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Cutting garden review, June

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This is a useful exercise, inspired by Cathy’s Vase on Monday meme at Rambling in the Garden. Julie at Peonies & Posies used to do a ‘Cutting Garden Review’ last year, and now Christina at ‘Creating My Own Garden of the Hesperides’ is trying to keep up the tradition, so I’m joining in with her for my own records. Do go over to Christina’s garden, if you haven’t already. You’ll find other people’s links to cut flower borders there, as well as Christina’s record of what she’s been up to.

My own cutting garden is only in its second year. Three years ago it was field, but I had already planted the hornbeams (the cut flower area is the top area of the Hornbeam Gardens).

To the left, below, is my swell new sweet pea support in border 1, with border 2 over the horizontal ‘path’ beyond it.

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On the other side of the main path is border 3, the delphinium/aster border, with annual cut flowers sown in situ at the front.

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Left to do in this area of the garden:

  1. I’d like to install either an arch or a gate in the entrance ways (two) – to be pretty, train the hornbeam over –  and to help keep the bull out! He trampled the Bon Viveur’s delphiniums last year and it was distressing …
  2. During this winter I’m going to reseed the paths so that they are more than just couch grass and sow thistle.
  3. I’d also like to create board edges to the borders (there are three in all in the cut flower area) so that they are easier to cultivate. I could build up the soil level a little within the beds using composted materials and they would look tidier even when the grass/weeds haven’t been cut. At the moment, the minute I haven’t strimmed it looks like a field again!

Last year I had great (if unexpected!) successes with some cut flowers – this year it’s all very much later and results are not at all good. In fact a good deal of propagation has been disappointing since we moved here in 2011 and started the garden in 2012. Owing to three factors:

1 I have no proper propagating area (first time in my life without a greenhouse). I have space in a sun room, which will eventually be a dining room.

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I’ve had a lot of success with cuttings using those pots that come with little plastic supports to prop up/protect droopy or small climbing plants at point of sale. I put a plastic bag over the support and turn it inside out every day to dry off the condensation. It works well – without additional heat – for lavenders and pelargoniums. Penstemons seem to be something else I’ve been unsuccessful with since moving here.

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And a small, rather useless plastic ‘jardiniere’ type affair on the shaded supper terrace – I put my seed pots of sweet peas and herbaceous perennials in there.

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There is no where else in the garden that is ‘easy-access’ for a quick morning check/watering. Except for the future site of much much-longed-for greenhouse. At the moment the light is very one-sided where I sow seeds, take cuttings. Also, what propagating areas I do have tend to be very shaded for some parts of the day. In hot springs this is a boon (and mostly they’ve been hot so far). In a cold wet spring, such as 2016, there is a huge amount of damping off. And consequently a tendency on my part to nervously over- or under-water (due to uncertainty about the conditions I’m dealing with).

2 I have struggled with the compost available to me since I moved to France. (Not to mention containers – I had to import 5 rigid seed trays from the UK  in my hand luggage.) Compost mostly seems to be of rather poor quality and there is (to my knowledge) no available horticultural grit – always used to be my drainage solution in the past (a covering surface layer and/or mixed with compost). But a kind friend nearby has reminded me of two things: the possible use of worm compost (using my own wormery) and the comparatively close school of horticulture/basket-making, who could probably advise me on sourcing better compost elements.

The weather – I still can’t adjust. We have the kind of garden that goes from too wet to incredibly dry in 3 minutes. I do have a small cold frame down on the Rose Walk, but in a hot year it can be like an oven there:  the rampart walls are behind and flea beetle is rampant. I’ve tended to sow my brassicas there – this is the first year that they’ve not done too badly.DSC_0351. Good things

Anyway. On to the cut flowers I’m growing this year and a report on how I’m doing with them so far. Overall, due to the weather conditions and my poor propagating facilities/techniques, the seed in the open ground germinated much the best.

At least I have learnt to time my sowing according to the weather: dry weather but moist soil and a shower of rain due within 24 hours – but NEVER, NEVER during a period of heavy rainfall. This last is very important. When I worked in a botanic garden order beds, we once had to repeat about two week’s worth of sowings to make up for the two weeks of rain that followed. The seed all rotted in the ground – fortunately we had enough to resow.

My seed in 2016 mostly came from Thompson & Morgan  and Unwins. I bought from Unwins for the first time, because they are such famous sweet pea people and I wanted to try some of their varieties. T&M have a lovely selection of seed, but it is expensive and not all their products are reliable.

Aster (Callistephus) ‘Duchess Mix’  & ‘Milady Mix’. Only a few of the latter, left over from a previous year – they were gorgeous in 2015 and I hope they do well again. Sown in pots or seed trays. Little germination difficulty and didn’t hang about too long when pricked out.

