Saturday, 8 November 2014

Grand plans and cutting gardens

Winter is the time for gardeners to plan and dream. Somehow, the backbreaking chores and the never-ending weeding don't seem so dispiriting when you're sitting in front of a log fire with a gardening book and a cup of tea. You can conveniently forget that you haven't yet planted all your bulbs and start thinking about next summer's display.
My grand plan for next summer is to start a cutting garden. I still have two enormous borders to clear and plant (three if you count the one I am halfway through), so I shouldn't really be thinking about a new project. However, the border clearance has in part inspired the idea of the cutting garden.
Wouldn't it be nice (I thought to myself) if, instead of heaving out huge chunks of weeds and tracking down the root runs of nettles for days on end, I could just put a couple of raised beds straight down onto a bit of spare lawn (of which I have plenty), fill them up with topsoil, sow some seeds and reap beautiful bouquets for months on end. The prudent, less impulsive part of me thinks I might invest in some raised-bed liners too. I don't want to start digging nettles and ground elder out of yet another bit of the garden.
Now, I know what you are going to say. This is a fashion to which I have fallen victim. And it is true that cutting gardens are in vogue at the moment, thanks to people like Sarah Raven, and Rachel de Thame, who recently presented a cutting garden diary on BBC Gardeners' World.
I've also just bought Louise Curley's book, The Cut Flower Patch, published earlier this year by Frances Lincoln, which is a good practical guide to not only what to grow, but how to arrange it. It seems to me that when everyone is talking about something, that's a good time to find out about it.
Why, you might ask, would I need a cutting garden when I already have a garden full of plants? Well, why do some people have allotments when they could easily grow vegetables in their own garden?
I want to grow flowers as a crop, for the house, in exactly the same way as many people grow veg. I don't have a particularly flowery garden - I love foliage plants, such as grasses, and I like an evergreen structure that looks good all year round. In a cutting garden, I can indulge myself with a glorious kaleidoscope of colourful annuals without worrying about how it will fit in with everything else.
The picture below shows my friend Sue O'Neill's flower garden, which looks fabulous (I love those Rip City dahlias). I never seem to be able to get that look, maybe because I'm too anal about what I plant with what. I'm hoping a cutting patch might loosen up my ideas a bit.

Taking the lawn view

We had the first frost of the winter on Thursday morning. It was the cue for me to rush outside to take photographs, and to see if the wasps in the nest above my daughter's bedroom window had been zapped by the cold. There was no sign of the little blighters, so I hope they have succumbed.

The tabloid papers in the UK have been running lurid stories predicting "the worst winter for 100 years", but on a crisp frosty morning, when the clumps of santolina look like an edging of grey fur,  it is difficult to take a negative view of the impending winter.

On the other hand, it is all too easy to take a negative view of the lawns. There is way too much lawn in my garden, and although I have spent quite a lot of the past two years creating new borders, they are still too narrow to be in proportion.
Cutting out borders is back-breaking work, involving a half-moon edger to cut through the turf or the weeds, a spade and a lot of huffing and puffing. There are so many thuggish perennial weeds, I can't just rotavate it, and I hate using weedkiller.
My soil is typical Cotswold clay and limestone, which isn't as bad as it sounds. The limestone is comparatively soft, and breaks down easily, so I never have to dig out huge boulders, and the thousands of small stones that litter the soil help it warm up in spring and keep it drained (well, sort of) in long periods of wet weather.
Clay soil holds on to nutrients well, but is difficult to work in winter, when the mud clings to your spade and boots. At times you feel as if you are slowly accumulating your own weight in mud. Come to think of it, you probably are.
The trouble is, there are other parts of the garden that require attention more urgently than this bit. So the lawns will have to wait a while. In the meantime, I'll console myself with thinking up outrageous plans for an elaborate parterre, with gazons coup├ęs (where patterns are cut into the turf and filled with sand or gravel) and lavender hedges.
It will never come to fruition of course, but the planning is half the fun, don't you find?