Whilst I am custodian of the edible perennials my partner quite rightly craves flowers in the garden. In the spring we took up a patch of sloping difficult-to-mow lawn and used the upturned turf to create a new polyculture patch. The ex-lawn area is in the process of becoming a flower bed. I have sown herb and flower seeds so it is becoming an odd mix of flat leafed parsley, dill, love in a mist, calendula with some bought herbs and flowers – various thymes, sage, savory, pansies, day lilies, roses (transferred from the other garden). Flower bed or no, it is being cultivated, if that is the word, along the same lines as the vegetable parts of the garden. That is to say:
This is self explanatory; and impossible anyway as this bed, like the rest of the main part of the garden, is very hard clay with lots of stones very firmly embedded. I am trusting to time and in due course lots of mulching on the surface to change this.
Allowing anything rather than nothing to grow ……
that is until something more useful comes along. Therefore when the bed was new and bare there were quite a few “weeds” that germinated. I left them in place whilst the scattered seeds began to grow and then gradually removed them when the adjacent flower plants were a reasonable size.
Why do this? Because some of the microscopic life forms that will eventually thrive in this hard and barren soil need living beings (plants) to feed them via the exudates from their roots. They don’t mind what the plant above ground is as long as its roots are alive.
Observing what happens over time
This is how I learn things. What I have seen today is various plants racing to cover the soil. At the bottom of this photograph there is the very pretty tiny leafed woolly thyme. Now it has established it is trying very hard to spread in all directions. To the right there is a deep burgundy coloured bugle taken from another flower bed and on the left a white clover. The clover just appeared in the bed, but may have come from the lawn that was removed. I will watch and wait to see which plant overcomes the others first and then choose what to do. But perhaps the main lesson is that nature does not like bare soil and has plants eminently suited to making sure it doesn’t stay that way for long.
After my post a few weeks ago about a lack of bees, there are more about in both gardens than there were. The Borderland garden is now absolutely buzzing with both bees and other insects. The Telford garden has less, but more than a few weeks ago. They are particularly attracted to a narrow border that was created last year on the edge of the lawn. Amongst other things it was sown with saved carrot and fennel seed (from the other garden). Both the fennel and carrots are now flowering and have made what I am referring to either as my fennel and carrot hedge or fennel and carrot forest. Most of the fennels are above my head height and many of the carrots are up to my shoulder height.
We ate some of the carrots over the winter, but they were the product of carrots saved over successive years and had either reverted to something a bit wilder or crossed with a wild carrot and many were not very good. So I left the remainder in place to flower this year for the insects. They have produced multiples of large globe shaped heads each one containing however many hundreds (or thousands?) of very, very tiny individual flowers. I think they are very lovely viewed individually or en masse.
The new polyculture patch is coming on well. It is full of perennials retrieved from the other garden (oca, mashua, scorzonera, skirret, ground nut, Jerusalem artichoke, yacon, Welsh onions) plus wild rocket, kales daikon radish, peas and beans, shallots, herbs, potatoes, squash, courgette and some flowers.
and finally – some biodiversity found under a burdock leaf (our cat Fleur)
PS I will be at Shrewsbury Flower Show on 8 and 9 August in the “Our Futures” Marquee with a feature on edible perennial gardening.
Posted in Borderland Garden, Edible Perennial Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, Polycultures
Tagged biodiversity, jerusalem artichoke, mashua, Oca, scorzonera, skirret, Welsh onion, wild rocket
While I was writing Edible Perennial Gardening I knew it needed some very clear illustrations to help make certain points. I was therefore incredibly fortunate to have a friend with an amazing talent for drawing who took my very rough and scrappy diagrams and utterly transformed them into lovely illustrations.
Emma is a freelance illustrator who adores drawing the natural world and she would love the opportunity to work on other similar (or different) projects. Her website with details of her work and her contact details are here:
I don’t know if this will reach all the people who had spam emails that came from my email today, but I hope that it gets to quite a few of you. I think it was probably caused by two messages that came via WordPress (ie this blog) with spam content. Such messages have never before come into my email and I used email to delete them. I think that must have been the action that allowed something to take hold. I am always very careful with emails, but this got past me. I am wiser now.
