It seems I have a late summer garden – there’s more colour on show in September than there has been during the rest of the year.
The front garden is currently showing off all its colours – yellows, pinks, peachy dahlias and flashes of reds from the crocosmia, roses and even a few second-flowering geums. I haven’t really planned a late summer garden, but each season I have been adding layers of colour and texture so there’s as much interest throughout the year as possible. It looks like I’ve certainly been attracted to late season plants!
I do love my dahlias, of course, and they’re really hitting their stride at the moment. I’m also really enjoying the echinaceas which are flourishing, the rudbeckias (still small, only sown this year) and the cosmos, which is a great gap filler. I bought a couple of sedums several weeks ago and love to see the bees still busy around these flowers as they deepen in colour each day. These are all being propped up by some of the shrubs and plants which may have finished flowering but are still providing essential structure and mass – the two cotinus, the damask rose, teasels and eryngium for example, whose spiky texture is also providing soft browns and purples.
Some of my front garden plants have had a second wind, most likely due to the very warm summer we’ve had. The geums I’ve already mentioned – these first bloomed in May I think and are still popping out a few flowers! The hot pink salvia is coming out again for another throw, along with the geranium ‘Lace Time’ with its pretty veined pink flowers.
But the stand-out repeat flowerer has to be the rose ‘Lady Marmalade’. I might be wrong, but I think she’s currently in flower for the third time – and still looking beautiful.
It’s lovely, as the summer slips away and the temperature starts to fall, that the hot colours are still warming up the garden. I feel a bit sad about the season changing – I really loved the hot weather – but I can still enjoy the summer blooms. Plus now is the time to collect seed, take cuttings and begin thinking about next year. I know – it’s only September! – but I’m already thinking of what I want to grow and/or sell in the Secret Garden next spring and what I will add to the borders, front and back, to keep building those layers of colour, texture and foliage.
The hit list for next year includes more Stachys byzantina for its gorgeous soft leaves and rich pink flowers; more Verbena bonariensis as it’s so bee-friendly, the usual cosmos, sweet peas and aquilegia, and a plan for some new plants – Sanguisorba (inspired by a recent visit to Cambo’s walled garden) and Cerinthe major (which I loved at Chelsea). I’ll also be sowing some Stipa tenuissima as I want to add some more soft grasses and I just love the texture and movement of this feathery grass.
Sanguisorba and Stipa tenuissima in the beautiful perennial borders at Cambo
And that’s just a small selection of the seed packets I currently have spread out across my dining room table! There will be a lull around November/December but between now and next spring there’s a lot of sowing and growing to do. If you want me, I’ll be in the greenhouse…
This summer I have been learning a few lessons. Not the book-reading kind – I’ve taken a break from horticulture studies as I decided that it would be madness to add this to the summer agenda of school holidays, parenting, working, enjoying the heatwave and almost constant watering. I plan to resume studies in September (seems like a good ‘new-term’ kind of time to do it) but there have been plenty of other things to learn on a more practical level during the past few weeks:
1. I CAN have a nursery in my back garden. This is number one because it’s been the most exciting and satisfying lesson of recent weeks. For quite a while I’ve dreamed of having my own nursery – growing the kind of plants I love to sell to others – and I’ve take a big step forward by simply doing it. I had quite a large number of surplus perennials and annuals which I had grown for planting in the front garden. So I started a Facebook page, listed a few plants on FB Marketplace – and people actually wanted to buy them!
I’ve called this a micro-nursery because it really is tiny – both in size and in stock availability – compared to a proper commercial nursery anyway! It’s very small-scale and I have not made a huge amount of money – perhaps enough to re-invest in some plants and seeds for next year. But it has been worth it for the experience of producing plants for others, learning how to market them and deal with customers and moving towards my dream of owning a little independent nursery growing wonderful perennials, annuals, herbs and shrubs suitable for Scottish gardens. In fact, I suddenly realised that not only moving towards it but I’m actually doing my dream – the Secret Garden micro-nursery is my own little corner of the earth for doing just that. It may be small, and I may not make a living from it just now – or ever – but I’m doing it! Having dipped my toe in the water this summer, so to speak, I’m excited to see how I can take it forward. I am already planning ahead for next year: which plants to grow again and which were not successful or less popular; better ways to market the business, how to grow and expand via social media…. I have so many ideas for how to keep going and growing – and I’m so glad I’ve taken the first step.
