Reflections on garden projects

This morning a friend came up for a coffee. In February we made a big seed order together and split our packets so we could have more variety and grow more interesting things. You might not believe this if you looked at my garden and saw the amount of curly kale growing there but at the time that was the plan.

Wandering around your garden with another gardener is always interesting. If you are looking at theirs you are busy noticing what is growing well for them that failed for you. If they are looking at yours they will invariably, because gardeners are nice people, exclaim over your successes and make you aware of what has worked well and, just for a fleeting second, allow you to see your garden through another's eyes.

I am always aware of what I haven't done: the parsnips which failed to germinate, the succession sowing of salad stuff fallen by the way side, the beetroot left to get too large, the dratted bindweed twining meanly amongst the beans. My friend however exclaimed over the size of the red onions, admired the artichokes, inspected the swelling squash and the flourishing spinach and left me feeling that it wasn't too bad after all.

The real triumph of the year for me this year however is the cutting garden. Last autumn we covered a rectangle of tussocky grass in the field with old carpet. In the spring it was dug over (notice I don't say I dug it) and it looked a bit lost and pointless, just a big square of earth in the middle of an overgrown field. Ian put up some posts for sweetpeas so then it looked like a square of earth with posts in it and I nurtured all sorts of stuff in the greenhouse.

As the weather warmed it was planted out in stripes: a stripe of sweetpeas, an alternating pink phlox and purple iris stripe, a stripe of lilac gladioli, a stripe of cerinthe purpurescens grown from seed, a stripe of dark pink echinacea, a stripe of vivid pink cosmos, a stripe of deep purply red pinks, a stripe of mixed lavender and scabious and another stripe of sweetpeas. Beyond that were five rows of pink fir apple potatoes, following an inadvertent double seed potato order after which I had given away so many seed potatoes that people began to hide in doorways when they saw me coming. So that was a little overflow, not very planned.

It all looked rather sad. When Kitty was here in May I felt vaguely apologetic about it. It sounds so Sarah Raven, a cutting garden, but it did not look like Perch Hill, all flowers and form and lush luxuriant colour. It looked empty and forlorn and I felt like the mad old woman boasting about her son the businessman when everyone can see her son is a slightly seedy salesman with a worn shirt collar.

But now it is glorious. I have been picking three or four jugs of mixed sweet peas a week for about a month now. The stems are long and true and the scent of them fills a room with its subtle cool sweetness. The phlox is vividly in flower and the gladioli are huge and overblown, palest lilac with a deeper lilac edge to the blossoms. My nana would be overjoyed and cry and blow her nose noisily. They were her favourite flower. The cerinthe isn't up to much but the echinacea are beautiful, making it clear why they are a coming thing (or possibly a come thing, my feel for fashionable flowers is unlikely to be up to the minute). The cosmos are just fantastic, all perfect feathery green foilage with flowers of deepest or of clear pale pink. The oldfashioned pinks are flowering quietly, somewhat overshadowed by the glories of the cosmos, and the scabious, which I nearly threw out of the greenhouse a couple of times on the grounds that it was nearly dead, has just filled out and thrown up wiry stems loaded down with blossom.

It could maybe do to be more enclosed, more of a hortus conclusus, but it looks intentional now, sitting beyond the new fruit trees, a grass path mown round the outside. I love it. Next year we should have a mixed hawthorn hedge around it and another bed, somewhere to walk to, somewhere to sit and watch the bees drunk with delight stumbling from flower to flower.
I do love gardening.


  1. I really want to see a photograph now, although your lovely prose almost makes a picture superfluous. I would love a cutting garden, rather than the growing of weeds garden I have currently. Perch Hill is stuff dreams are made of - but yours sounds just gorgeous too.

  2. Well done! I saw the carpeted square and maybe even the bare patch amongst your grassy meadow (Not overgrown field...for heavens's sake)It sounds deliciously colourful and fragrant now. Next year I shall grow more flowers for the house - this time round I have a chaotic bed where sweet peas and fennel are nestled up with pumpkin and squash.

    PS. Your spare curly kale has survived the invasion of the rabbit but all my red onions went to seed.

