Friday, 17 April 2015

Revamping the cutting garden

I have always wanted a cutting garden.  I love flowers in the house but when I had small gardens I could never bring myself to cut the things which were making an impact in the garden in order to bring them inside.  Here, with lots of room and a blank canvas, I decided to make a garden specifically for cutting.  It would be full of sweetpeas, cosmos, foliage plants and dahlias with daffodils and tulips in the spring.


There were successes.  The dahlias were fabulous but only if I lifted them in the autumn and started them again in the greenhouse the following spring.  For the last two years I have tried to leave them in the ground but I am reluctantly concluding that on a high site in North Wales we do not have a long enough growing season for dahlias to get going without the boost they receive from being started off under glass.  Left in the ground they are only just beginning to flower strongly when they are cut down by the first frosts.


Sweetpeas have always been a great success.  My thin soil needs feeding furiously with compost or manure in order to be rich enough for sweetpeas and they need endless tying in but they are so beautiful and they flower for so long that a variety of strongly fragranced sweetpeas would be in any ideal cutting garden I designed.


And cosmos is fabulous.  It flowers and flowers and its foliage, unusually for an annual, is distinctive and charming in its own right.  I have grown all different kinds of annual cosmos but the pinks and whites are the most successful for me.

And yet, despite all these good things, the cutting garden is a problem area in this garden.  It lives in the productive part of the field garden, alongside the orchard and the fruit beds.  This makes sense.  It is the right place for it to be.  It is meant to be something like an allotment which also grows flowers. I wanted it to have some structure of its own when it was not full of flower so I planted two box crosses.  The intention was that each cross made four squares and that each square was planted with flowers.  The sweetpeas would grow on netting at either end of the bed.  The bed itself is about six feet wide and twenty foot long and when the sweetpeas are flowering the first three feet at either end of the bed are taken up with them and their supports.  Reading it here,the basic arrangement of the patch looks quite sensible and yet if you were to wander out to look at it you would find that it is quite a mess.

I think the main problem is that I have been tinkering with it, trying to make it less labour intensive and losing sight of what I made it for.  I planted up one square with achillea Goldplate and a Euphorbia polychroma, thinking that some perennials would make it easier to care for.  I don't think I have ever picked anything from either plant for the house but they are happy in the open sunny spot and grow well.  I got interested then in the idea that more perennials would look after themselves and, as time became squeezed by the demands of ill and ageing family, I looked around for others.  I planted a square with lupins.


They are far too big to pick for the house and although they are spectacular they don't really go with anything else easily.  Once they are finished the square is empty of colour and looks oddly unkempt.  And I have experimented with other perennials that I have felt ought to work like rudbeckia and let calendula self seed.  And gradually over the last couple of years when the cutting garden has had less attention it has become neither fish nor fowl.  The design depends on the patch being worked like an allotment.  It needs to be tidy and productive and picked from almost daily.  It doesn't work as an additional flower bed because it was never meant to be one.  It does not have the layering of flower and foliage, the contrast of forms, the attention to height, the expectation that you will look at it from a particular place or series of places.  It is meant to be a productive cutting patch and I need to decide whether I want to run it as such or give the space over to something else.

At the moment I am thinking that I will have another serious go this year at running it properly as a cutting patch again.  I will let the achillea stay but I will lift and clear everything else and plant it up with the things that I know work well and which give me endless jugs of flowers for the house and for the holiday cottage.  I have seedlings of sweetpeas, cosmos and euphorbia oblongata for foliage waiting in the greenhouse and I will see if I can produce enough time to prepare it properly and let it do its stuff.

And if at the end of the year I find myself scratching my head about it all over again, well perhaps I will decide that it should go back to grass and provide space for another couple of trees to add to the orchard.....

16 comments:

  1. I understand your dilemma. It is wonderful to have flowers in the house, but finding a place to grow them successfully is difficult. Perennials are no less labor intensive than annuals I think; they just require different "labor" at different times. Gardening gives us great opportunities to experiment and change our mind, it is what makes it fun.

    I love the sweet peas and their fragrance. They were in my bridal bouquet (37 years ago) and they are still my favorite flower. I don't seem to be able to grow them here, but cosmos and sunflowers of all kinds are a hit here. Wishing you success with this year's plan.

