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Journal

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

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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