South of England, which I have carefully cosseted into spindly flower, only for them to be cut off by the first frost.

What the Scottish climate is brilliant for however is hardy annuals - all those flowers that complete their life-cycle between April and September and which like a cooler, damper climate. We have none of the problems with hardy annuals shooting up to seed that afflict gardeners in hotter areas.

Chief amongst these plants are sweet peas which love the Scottish climate - indeed back in the C19th there was a good established trade in Scottish grown sweet peas. Great wooden crates of them would be loaded onto the train at Waverley station in Edinburgh destined for the flower stands of London. In a time when all the sweet peas would have been the incredibly scented, but shorter lived, varieties, when there were no refrigerated trucks, this has always seemed amazing to me. The guard's van must have smelt wonderful.

When I grew flowers for weddings, sweet peas were my speciality too.

sweet pea

What this means is that it is incredibly easy to plant up a garden very quickly if you put in a base of hardy annuals. The raised beds in the second part of the productive garden were made in April and already it is full of flowers and vegetables. Yesterday I picked a couple of hundred sweet peas from the tunnels and we have been eating courgettes, peas, broad beans and lettuce for a few weeks already.

Then the trick is to keep everything going as long as possible.

Keeping hardy annuals happy.

1. Give them good soil

Although we think of many hardy annuals as wild flowers (poppies, cornflowers, marigolds), happy to grow in terrible conditions, most actually do a lot better in good moisture retentive soil. It might be tempting to grow them in the worst bits of your garden but they will not grow as well or flower as long.

The cornflowers in my meadow are about 20cm tall, those in my cutting garden are over a metre, the former last for 10 days, the latter for 3 months.

With a plant like sweet peas - which you want to produce an amazing amount of flowers over several months - start them off with an extra helping of goodness - well rotted manure, compost, chicken manure pellets. I dig my bokashi compost into the trench and then cover with compost so that it rots down more before the roots grow into it.

2. Make sure they don't dry out

Most hardy annuals will go to seed as soon as it gets hot, or as soon as their roots dry out. It is a panic survival mechanism that makes them produce seeds as quickly as possible so that the genetic line can carry on. This is why they do well in Scotland - all our rain is perfect.

If your plants do set seed early, cut the seed pods off, just above a junction on the stem, and the plant will make more flowers.

Sweet peas need a lot of water - if you think about how much stem they need to support and how far the water needs to travel it is hardly surprising. Water them regularly if it hasn't rained and it is also worth using a high potash/potassium fertiliser (comfrey liquid works well) to boost flower production.

3. Pinch out

Hardy annuals will make much sturdier plants, with many more stems, if you pinch out the top of the plant as soon as it has 4 pairs of leaves. The tip contains a hormone that encourages the plant to grow up and up and up as a single stem. Once you remove it the plant will grow new stems from lower down. Instead of a few cornflowers you will have hundreds.

4. Pick, pick, pick

Or deadhead. As soon as hardy annuals set seed their job is done - and all their energy will go into those seeds. They won't produce more flowers. To get a long life out of your hardy annuals either pick them in flower - this is why they hardy annuals are such productive cut flowers - or spend time each week dead heading them.

 

Growing hardy annuals.

Most hardy annuals are best grown from seed and many will indeed self sow.

I grow mine in 3 batches.

The first I sow in September/October in the hope that they will overwinter and get a good start as soon as the soil warms up. The idea is that the roots grow at a lower temperature than the leaves and that you end up with a plant that has an amazing root system, ready to support a great productive plant. Sometimes this works, sometimes it is too cold and the roots freeze for too long in the soil and the plants die. For me it is worth the price of a packet of seed - especially with nigella and clary sage which do not like being transplanted in my garden.

The next I sow indoors in March - into seed trays and pots which I let grow into good sized plants before planting out at the beginning of May. This is obviously a lot more about intensive. I sow my sweet peas in March, into root trainers and grow them in the greenhouse until they are in 2L rose pots.

The final seeds are sown in the ground in late May/early June - once the weeds are germinating fast, a sure sign that the ground is warming up - and they romp away to the extent that I always wonder whether the earlier sowings were worth the hassle.

Comments: 1 (Add)

Gill on July 12 2019 at 19:30

This useful advice Jane

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Later this morning I am going to be talking about change and business at The Good Life Experience⁠⠀
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The working title for my talk is '5 things I've learned from trashing my business' and its a pretty honest account of what the last 2 and a half years have meant to me.⁠⠀
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The talk is 11.30 in the drawing room of Hawarden Castle - do let me know if you are here and able to come and say
We are promised an Indian summer this weekend - sunshine through seedheads, cool evenings wrapped in blankets.⁠⠀
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I am very glad as we are off to camp at The Good Life Experience tonight - four days of amazing food, ideas, creativity and dogs (ours are staying at home so I am at liberty to fuss everyone else's)⁠⠀
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What are you doing this weekend?
I've always been drawn to women who create homes that feel welcoming.  I believe it is a wonderful skill to welcome people in, to have them relax, to talk properly, to feel safe and listened to. ⠀
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Some of the homes where I've pulled up a chair have been calm and considered, perfect curated spaces that seem to slow down time, others have been full, layered, with piles of things going on and a whirlwind of noise.  I love both.⁠⠀
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My own house veers wildly between the two - occasionally calm and spacious (a friend remarked yesterday how much bigger the kitchen seemed now that I actually have shelves for stuff), more often caught mid-project with piles of books and fabric everywhere.⁠⠀
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What about you?⁠⠀
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This week I am meant to be doing a bit of a recruitment drive for Snapdragon Studio Membership - the price goes up from £10 a month to £15 a month for anyone who joins after 18th September. ⁠⠀
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For anyone who is a member by 18th we are freezing the monthly membership at £10 until the beginning of 2021.⁠⠀
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So if you fancy discounts (these Autumn apothecary jar essential oil soy candles are only £6.13 for our Studio Members for example), a year long Grow Your Own Cut Flowers online course, my Tuesday emails with essays, nature notes, free downloads, as well as a hard copy magazine . . . . well this would be a very good week to join!⁠⠀
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You also get a welcome pack lovingly put together by Valerie.
I fear that this may be the last properly flowery windowsill from the garden - frosts are hovering around the edges. 
One morning soon I shall wake up to a soggy, collapsed and blackened garden and I’ll be hunting in the sheltered corners for undamaged flowers and praising the robustness of sedums. 
But in the meantime I’ll feast on the delicacy of cosmos purity and the single dark, sugar spangled, scabious.
Do you buy new or second hand? Oxfam’s campaign #secondhandseptember is really about clothes but it got me thinking about buying generally - and the way we've put together our home.⁠⠀
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I grew up in a house of antique dealers - my Mum had a market stall, and then a shop, which my brother continues with today - so buying second hand has always been the default.⁠⠀
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We also moved into a 1980s bungalow instead of the old property I had dreamed of and deliberately added in layers of history with reclaimed doors and furniture and floors.⁠ I think that the only new things we have bought may be the beds. ⠀
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This dresser was from Glasgow Architectural Salvage Yard - it was originally in a primary school (which is why it has wonderful chipped and jammy red gloss paint and a strip of plastic bumper tape on the corners!)⁠⠀
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I particularly love the curve of the shelves - they look like they have put in a lot of hard work.
How do you feel about dinner plate dahlias?  I've really struggled to enjoy them - the lollipop-on-stick look of them, the way the stems aren't long enough to make a balanced arrangement without plastic cones.⁠ The way that they collapse inelegantly as they age. ⠀
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Last year I dug them all out and gave them to @Katgoldin to feed her goats.  This year I accidentally ordered a whole load more.⁠⠀
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I've solved the problem by cutting them short and propping them about the place. ⁠⠀
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This is Dahlia Islander in an early C19th rose lustre cup - lounging on a dresser shelf by my Great Grandmother's tea set.⁠⠀
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(It also means you can't see the way the back petals go scruffy before the rest of the flower)
What have been your favourite flowers from this year?

I’m making a list so that I remember what I loved, what I want to make sure I plant for next year.

There is also a list of plants I found disappointing - so that I remember to walk on by and ignore the hype. 
What would be on your lists?
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