the best laid plans…

Last year we decided to add a bed of flowers to the end of the veg patch, just for cutting.

I imagined I’d be gathering armfuls all summer long. In fact, I thought we’d have so many that I’d be able to leave surprise bunches on friends’ doorsteps like some sort of benevolent flower fairy.

picked in the rain, cottage garden, gardening blog

I wasn’t quite naive enough to think I could blithely scatter seeds and leave them to their own devices. Instead I sought advice from traditional cut flower grower Benjamin Ranyard of Higgledy Garden. His website is packed with tips, and his seeds are some of the most reliable I have ever grown.

My plan was to start early, sowing seeds in our unheated greenhouse. Then I’d acclimatise the young plants to go out in May. I hoped we’d be picking by the end of June.

At one time I had hundreds of happy little seedlings coming on. Didiscus blue lace, ammi majus, cleome, gaillardia, achillea, larkspur, consolida… I wondered what I’d do with all the leftover plants that we wouldn’t have room for.

Little did I know that the garden would get besieged by rabbits this year. Or that I wouldn’t pick a single flower from the cutting patch.

cutting garden, cottage garden, gardening blog

this is as good as it got in the cutting patch

Only the calendula and borage  I interspersed with the veg to help attract pollinators really thrived. There are a couple of sad-looking earthwalker sunflowers but the cleome (pink queen) look quite stunning. One or two cosmos, centaurea and rudbeckia have soldiered on, despite being nibbled within an inch of their lives.

The truth is, I lost heart after so many plants were eaten rabbits. What’s left has pretty much fended for itself since June, battling against the weeds and a rampant squash plant. So I’m leaving the few valiant flowers for the butteries and bees.

 

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those pesky wabbits

616px-Young_wild_rabbitA few weeks ago I spent a happy few minutes with my daughter watching a rabbit nibbling weeds by the compost bin. She’s a big fan of Peter Rabbit and his cronies.

When Steve saw, he told me it spelt disaster for the garden. I muttered something about Mr McGregor and ignored him.

How naive I was. We’re just back from a week’s holiday and our neighbour tells me he has seen up to four rabbits at a time skipping around the veg garden. They’ve had a go at the peas, but it seems to be the new cutting patch alongside the veg that has really taken their fancy.

Just before we went away I decided to take a gamble, putting out some of the young plants we’d grown from seed in the greenhouse. The rabbits couldn’t believe their luck.

newly planted cutting patch, cottage garden, gardening blog

before the rabbits came

Now many of the plants have telltale marks of rabbit teeth: it looks like they’ve been neatly snipped with scissors. I’ve discovered rabbits have strangely selective tastes. My Earthwalker sunflowers are untouched, while Vanilla Ice has been razed to the ground. Cosmos are clearly a favourite, but only the ferny leaves. They have left me the stalks. The consolida Snow Cloud that I was growing for the first time – and very much looking forward to – have been virtually destroyed. The gaillardia and cleome don’t have a mark on them.

This should just be a temporary setback rather than the end of the cutting patch. I had spares of most of the plants, except the consolida, and I think there’s still time to sow a few more batches of seed.

We’re supposed to be getting a new fence to keep the dogs off the veg garden and cutting patch. I’d been planning something pretty and cottagey. But perhaps a rabbit-proof fence will be more appropriate.

Or am I being over-optimistic to hope that now we’re home – and the dogs and cats are at large in garden again – the rabbits will stay in the fields.

 

Wild rabbit photo from Wikimedia Commons

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.