2. Echinaceas are tricky to grow from seed.
When they do succeed and flower in the garden they are gorgeous and are currently providing a fantastic pop of pink in my front border. But I have been trying since early spring to grow the intriguing looking variety ‘Double Decker’ and this is the result…
Barely an inch of growth for the entire season. I don’t know if it’s the seed, the soil, the conditions, or my lack of faith. But those echinaceas are not going to grow into beautiful, flowering plants. Mainly because I’ve composted them.
3. Don’t grow cucamelons too close together.
This was a difficult lesson to learn, resulting in me recruiting my eldest daughter to help me untangle about 20 young cucamelon seedlings which had started to twine around each other as well as other plants in the greenhouse. We spent some time separating the cucamelons’ delicate tendrils, trying not to damage them. Finally we got them all apart, so I potted up the ones I wanted to grow on, supporting them with bamboo canes. I also potted a few more into a hanging basket, to see if they’ll grow as successfully hanging down. However I was still left with quite a number of plants which no-one showed any interest in buying (I guess my local customers are not as interested as I am in experimental or exotic fruit/veg!) so I had to compost these too. Which leads me to the next lesson…
3. Don’t sow too many seeds!
I do this Every. Single. Year. and tell myself I don’t care – I just want loads of plants!
But inevitably there are Too Many Plants. So I have to spend more time and effort potting on, watering and resisting throwing them away because I hate getting rid of potential plants. However they do end up going in the compost as I have no room or they’re not selling or become too poor quality to sell. If I want to raise more plants to sell I must be more efficient with space, materials and my time. So – I will sow more sensibly next year. I will sow more sensibly next year. I will sow more sensibly next year… I will…
4. Don’t dig – and don’t do green manure
I wanted to have a no-dig policy this year…but then I also decided it would be a good idea to sow green manure. But these two things are not entirely compatible. Yes, I think it is possible to do both – but I ended up doing neither very well. The green manure grew well in some beds, but not so well in others, at least giving me an indication of the soil quality in each one. But in the spring I then had to cut down and either remove or dig in the plants. I tried to remove the majority of the largest plants, but eventually ended up digging over most of the soil, which still had shoots and roots left in them. This is, of course, what you are supposed to do with green manure – but didn’t comply with the no-dig theory! This autumn I will try to mulch the beds and may well cover some over if they are bare. I don’t tend to grow many winter crops so I think I will mulch, cover and officially begin my no-dig policy next spring.
5. It’s all about layers
The front garden is looking well – probably deserves its own separate post to update on how it’s developing – but I still see lots of gaps. I can see bare soil and smaller-than-they-should-be plants. When I visit other gardens, I notice the fullness of the planting, how each plant blends together and merges to create a whole effect. I think I am moving towards this, but it’s taking time. And that’s ok. I’m learning that I can’t achieve this look in one growing season, unless I empty the bank account at the local garden centre (not an option, according to my husband). But I appreciate that this year there’s an extra layer that wasn’t there last year. And next year there will be another and then another, until I’ve got the overflowing herbaceous border that I can see in my mind’s eye! I’m playing the long game – and that’s good, because I’m really enjoying it.
Although I work part time and theoretically have two days each week to spend in the garden/greenhouse doing lots of lovely gardening…it never usually works out that way. Family/work/home responsibilities often creep into this time and so I have to grab gardening opportunities with both hands and make the most of it. This sometimes means that I will sow like mad or get planting even if conditions aren’t perfect or if it’s a bit early or late – because if I wait until just the right time, I may miss it.
Yesterday gave me just the right opportunity for a bit of seed-sowing: some spare time, a sunny day and the need to stay close to home to nurse a poorly hen (latest on her on my Instagram feed @mycorneroftheearth). Also we’re into another month – February! – and this brings with it a whole new set of seed packets to crack open and sow to get things off to a nice and early start. I realise this can be a risky move, as seedlings can end up leggy or be exposed to frosty weather if sown very early. However, where we live (North-east Scotland) it can be fairly cold and even frosty right into April/May and summers are frustratingly short. So this year I’ve decided to give many of my plants a good head start so that they can flower for as much as possible of that short window of time when summer properly begins and autumn hits us again.
