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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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What do you do to break your routine? ⠀
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Yesterday, instead of eating lunch at my desk, I packed up soup and some bread into a backpack and headed outside.⁠⠀
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I'm sharing my favourite seasonal soup recipe in this week's newsletter - you can sign up via the link in bio or at www.snapdragonlife.com.⁠⠀
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The bread is a @katgoldin recipe (she is having an instagram bake along this weekend if you fancy making your own) and the instructions for making the beeswax wrap are on my blog.
I grew up by this sea. Perfect for introspective teenage walks, head down into the wind. 
We went for our New Year stay with my parents this weekend - beach walks, lots of dogs and extended family time. No time for introspection.
I spent yesterday afternoon at the kitchen table sorting out my boxes of vegetable seeds.⁠⠀
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Dividing them into types and sowing seasons, seeing what I have enough of (17 varieties of kale is probably enough) and what has run out. ⁠⠀
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Then I spent some time browsing through catalogues to see what new (to me) things I can try - I'm keen to try growing celery this year as it is often difficult to find organic celery in the shops and the non organic has the highest chemical input of any vegetable.⁠⠀
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Are you growing vegetables this year? Is there anything new on your list?
And suddenly it is time to get the house back to normal - I'm gradually putting obviously Christmassy things away, rearranging the bulbs, making the 'tidy spots' in the house look cared for.⁠⠀
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It was so lovely to see people signing up as Studio Members yesterday and to welcome them into the Facebook Group where this month we are talking about Dream Planning (my anti-planning system) and the way the subconscious brain can help or hinder you.⁠⠀
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This photo of Budgie, my psychopathic middle cat, was taken last January - just after she had knocked pots out of the way to clear some proper bird watching space.⁠⠀
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Yesterday morning, while the cats slept on the bed, there were 18 birds in the hedge waiting their turn to feed from the window feeder.
Happy New Year.⁠⠀
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What are you wanting to bring into your life this year? ⁠⠀
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I'm actually very anti-resolutions, my character is not good with anything structured (off the scale rebel on @gretchenrubin’s test) I also want my life to be more than ticking things off a to-do list and as soon as one exists I rebel and procrastinate. ⁠⠀
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If I write a formal plan you can be pretty sure that I will do nothing on it. If I make a resolution something drives me to go the opposite way.⁠⠀
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That is why I do something much gentler - no workbooks, lists or plans -  but it is also something which I believe is much more powerful. I call it the Dream Life Planner and it is based on guiding the subconscious brain to support rather than sabotage you. It is a simple way to make big changes in the way you live. ⁠⠀
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You can get the basic modules by signing up to my newsletter or - if you want something more guided and detailed, with more of the science behind it, sign up to Snapdragon Studio Membership and you will get weekly e-mails throughout January. The next 4 people to sign up to Membership get a hard copy monthly planner too. You can find out more by clicking through my bio or visiting www.snapdragonlife.com
Happy Hogmanay.⁠⠀
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Christmas only officially became a holiday in Scotland in 1958. Before that, for 400 years, it had been a day like any other. ⁠⠀
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Here it has always been more about the gathering with friends and neighbours to see the New Year in. ⁠⠀
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Tonight we have Open House, everyone is welcome - just come on in if you are passing, there is plenty food and drink. (DM me for the address if you don't have it.)⁠⠀
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I think that it may be because Hogmanay is the main thing for me that all my decorations are light and bright, pale metallics and sprouting bulbs. This is the window seat by the stove.
Yesterday we walked from Drymen over the Conic to have lunch at the Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha.⁠⠀
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Katie took this as we headed over the brow of the hill and onto the downward part. I was looking out over Loch Lomond, with that magnificent winter sunshine on the water, congratulating myself that I was going to make it after all. (I am really not at all fit at the moment).⁠⠀
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I mentioned a couple of posts back that I was thinking of going off line for a bit over the festive season - I have noticed that tugging panicked feeling when I haven't my phone in my hand increasing, and the way seeing someone on their phone drives me to pick up mine, and even worse the repetitive scrolling when I actually want to be reading a proper book. ⁠⠀
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So I'm going to switch my phone off until 30th. ⁠⠀
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I only say this because last year a friend - also a bit of a social media addict - did this unannounced and, after a week, I was so concerned that I was on the point of texting her husband to see if she was ill/imprisoned/dead.
Today I’m going to decorate the house - plant the amaryllis in glass vases, put up the fairy lights, hang the big mercury glass baubles in the window, get the paper white narcissi our from the cool of the guest room. 
For some reason it hasn’t felt right until today, but now it feels like a family Christmas can begin. 
I’m much more of a Hogmanay person so I suspect that I’m actually decorating for the new year. 
And then I’m going to close everything down, put on the auto responders, sit with a gin and crisps by the stove and celebrate the gradual returning of the light.
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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.

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