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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

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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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.

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