  3. Yes I saw it in the bare state as glad it all came together..

  4. I would love to see a picture of all that loveliness.

  5. Well, in May, admittedly, it did look a bit forlorn - but do you know what? I'm a gardener too and I knew that in about six weeks it would be unrecognisable and full of greenery and buds and flowers - so no need to be apologetic at all. You've seen the pics of my garden, all stones and mud with the flowers slowly colonising it, and hopefully will see it for real one day. And who knows? Maybe I'll come back soon and see yours!

  6. Mags! Can you hear me? We must do more than see a photo we must do a W Wales expedition!

    I think I've said before, Elizabeth, that my 'garden' really suffers from strong, salty winds and I do occasionally long for something a bit more sheltered.

    PS Thank you for your kind comment.

  7. One of the reasons I loved your blogs so much is because your love of garden shines through in your lovely words...always sound so serene and content.
    That's what your garden seems to give you.
    (And as you know it inspired me to write that short story!)

    I am also planning next years garden already...I want a lot more cutting flowers.

    Also back on the subject of Northumberland (commented on previous blog) you would LOVE Alnwick Gardens...truly wonderful.

    Hope to see you September/October once kiddies return!

    Take care

  8. I'm with PM, I want a picture! I adore sweet peas and clean forgot to plant any...also love the idea of a cutting garden. I fear my own garden is one god-almighty mess at the moment and, looking out the window at the rain, I'm not tempted to do anything about it right now. Our parsnips didn't come up either - but then I wasn't really expectign them to! Janexxx

  9. This sounds so paint a lovely picture of it (and yes, a photo or two would be great!) Do you know Snapdragon's Garden (probably!) - she always has lovely pics and cutting garden and crafting tales.

  10. Yes, I would like a picture too. You know you are a good gardener when everything seems so simple. I am amazed when anything happens at all. Everything is jumbled. The idea of growing flowers in stripes is very logical but somehow I know with me it wouldn't happen - even if I had the land for it. I do think you should not be modest about your greener than most fingers.

  11. I have had a go at a couple of photographs so you can see I had a bit of a pink theme going on!

  12. Lovely to hear someone actually admit to loving their garden! And your description of your cutting garden is beautiful. I never cease to be amazed at the luxuriousness of a summer garden after the bareness of winter and slow movement of spring - (colour but not bulk.) Let me know when you come up to see the Alnwick garden, I can take you in free!

  13. I absolutely love all that colour in a garden. What a wonderful idea to split the order.

    CJ xx

  14. Thanks for posting photos...lovely to come back for a look. I do love the cosmos.

  15. That's glorious! Funnily we were just talking about a cutting garden and seeing yours has spurred me on.
    I can smell the smell too - sweet peas somehow 'are' an English summer, even in the rain.

  16. That's interesting - I've just tried the wordpress identity - which had no effect for an age. It’s worked, but it's put me as locksparkfarm!

  17. hello Elizabeth. We tried a cutting patch on our allotment but were a little late in digging it over and were beaten back by incessant rain. Yours sounds wonderful and oh how I miss the scent of sweet peas xx

  18. Your garden looks lovely em my sweet peas unfortunatly got neglected, and died in the poly tunnel..
    Good news though your a Granny The fish have had babies !! xx

  19. Thank you, what an inspiration - I am planning a cuttings garden for next year, and your post makes me even more determined.

    My parsnips didn't germinate either!

  20. Your cutting garden sounds idyllic- what could be nicer than sweet peas, cosmos and phlox.
    It is a joy to walk around a garden with a gardening friend - it is true - they see all the good stuff that we miss when we are so self critical.
    Lovely post

  21. Wow, the thought of three or four jugs-full of sweet peas a month makes me green with envy - they are just the best flower - in my wedding bouquet, grown avidly by my grandad (he was a serious gardener) and still adored by me. That cutting garden sounds like a fantastic achievement. I love cerinthes too - shame they didn't come to much. I bought a couple of baby cerinthe plants last year (cheating I know) and they were great.

  22. Your photos are beautiful! I really adore Sweet Peas. Thank you for reminding me I really should get some seed for spring. I just found you on Blotanical.Lovely blog, I will have to pop back by soon.
    Lost In The Flower
    Guilty Gardener


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