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Gardens Blog

The Power of Plenty

The standing joke in our household is that I never knowingly under-cater for any occasion. I love the biblical image of a measure being filled up, pressed down and flowing over in generosity and abundance. And my approach to planting is the same – I am not one who enjoys the sight of brown soil between regimented plants. Instead I prefer to pack them in, each one supporting and supported by its neighbours, a dense Klimt canvas of colour and texture.

If you picked up my last post, you may have noted a remark at the end to the effect that I have been immobilised since January with a broken left leg.   My patient Co-Gardener-turned-Nurse quickly realised that the best way to ensure compliant behaviour was to promise outings, helping me, the long cast and the crutches, down the front steps, perilously across the gravel and then over the threshold and into the greenhouse. There he seated me on a stool, wedged the plastered leg under the staging to prevent me from toppling over, and left me to the blissful sensation of mixing warm compost with my fingers, carefully sowing tiny seeds, writing labels and watering gently. An hour of this was generally enough to leave me longing for my sofa like a Jane Austen invalid, but I lived for those hours when I felt something like normal.

Happily the plaster cast is now a thing of the past, the fractures are healing and I am starting to walk again. So now my daily journey to the greenhouse is under my own steam and I start to realise, looking at the trays of green seedlings, that I have cast myself in the role of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. There are far more plants than I ever expected would grow, I have had to beg for pots from my neighbour (who thankfully is planting up new borders and thus is only too happy to let me have her plastic containers) and the Co-Gardener is wondering where on earth his agapanthus, cannas and dahlias are going to go as my potted-on treasures gradually take over every available surface.

If you are planting seeds, here are a few helpful thoughts – once you have filled your seed tray with compost and firmed it down, knock it on the workbench to settle it and get rid of any air pockets, water it and then sow the seed onto the damp compost and cover it with vermiculite. This means that the seed will stay where you have planted it. Also, if you have transplanted seedlings, soak the tray in water to allow them to draw up the water they need rather than watering them from above and moving the compost away from their stems and root systems. And do please label – just as we think we will recognise some anonymous packet as we chuck it into the freezer, so too will we expect to identify a pair of green leaves which turn out to look unnervingly similar to lots of others. Finally, I am not a fan of the azure slug pellet but at this time of year I do sprinkle them sparingly on trays and modules to avoid the heartbreak of finding treasured seedlings munched down to stumps over night.

So what have I planted? some old favourites including Cosmos and Cleome; the results of a mad moment on Sarah Raven’s website: Didiscus ‘Blue Lace’ and Emilia javanica – known as “Irish Poet” for some reason – and I’m trying the Great Dixter approach to poppies this year by growing them in modules and then planting them in pots as soon as they have a root system to give them a head start before putting them into the ground. Trying to grow poppies on our cold clay is very hit and miss, mostly miss. I have sown the pale pink Peony Poppy ‘Venus’ and the blackcurrant purple opium poppy ‘Black Beauty’. My idea is to interplant them in drifts which would look wonderful. Also the hot pink and lime green Malope trifida ‘Vulcan’ (hoping that the ‘trifida’ part doesn’t mean what I fear it might) and white Orlaya. Sweet peas, achillea, agastache too. I’ve just remembered that there are plug plants on order as well…..

The plan is that this weekend I take a long hard look at the contents of the cold frames and move out anything which doesn’t really need to be there so that I can start to harden off some of the larger plants such as the sweet peas, and free up space for the more tender annuals and perennials which need longer inside. If I can just keep it all going for another month I calculate I will be able to fill all the borders this summer and there won’t be a patch of bare earth in sight.


Useful links:

Sarah Raven Seeds:

Great Dixter: