outside-in: February (9/12)

I’m getting impatient for spring.

single purple crocus in vase, cottage garden, gardening blog

So last week I started bringing buds and pots of bulbs into the house.

back-lit daffodils, cottage garden, gardening blog

Some people call this ‘forcing’ them.

white crocus pot, cottage garden, gardening blog

But that sounds a bit brutal.

close-up daffodil, gardening blog, cottage gardenI prefer to think of it as warming them up a bit.

purple crocus, cottage garden, gardening blogWhatever you call it, the result is earlier flowers. And that’s got to be good.


starting a cutting garden

country mix gardening blogHaving home-grown flowers in the house is good for the soul. It helps me see past the fact that I haven’t washed the floors or cleaned the windows. And I can almost forget that we still haven’t repaired the roof or done the bathroom.

But I always feel a bit guilty raiding the borders for them. As if I’m cutting their life a bit short, and robbing the bees of pollen.

So this year we’re growing a bed of flowers just for picking. It’s a bit much to call it a cutting garden. More of a cutting patch really – on a scrap of ground by the veg patch where we tried (and failed) to grow raspberries last year.bee verbena, gardening blog, cottage garden

I’ve been toying with the idea for a while and started buying seeds in October. They are mostly cottage garden flowers, good old-fashioned ones that my grannies might have grown. I got a bit carried away and have far too many to fit in the 2 x 4 metre bed.

How to create a cutting garden

While I was seed shopping I came across the marvellous Higgledy Garden. It’s run by Benjamin Ranyard, a cut flower specialist from Cornwall who is pretty passionate about traditional varieties. He is also very generous with tips for novice growers.

I’m not very good at following rules. But I’ve read Benjamin’s article on where to site a cutting garden and how to prepare the beds. I’m going to follow his advice as closely as I can, but no doubt it will come together in our usual haphazard way.

cutting garden site, gardening blog, cottage garden

the site for our cutting garden – a south-facing scrap of ground next to the veg patch

The garden doesn’t have many sunny spots, but I think the patch I’ve chosen gets the seven hours a day that Benjamin recommends as a minimum. It’s right next to where we grew the pumpkins last year – they need lots of sun too, and did OK.

He says to keep away from trees as they rob nearby plants of water and nutrients. Well, that’s impossible unless Steve gets the chainsaw out, so we’ll have to take a chance.

Ideally the patch should be 1 metre wide, letting you reach the middle without stepping on the bed…I’ll just have to stretch. Or perhaps we can compromise a bit of veg space and go for two rows.

Lastly, the soil shouldn’t be too rich, or you get tonnes of foliage and few flowers. It does benefit from a bit of leaf mulch though, which is good news as we’re never short of that.

Bed preparation

I’m itching to get out there and prepare the bed, but it’s so wet underfoot that I think I’d do more harm than good stomping around in my wellies.

We also need to extend the veg patch fence around the plot. Otherwise our mad spaniel will be charging around it, flattening seedlings as fast as they germinate. Benjamin doesn’t say anything about dogs in the cutting garden, but I’m sure he wouldn’t approve of that.

didiscus blue lace seedling, cottage garden blog

we sowed some half-hardy annuals, like these didiscus, before Christmas

So despite my planning, I suspect we won’t be ready to sow seeds direct into the ground for some time yet.

But direct sowing the whole patch might have been too much of a gamble in our first year anyway. I’m going to rifle through my seed packets and see what we can get started in the greenhouse.

Luckily, Benjamin has advice on how and when to sow your cutting garden too.

flowers in the hedgerows

catkins, gardening blog, cottage gardenWhen the sun comes out, it looks like hundreds of golden-green Chinese lanterns are dangling in the hedges.

The hazels are in flower. And their catkins catch my eye every time I go in the garden or drive up the lane.

I discovered this week that hazels are monoecious. I had to look that word up – it means they have both male and female flowers on the same plant. The catkins I’ve been admiring are clusters of male flowers.

But what about the female flowers?

You have to look closely. Very closely. But it is worth the effort, because the hazel branches are also full of these:

hazel flower, gardening blog, cottage garden

They are like miniscule sea anemones. Most of the flower is concealed in the bud, and the bright red tentacle-like bits are just 2-3mm long. They are the styles, which are connected to the flower’s ovary. (I’ve been brushing up on my botany).

Hazels are wind-pollinated. So the design of their flowers is really very clever. Pollen is blown from the catkins, some of it lands on the styles, and hey presto, nine months later (give or take) you have a hedge-full of hazelnuts.

hazel catkin and flower, gardening blog, cottage garden

she’s almost beckoning to the catkins

What’s more, doing all of this in the winter – when the branches are leafless – means the pollen has a clearer route to the female flower. Ingenious.

Big thanks to the Crocus Plantsman’s blog, which inspired me to go hazel flower hunting. Do have a read, it’s a fantastic post.


snowdrop fever

When I lived in Japan, one of my favourite customs was hanami.

snowdrop, gardening blog, cottage garden

Its literal translation is ‘flower viewing’. But the true definition should be ‘cherry blossom fever’. Daily forecasts in the media track a blossom-wave that spreads from south to north. And there is intense excitement as people try to predict the optimum date for picnics and parties under the flowering trees.

I’ve only recently noticed that we have our own version of hanami here, albeit quieter and slightly more British.

Snowdrop tours seem to be quite the thing in February. Maybe it’s because there are so few flowers around at this time of year, or perhaps people appreciate their apparent fragility combined with steely resilience. Whatever the reason, it’s good to get outside for a couple of hours and persuade ourselves that spring isn’t too far away.

in the green 

I’m no galanthophile, but I do like snowdrops. There were some in the garden when we moved here, but there’s always room for a few more. Apparently it’s best to plant them ‘in the green’ – that is, when the bulbs still have leaves rather than when they’re dry and dormant. It’s more expensive to buy them this way, but I was lucky enough to cadge some growing in my parents’ field last time I visited.

snow drops in the green, gardening blog, cottage garden

snowdrops in the green, courtesy of mum & dad (I didn’t even have to dig them up…)

I planted them out between showers on Sunday. A few went by the back door so we can see them as we come and go. But I also chose some spots across the garden that we can see from the house. Although they are small, the bright white flowers make quite an impact even from a distance.

snow drop witch hazel

I planted a few clumps around this witch hazel, my hope is that they will multiply and form drifts in time.

As with most things I do in the garden, I only thought to look for advice once they were planted. It seems it may have been better to wait until the foliage was dying down rather than transplanting them in full flower. I’m not sure they went in deep enough either. But I have faith in the little bulbs and I’m quite sure they will come back next year.

I’m now feeling tempted by some of these rarer varieties from Easton Walled Gardens. Perhaps I will turn into a galanthophile in my middle age.