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    1. Thank you Anneke. I love sweetpeas too. They are the best flower for the house I think because you get the fragrance as well as the flower and they flower for three or four months for me.

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  2. Cutting garden envy from a dweller in an apartment!
    Sweet peas hold very strong childhood memories for me - summer incarnate - but not too easy to grow.
    Dahlias can be wonderful but I have mixed feelings about them.
    I look forward to seeing the splendid results of your planning later in the year.
    I have had amazing luck with ORANGE cosmos - grown from seeds from a traffic island near me. The pinks and white are classier but the orange so vivid it stops passers by when it grows in our tree pits in front of the building.
    My son thinks it is a menace since we encouraged the grandchildren to plant it in front of their house....

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    1. I love the orange cosmos too. I had a go at growing it up here (cosmos sulphereus I think) but it didn't flower quite so prolifically as the pink varieties. I love the idea of it stopping passersby!

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  3. I think that a cutting garden would be a wonderful thing, I hope that you can make yours work for you! xx

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    1. I am very lucky I know to have to space to experiment. This is the first place I have ever lived with enough garden to do that!

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  4. I am aiming for a more productive cutting garden this year, as last year I ran out of time and just relied on my lupins, foxgloves and delphiniums. This year I've planted cosmos in several shades, a wildflower mix, oriental poppies and some greenery, I'm all for quite natural arrangements! Can't wait to see your results! Katie x

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    1. I envy you being able to grow delphiniums! They don't work here at all. Think my soil is too stony for them but I love them.

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  5. I can appreciate the beauty of, but not the efforts to create and maintain, these gorgeous gardens.

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    1. I veer about - sometimes the effort seems hardly effort at all, at other times it overwhelms me!

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  6. Perhaps it's just too big? All that edging, all that cultivating and weeding, maybe that's why you introduced the perennials? I completely sympathise, cutting gardens may be a snare and a delusion unless you're an enthusiastic veg grower, with that sort of mind set. Personally I would add the sweet peas and the dahlias to the fruit and veg area, put the cosmos and euphorbia where it is sunniest and try to up the flower content of perennial and shrub areas, so I had something to pick from the regular beds. Somehow forcing myself to get over the robbing the garden feeling in the process. I just think the effort of having a cutting garden could be used differently and more productively, as part of the whole. Sorry if this seems like intrusive and unnecessary advice..
    xx Jane

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    1. I think you might be right that it is too big Jane. I welcome advice from you! I think I am going to give it a serious go this year and make my mind up. It works in that I have not had to buy flowers for the house or the holiday cottage for years and when it is properly maintained it looks fabulous. You do however put your finger on it regarding the vegetable grower's mindset. That is not how I garden so that might explain why the cutting garden struggles when I am pressed for time and energy. We will see how 2015 plays out.

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  7. I so admire what you do with your large garden -- so much work! I can absolutely see why you gradually shifted to perennials, but I also think you've arrived at a reasonable compromise -- sweet peas are such a delight, if you keep feeding them (and you have those chickens!). I'm not sure why I don't have cosmos planted here. Haven't had much patience with annuals (although we do throw nasturtium seeds in the planters each spring) but you're inspiring me to make an effort with at least sweet peas and cosmos. What about campanula, some of the tall ones? I enjoy those in vases mixed with roses and whatever foliage is around. what about echinacea and rudbeckia, by the way? They don't offer fragrance but they can anchor a floral arrangement quite well.

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    1. I love echinacea and rudbeckia and have some as part of the section I tried to convert to perennials. The rudbeckia is doing better than the echinacea! I love the idea of campanula. I shall investigate varieties.

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  8. That sounds an exciting project, I've done a mix of perennial cutting flowers then sown annuals in amongst them before. This year there is an empty bed I've cleared out and haven't decided what to do with it, so I mixed all the packets of annual flower seeds I had in a tub and then broadcast it over the bed! It will be interesting to see what happens :)

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    1. I will be interested to know how that goes! I think I might keep flower seeds too long as sometimes I have total failure with annual seeds and sometimes reasonable success. One of the most exciting bits of gardening I have ever seen was when a friend did what you describe with a bucket of flower seed she bought from Lidl. It was fabulous!

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