Ammi majus. Open ground sowing and much patchier germination than Ammi visagna. But some decent seedlings growing on.

Ammi visagna. Germinated really well in the open ground for the second year running.

Antirrhinum ‘Torch Mixed’ Sown in pots 21st March, germinating beginning of April. They suffered my classic pricking out problem here:  without the heat and sunlight they need, they hung around for ages looking miserable and are only really just ready to plant out now.

Dahlia ‘Nuit d’Éte’ & ‘Noordwijks Glory’ (purchased 2015), plus 2016 additions of ‘La Recoleta’, ‘Playa Blanca’ and a pom-pom mixture. Growing on well after planting out 20th May. I grew ‘Bishop’s Children’ from seed in 2014 and over-wintered the tubers. They were planted in the cut flower area last year, but the flowers lasted badly when cut. I’ve used the tubers elsewhere this year for the dark colour of the foliage and their amazing heat resistance during the dog days of July & August last year. Below, the dahlias shooting in front of the sweet peas.

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Gladiolus ‘Buggy’,’Safari’ and a black cultivar that I think is ‘Expresso’. No problems here. I actually left the first two in the ground last winter and they came through last year’s mild winter weather just fine. But I shouldn’t really have taken the risk because I enjoyed cutting them in 2015.

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Calendula ‘Pink Surprise. Good germination. I enjoyed my ‘Sherbet Fizz’ last year for the unusual pinkish tones in the flowers, so thought I’d try this one for 2016.

Calendula officinalis, nigella & cornflower mixture (own seed). Direct sown, broadcast, in front of the BV’s delphiniums (as you can see below). The mix was really successful last year and I liked the way the marigolds held up the other plants and prevented flopping. Good germination. DSC_0230

 

Clary sage ‘Claryissima’ & Ornamental grass mix (Unwins). Sown in drills in front of the delphiniums. Very good germination. In the photo below you can just see the drills of clary sage and grasses to the left.

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Cosmos ‘Antiquity’. Surprisingly poor germination for the direct-sown seed. Never had a failure with cosmos before – this year could be a first!

Delphiniums. (plug plant mixture from Hayloft Plants – see the story here). The delphiniums have done so well. They were fed this year and I’ll refine their supports (made from hazel) next year – it’s good but not perfect.DSC_0231

Larkspur ‘Unwin’s Special Mix’. Direct sown in front of the delphiniums. Good germination, but slow. Need thinning/transplanting.

Helichrysum bracteatum. Sadly, a complete and utter failure. This was Lidl seed, but I’m going to blame my soil and the weather, not Lidl!

Statice ‘Sea Lavender Mix’. Very good germination in pots and grew on the best of all my cut flowers when pricked out. I’m so pleased, because I love it and want it to be easy!

Sweet Pea, Unwin’s ‘Garden Performance collection. Includes: ‘Queen of Hearts’, ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Duchy of Cambridge’, ‘Mars’, ‘Blackberry’, ‘Alan Titchmarsh’, ‘Romeo’, ‘Daphne’. To which I added the old cultivars ‘Cupani’ (said to come from the original Sicilian sweet pea) and ‘Painted Lady’. And then – for good measure – the very pretty ‘Molly Rilestone’ from T&M, which I grew for the first time last year and fell in love with. The sweet peas germinated rather slowly (I don’t give them heat, but leave them in the jardiniere). ‘Alan Titchmarsh’ didn’t germinate at all the first time, so I had to resow. I put that down to poor seed quality. My sweet peas have had the best of everything this year! Some worm compost from my very kind friend, a grand new support and lots of cool weather.DSC_0035

Sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’, ‘Vincent’s Mix’. Good germination, but nibbled by slugs. I’ve found that if I direct sow I don’t have to support – they definitely didn’t need it last year. Money for bamboo canes is rather limited – and I still haven’t sown my french beans for the want of.DSC_0240

Orlaya grandiflora. Excellent germination in a pot, responding well to pricking out. Unfortunately already running up to flower – need to get them out fast this week and see if they can be saved. And I was so looking forward to it!

Zinnia ‘Double Mix’, ‘Envy’ & ‘Purple Prince’. The disasters of the season. Can’t get them to germinate well this year, no way, no how. I have over-sown once and the resulting seedlings are struggling with the overcast conditions. The cheap mixture I bought in Lidl, sowed in a pot in the propagator and then pricked out (which you are not supposed to do with zinnias), is doing much better. The problem with the cell-sown seeds is that the trays are too big for my little propagator, so the seeds and young plants are missing the heat. I perhaps could invest in one of those thermal blanket type thingeys to help solve the problem in the future?