So my greenhouse is already looking pretty busy…
This panoramic shot makes it look like the bench is bending under the weight – but we’re not quite at that stage…yet! We have: sweet peas, calendula, greater knapweed, leeks, wallflowers, more sweet peas, nasturtiums, various cuttings, astrantia (taking a while to germinate!) two varieties of cosmos and shasta daisies.
And outside I’m hardening off the seedlings which were sown in the autumn and have been overwintering in the greenhouse…
This selection includes aquilegia, gypsophila, some geum cuttings, plus hollyhocks and stipa tenuissima. What you can’t see on the ground under the table and along the fence is all the extra teasels, lavender and various cuttings of shrubs and fruit trees which I grew last autumn too!
What am I going to do with all these plants? Well, some of them will definitely be planted out in the front garden. I’m deliberately sowing a lot of herbaceous perennials and hardy annuals according to my planting plans for the front. However, I know I’ll end up with too many. Some, I will probably gift to family and friends but if I really end up with a lot of extra plants, I’m seriously considering selling them – I’m just not quite sure how to do that yet. More on that later, perhaps.
Bearing in mind all this new growing activity, I’m going to need more kit. I will definitely need more pots. Thankfully I spied a bargain recently which will help with hardening off all these new seedlings – my local B&Q was selling off hardwood cold frames marked down from £48 to £20, so I snapped up two! My husband very kindly put them together for me yesterday.
So that’s what’s going on in the Secret Garden at the moment. Lots of sowing and growing already – and I haven’t even started on veg and/or cut flowers for the raised beds yet! Spring isn’t quite here yet but I’m getting ready for her…
It’s time to get planning. For the past few weeks and months, a lot of ideas, plans and wish lists have been floating about in my head or, when possible, noted on my phone (Notes, Reminders and Evernote are the gardener’s friends for recording these on-the-go). I’ve also sorted through the seeds I have left from last year as well as ordering a few to sow this year. Now the moment has come to commit these to paper and decide when to plant it all and where to put it all.
I’ve made use of this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch year planner and made myself a visual guide – each packet’s been placed on the month which is the earliest they can be planted. If I follow the plan exactly, the next couple of months are going to be busy! However, I suspect the timings will be very much dependent on climate and opportunity. I hope that I’ll get a few peas (sweet and savoury) off to a start in the greenhouse by the end of this month, however where we are (East Scotland) it may be worth waiting until a little later to sow many of these plants, so that by the time they are ready for planting out, the weather will also be ready to welcome them.
Until then, I’ll keep tweaking The Planting Plan and I have some work to do in the front garden – I’ve begun moving a few shrubs to clear various areas for new planting. I’ve been reading quite a bit about garden design and collecting a few resources to help with this task (more on these in another post) and am looking forward to giving the front beds a serious overhaul.
We’re still in the middle of winter…but Spring is coming!
Great excitement – the first shoots are emerging from my peas!
I reckon it really doesn’t matter if it’s your first time or your hundredth time planting seeds and watching them grow – those first little nubs of green pushing their way through the soil always give you a little rush of excitement; a sense of satisfaction that you are officially Growing Something. Nature and you are working together, you are a TEAM!
Nature and I are also working on some aubergines, peppers, sweet peas, lobelia – and as of today, some cosmos, zinnia and marigolds.
I may be running out of room in the greenhouse-utility room already…
Aldi is my friend! I have been in need of a few bedding plants to fill some spare pots and was very keen to add some bulbs to the garden after a fairly poor showing last year. However I’m also trying not to overspend after a month which saw a few extra payments leave the account. So I decided to get down to Aldi, having had a good experience there previously, picking up ten – TEN! – bare root roses for just 90p each! I’ve also had a cherry and two raspberry canes from Lidl and all of these, planted early last winter, seem to be doing ok. And even if they weren’t, I would be safe in the knowledge that I hadn’t wasted my money killing off a pricey plant!
Aldi came up trumps this time too – allowing myself £20 to spend I managed to scoop dozens of bulbs, four trays of bedding plants, 20 packets of seeds (just 19p each!) and two small patio roses, all within my budget.
Here’s the haul in all its glory…
…and here’s the final result.
I spent sunny afternoon potting the bedding plants into an assortment of spare containers, including an old chimney pot (which I think we found at our previous home and subsequently moved it with us!) and an abandoned giant teapot which I found beside a skip at the local dump and ‘reappropriated’ for my garden. I’m really happy with this mini burst of colour and interest in my fast-fading garden, particularly with the cyclamen – I love these little twirly flowers!