I seem to have spent more time in the garden this last month than in all the rest of the summer. It’s been so warm and the forecast gales never materialised and so virtually everyday has seen me outside with saw, pruners and secateurs. It’s been a controlled hack-back using steps or a newly acquired sturdy platform (more of that next month), initially sawing through over-tall branches and then today, cutting and shaping. Whilst I cut and then carted the prunings down to the bottom of the orchard, my husband set about the bonfire, compost heap and raking windfall apples for the hens. There’s so much still to tackle, but I am determined to have the acre more under control before the New Year!
It hasn’t been all reclamation, for as readers are no doubt already aware, our garden is my creative springboard. I spent an hour walking in the neighbourhood taking photos of trees, whilst collecting fallen leaves with typically Autumn colours. These have been rinsed and are in the press ready for mounting into a tiny handmade journal with cheesecloth pages and mounting made from tea-bag papers. We are awash with tea so that I have sufficient – they lie around the house drying on radiators!!
It is whilst undertaking these activities that I mentally plan changes to the garden, thinking ahead as to what we need a) to eat and b) to furnish my artistic passions. Both are equally important. So out came the Dobies 2014 catalogue again in the evenings and my sketchbook with a page per area of the garden – ready to list where I would sow flowers – flowers for there inherent beauty, flowers for cutting, flowers for wild-life and flowers to eat. It must be at least three years since I last revamped various gardens-within-gardens; oh how time flies.
Selecting seeds for any garden is always involves tough decisions; as the list grows, the garden seems to shrink – so it pays to be selective and think what you want to achieve. The 2014 Dobies catalogue is better than ever, but first let me introduce you to Chris Spanton who is always in search of the best new varieties, selecting flowers that will give the best garden performance. This year there is a helpful section on the three main flower plant types (page 62) – annuals, biennials and perennials, alongside a guide to sowing and transplanting. Ideal if you are new to this gardening game and don’t know what to select – for they all look lovely.
Annuals are by far the quickest and easiest for an immediate display, flowering in the same year they are sown. Even these however are subdivided into two: Hardy Annuals (HA), which are the toughest and can be sown outdoors from March onwards, or even in the Autumn when they will flower much earlier in the following Summer. Many cottage garden flowers fall into this category: calendula (pot marigold), cornflower, echium (for bees), larkspur, linaria, nasturtium, nigella and sunflower to list just a few. Allow them to self-seed and you will be pleasantly surprised when new plants appear and flower much earlier than you might otherwise expect.
Half-hardy annuals (HHA) are more tender and would most likely succumb to late frosts if sown outdoors, so seed is best sown thinly in pots or trays in the greenhouse or on a kitchen or conservatory windowsill and pricked out into small pots until sufficiently large to transplant outdoors. Actually, these can of course be sown outside – later than hardy annuals and it’s also surprising how self-set seeds will survive in the ground to germinate in late Spring, if left to their own devices. Some of my favourite HHA are cosmos, lobelia, French and African marigolds which I always thought were known as tagetes, plus rudbeckia and zinnia.
And of course Sweet Peas, which have obtained cult status and multi-classification. Actually, they are in fact a hardy annual but to get the best flowers – and prize-winning blooms – they are best treated as an HHA and sown indoors in January or February for really early flowers or direct outside in April or May. But watch those slugs and sparrows! Probably because I lack the patience of the dedicated sweet pea grower, I prefer the almost wild ‘Cupani’ – the original sweet pea that was introduced into Britain in 1699 by a monk. It has small flowers in a deep purple/cerise and the most heavenly scent.
This coming year I will cultivate patience, and endeavour, as my teachers so regularly used to tell me, “to do better”. Encouraged I am sure by sowing seed in the very clever ‘Root Trainers’. These clever clusters of pots have unique deep-ribbed cells that encourage a strong fibrous root system, ideal for seedlings with brittle roots such as sweet peas which hate root disturbance. Simply ‘open’ the cells and lift out each plant, ensuring you use a slim transplanting trowel (see page 95, ref 58 45 42) to prepare appropriately deep planting holes. It’s always best to consider the root structure of any seedling and when sowing in seed trays (as detailed in last week’s blog), ensure you have ready an appropriate selection of pots and trays for growing on. Small, medium and large sizes are available (see page 83), the handy trays into which the trays slot make for easy transportation from potting bench to garden.
Moving on to Biennials and Perennials – which this year are listed within their own catalogue section Pages 96-101); a helpful idea for anyone not familiar with the various nomenclatures. Biennials cover such well-loved names as digitalis (foxglove), wallflower and honesty with its glorious ‘everlasting’ papery seedheads. You sow them one year, nurture them into the next, and then they will flower, to die when the year is over. If left to self-seed, or you sow every year after the first batch, you will have ongoing displays. However, as with most plants grown from seed, there’s an overlap; what to sow and when, and how to cultivate once past seedling or transplant stage, depends so much on soil, location, and above all, the season; and climate change. Tender plants that will bloom almost all year in the south-west may struggle to survive even with protection in the far north of Scotland.
Perennials once established come up year after year, though even they need attention and some are short-lived and best treated as a biennial. Into the perennial category come all the stalwarts of the herbaceous border: achillea, delphinium, eryngium, helenium, hollyhock, lupin, pansy, polyanthus, primrose, verbascum, and a whole lot more. My favourite I think, because it suits our soil and survives the easterly winds of Spring, has to be the columbine – aquilegia to give it its botanical name. There are many types from the long-spurred to ‘granny’s bonnets’ which look just as their name describes. I can see that my garden in 2014 will be ‘blooming marvellous’ with more space devoted to decorative plants than to veg – two of us do not consume as much food as when we were a family of five, so the house can instead be filled with flowers.
Don’t forget to visit the Dobies’ website for all your gardening needs and requirements. You may particularly like: vegetable seeds, vegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipment. And don’t forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don’t miss anything special.