Comments:

Direct sowings Since my soil is clay and often too dry, I water the bottom of the drills in dry weather and then cover the seed with a layer of cheap compost to prevent capping. (I use compost from Lidl’s, which is not good enough quality to use in pots, but does this job fine.)

I’ve often covered seed drills with fleece, not only to warm the soil, but also (a trick I learnt from the blog of a vegetable gardener in hot Provence), to protect from very hot sun. Direct sowings are finally growing on quite well, but it will be a while before I have flowers and I still need to thin (not thinning in previous busy years has proved a disaster, particularly with cosmos).

There is just a little slug damage on some sunflowers. Mostly through being sown so close to the hedge. Unfortunately the little pest below is also attracted by my seed drills. (But she makes up for it in other ways!)DSC_0241

Prickly branches across the drills seem to be the only solution, but I hadn’t got around to it yet in the picture above.

Sowings in pots for pricking out. Mostly sown back on March 21st, only just ready to plant out now, mid June!

So, that’s it for June. Not bad, considering the weather. But not good either. Fortunately I have had many propagating successes in years past (using perennial seed from the Hardy Plant Society) without which I would have been unable to plant the Long Border when it was first cultivated in 2013. I’ve written a little about this here …

With thanks to Christina for giving me a nudge in recording my successes and failures. And hopefully some pictures of flowers in July!

 

 

Cutting Garden Review, 2015

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On Sunday I set my screensaver to flash through pictures of the 2015 garden and was rather inspired by how much I had managed to create in the weedy Hornbeam Gardens this year. Last year it was only a field, but this year it brought us quite a lot of joy (and vases … too many actually). I would have liked to recreate the same impact here, but can’t quite work out how to do it (I think you need Java something or other).

It was my husband, Nick, who suggested we should have a cutting garden at Châtillon. The hedges for the Hornbeam Gardens were planted in February 2013 and lightly clipped for the first time this autumn. They are only just beginning to make the two ‘rooms’ that I’m after. The top ‘room’ (nearest in the photo – bare soil) is the cutting garden. The bottom ‘room’ is much grassier in the photo and has the new shrubs I planted last year.

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The garden in April. It all looks very tidy, given it was a field the previous season. The supports are up for the sweet peas, the delphiniums are planted mid-border on the right of the path, with asters to the rear.

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In the lower part of the garden (dedicated to spring & summer-flowering shrubs), you can actually catch a glimpse of the hornbeams themselves, to the rear of the monster docks.
I don’t think you can miss the docks (even if the hornbeams are hard to locate) … they are pretty much dwarfing everything else. I had just sprayed them with the evil, nameless one that I’ve always considered – until this year – to be one of the few chemicals I’m happy using.
The idea with this whole area of the garden (and the orchard next to it) is that even our 79-year-old selves should be confident enough to venture down the 98 slippery steps by the time April comes in – so we can begin to go to town on blossom down here from that point in the season onwards.

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Just a little later, in May, the garden looks messier (not strimmed that week!) but the plants are growing on well.

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The sowings started at the hedge (if you can make it out!) with sunflower ‘Harlequin Mixed’ and ‘Velvet Queen’. The first did badly, since it was sown too close to the hedge, but ‘Velvet Queen’ was fabulous in deep, rich reds and golds. None of them were staked and stood remarkably tall until some storms in September. Next year I might try pinching the seedling tips for lower, smaller flowers. (Although I would miss the pleasure of those first unbelievably luscious and massive blooms.)

Next in the rows were Gladioli ‘Safari’ and ‘Buggy’. Both in greeny-yellary shades and small-flowered. Definitely for the flower arranger (that’s me) who prefers what Nick calls ‘jazz plants’: in other words flowers that are green and uninteresting to all but the aficionado.

Then came Ammi majus and Ammi visagna. I was sorry that flat-headed A. majus failed to germinate, but the domes of A. visagna were a joyful revelation – lasting so long in water – and I’m never letting it go now. Am also dreaming of adding Euphorbia oblongata, which I recently read described as a kind of living florist’s foam. Sounds just grand to me.

Then came Cosmos ‘Sensation Mixed’. Due to the fact that I fail to pinch/space properly, cosmos are always ugly things here. They grow to 2 metre monsters without proper control and I’m continually disappointed by them. No change this year … must do better.

I have a yen to trial all available marigold seed strains in connection with a little sideline I’m planning, so I tried ‘Sherbet Fizz’ and ‘Touch of Red’, as well as ‘Greenheart Orange’ (all T&M). I liked ‘Sherbet Fizz’ a lot, but ‘Touch of Red’ was disappointingly similar. ‘Greenheart’ not as exciting as in my long-ago memories.

