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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 took my spring flowers out of the press to make way for summer ones.⁠⠀
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I intend to make ones for each season if I can and then frame them as a set - sweet peas and nasturtiums went in yesterday.⁠⠀
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To press flowers all you need is strong boards and absorbent paper - though you can use paper interleaved in heavy books the result is better if you are pressing down evenly rather than like a hinge. ⁠⠀
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I would therefore use the books either side of the paper, chopping boards work well (if you have any you aren't using).⁠⠀
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You can even put the sheets of paper with their interleaved flowers under a heavy rug. ⠀
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Celebrating the seasons. ⠀
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The garden and meadow are full of circles at the moment - beautiful flowering heads of teasels and globe thistles. ⁠⠀
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They are covered in bees which go round and round visiting each tiny flower, working steadily, following the rows.⁠⠀
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I love this season - the sun a little lower, the evenings a little warmer, the long shadows and sweet hum of the insects. ⁠⠀
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Poised before harvest. ⁠⠀
It is tansy time again.⁠⠀
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For me the wonderful thing about seasons is that they go round and around.  They may move onto something new but I always know that they will come around again.⁠⠀
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A lot of what I have been working on for the past few years is learning how to settle myself exactly where I am, in the place where I am, in the season I am in. ⁠⠀
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To resist looking backwards or hurrying forward - to just be where I am.⁠⠀
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And where I am at the moment is in tansy time.  It marks a year since I began experimenting with using natural dyes.  A time of bright yellow alpaca socks and bags and yarn.
Hattie's pincushion.⁠⠀
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I love the common names of plants. ⠀
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Astrantia grows so happily in amongst the grasses of the Studio Meadow - it has been flowering since May and seems full of intentions to carry on.⁠⠀
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It is probably not surprising really as it grows wild in the sloping meadows at the foot of mountains in Central Europe.⁠⠀
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The perfect plant for a textile obsessed person.
It is the time of year when you can pick sweet peas every day.⁠⠀
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I love my sweet peas best with light and space - like a flock of butterflies caught mid-air.⁠⠀
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These are 'Mrs Collier' - presumably a woman known to the breeders Dobie (or Dobbie) & Sons back in Edwardian Edinburgh. ⁠⠀
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You would think that having a popular sweet pea named after you would guarantee immortality, but seemingly not.  I couldn't find out who she was.⁠⠀
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So as these fill the studio with sweet perfume, I am imagining Mrs Collier into life.⁠⠀
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If anyone has hard facts on her please let me know!
Each month or so, as part of Snapdragon Studio Membership, I put together an e-course.  It is a different topic every time and the lessons go out each Tuesday.⁠⠀
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The idea is to encourage people to try new things.  This month's course is about decorative mending - and this week I am designing a project that will form the last couple of lessons.⁠⠀
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It is a pocket patch, embroidered and appliquéd from scraps of linen and cotton. ⁠⠀
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It has been a new thing for me to try too - a project to use all the precious scraps I have been squirrelling away, not quite sure how to use them.⁠⠀
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The base is a 1950s tray cloth with holes in it, the appliqués from a tattered nightdress, the bag that it will go onto is one I dyed with dock flowers.⁠⠀
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Membership is closed at the moment - but I shall be opening the doors back up for the last week of September. If you want to be the first to know sign up to my newsletter list.
Years ago, actually maybe just last year, I saw a display of ferns in glass laboratory bottles. ⁠⠀
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It may have been at Jupiter Art Land, it may have been somewhere else *. ⁠⠀
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This is my homage. ⁠⠀
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*I think my brain may be broken, so many things seem to have fallen out the side.⁠⠀
Boxes and boxes of A Seasonal Way magazine arrived yesterday and are sitting in the hall here. 
That means that it is the last day to get it at the pre-order price of £8. 

I had this all ready to go to the printers in the second week of March but pulled it - and have then worked for the past few months to make it better. 

It feels good that I can begin packing up Studio Members copies on the day that shielding stops in Scotland.
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About Snapdragon Life

At Snapdragon Life I 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 my communities, both free and paid for, through my writing on the blog, through carefully hand crafted activity kits, and through my online and in-person workshops I aim to bring people back in touch with the rhythms of a seasonal life.

Learn more about why here

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