Then came Cornflower ‘Tall Mixed’, Larkspur ‘Sublime Mixed’ and Cornflower ‘Black Ball’. All lovely, but suffering badly from neglectful gardener syndrome. Could have done with pinching and supporting – unfortunately I was too busy strimming, mowing and generally hacking … elsewhere.

The larkspur served (with dahlias and others) as my contribution to a May event in Châtillon. They were, in all their breathtaking perfection, studiously ignored by the ‘real’ florists who concocted the bouquets. Florists like flowers that last a very long time – and they didn’t choose any of mine!

But back to the Cornflower ‘Black Ball’ sadness/collapse. I’ve discovered a fabulous trick for cornflowers and marigolds – keep reading …

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The garden has been strimmed now, so you can see the hedges (and the heaps of rubbish!) more clearly.
Can’t imagine how I’m going to get some decent grass paths without digging them up and sowing seed … but there’s still no time here for that kind of pernickety stuff. Later.
In the picture above you can see quite a few tubers from 2014 seed-sown dahlia ‘Bishop’s Children’, whose dark foliage is just shooting through in front of the delphiniums.
Putting them there was a BIG MISTAKE … we had to peer over their heads to see the delphiniums cowering behind.

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As I said, I am definitely an Ammi visagna convert – here with another triumph which I’m hoping to repeat, and repeat … double Zinnia ‘Green Envy’. Not all the flowers were double, but I liked even the 50% of singles for their colour.
Dahlia ‘Nuit d’Été’ is looking a bit past it in the same vase, but Gladiolus ‘Safari’ looks fairly pert.

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Here you can see (to the right) the ‘Bishop’s Children’ foliage more clearly. And, just above, towards the camera, the green shoots of my best move to date … still reading?

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Into July and ‘Velvet Queen’ is doing her thing.
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And …. this is it! Agreed by both of us to be the success of the year. A mix of seed saved from the garden in 2014: calendula, cornflowers, Clary sage and nigella. The amazing thing was that they needed no support. The sticky stems of the marigolds held the others up – unlike the defeated cornflowers (re-enter ‘Black Ball’) in another area of the cut flower garden. And I cut them, and cut them.
I’m sure you’ve already tried this at home – but I was gobsmacked by how something so simple worked so well. And carried on flowering (without water), throughout an exceptionally hot July & August. I just want to inject a little more of the salvia and nigella next time.

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The sweet peas (this is, I think, ‘Molly Rilestone’) were the best ever, in spite of the hot summer. It was the first year that I tried them off the hot terraces and in this cooler part of the garden (also the first year that I had a ‘cooler part of the garden’ to cultivate).
From July, however, the growing tips began to be deformed/fasciated. After some research on the net I decided this was a cultural shock: difference in day/night temperatures, watering in the evening rather than – more correctly – in the morning. I understand cultural shock all too well, as a Scottish-Canadian transplanted to France.
They grew out of it a little, but it did stop them in their tracks towards the end of July. And, of course, I didn’t get round to taking their photos until a little too late.

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‘Chatsworth’ and (I think) ‘Molly Rilestone’ growing together. But the hazel supports were a real mistake. Too heavy and mighty for such delicate flowers. I’ve tried to find a (ready-made) substitute that looks good, so far with no success … suggestions?

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The ‘Bishop’s Children’ and those scrumptious cornflowers/marigolds again.

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Dahlia ‘Bishop’s Children’ tubers survived last winter through being tossed into a cardboard box without sand/compost or anything vaguely moist. They were then left in our cave from October 2014 to March 2015. (I’m sure you are already aware, but a cave is a French wine cellar: even in the 36C plus we had in summer, it never topped 15C and in winter it doesn’t fall below 10C.)
I discovered (through a lot of cutting) that the Bishop’s Children  don’t make such good cut flowers, but the foliage is superb.

Nick's delphiniums flourished - and then were threatened late season by a marauding bullock from the other side of the river.

Nick’s delphiniums flourished (courtesy of a Hayloft Plant collection – or two – in 2014. Their arrival here is another postal horror story).
This was fitting, since they were the first things I was sure should be planted down in the cut flower garden. They even survived a bit of a pummelling from a marauding bullock tempted over from the other side of the river in search of fresh grass.

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Just a reminder of how beautiful they were when I first started cutting them back in May …

 

Now we are down in the same area putting up supports for espaliered apples and pears – I’m regretting letting the weeds outrun me, but mentally preparing my annual seed list and corm/tuber list for 2016 (I have ‘collecting fever’ for dahlias and gladioli).

And I do wish that online nurseryman Jacques Briant had not sent me a special ’10€ off’ voucher for my birthday, just at the point when I am pondering planting the odd Hybrid Tea for long-stemmed roses in the future. How can you resist the lure of spending 60€ (that you haven’t got) in order to save money?

What cut flower could you not be without?