We have just been on holiday in the north east of England, close by Newcastle upon Tyne. The sights that have caught my eye whilst up there include:
Northumberlandia – The Lady of the North
This is a wonderful sculpture in the landscape adjacent to the site of a working open cast coal mine. You can walk round gently curving paths with grasses and wild flowers sweeping in the wind. The paths are on a landform shaped to be a woman’s body and they gently envelope pools. It is hard to imagine without seeing it and even the pictures on the website don’t really do it justice. If you are ever in the Cramlington area do go. The history and purpose are described on the website:
This project is known as restoration first – taking an extra piece of land donated by the landowner, the Blagdon Estate, adjacent to the mine and providing a new landscape for the community to enjoy while the mine is still operational. ……..The inspiration for the landform comes from the distant Cheviot Hills, which are pulled into the foreground by the curves and shapes of the female form used for Northumberlandia. We naturally look for patterns and shapes in the landscape around us and the scale of the landform means the female form is not seen as a figure all of the time. As you walk around the paths you have to use this natural recognition of the human form to pick out the shape of the figure. For much of the time it appears just as a series of graceful sweeping curves and interlocking shapes.
When I am on holiday I love to see other people’s gardens. They don’t have to be fancy or large gardens, I like to just discover little bits and pieces that attract my attention. I particularly enjoyed coming across these two:
St Mary’s Lighthouse, Whitley Bay
In the very small patch of ground around the base of the lighthouse is a small garden with raised beds. They are packed with herbs and flowers in a very windy and exposed position, but look great nevertheless.
This lovely sea kale caught my eye – I think it is probably the variety ‘Lily White’. It made me want to try growing sea kale again – when I tried before it always died, but I would love one like this.
Bede’s World Herb Garden
Bede’s World is primarily a museum about the ‘Venerable’ Bede – a 7th century British monk and scholar. It is shows a fascinating account of his life and times which includes a herb garden – unfortunately it was a bit windy and my photos of the garden were blurred. There is also a fascinating reconstruction of a farm and buildings from that time.
How are the bees (and other insects) doing where you are this year?
As I have been watching my Telford garden this year I have noticed that there seem to be far fewer bees than in previous years. I have all the same flowers (towers of foxgloves, calendula, toad flax, chives, land cress) that bees have loved and could not get enough of, and in some cases even more of them than before.
The Borderland garden is faring a bit better and has some bees and other insects – fewer butterflies than last year, and I think, less bees but more than in Telford.
It would be good to see what other people’s experience is so far this summer.
I tend to leave the edges of the garden away from the vegetable polycultures to do their own thing as far as is practical. I have an ever increasing respect for nature knowing what is best and like to trust her to fill in these gaps as she pleases. What I have then noticed as a consequence is that nature’s tendency to is towards what we might look on as excess. Every part of the space is used, plants crowd in upon each other, grow through each other, bunch up tightly, cover all the ground and then spread upwards, laying themselves layer upon layer on top of each other. Seeing how this happens encourages me in turn to allow the cultivated parts of the garden to fill up with far more plants than I might otherwise have thought wise.
A very small stream runs across the very front of the front garden. I spent a very pleasant time there one sunny morning last week with a fascinated two year old. She was discovering that the water moved and exclaiming ‘it’s moving’ every time she threw in another piece of leaf or twig. Whilst she played I idly considered the plants that had colonised the other side of the bank. Bearing in mind that beneath them are large boulders with a very shallow layer of soil it is remarkable what nature has planted.
At the base is a layer of a green mat like plant that colonises very damp patches (I don’t know the name). Then there is wild strawberry, campanula, ferns, dandelions, wild garlic, three cornered leek, buttercup, bramble and a few blades of grass. Above this ‘layer’ comes more bramble with hypericum, ferns, nettle, hedge woundwort and clove root. Poking through the top is dock running to seed, cleavers topped by a mass of honeysuckle. That’s about sixteen plants in a few feet of stream side. I am responsible for the wild strawberries, three cornered leek and wild garlic being there, everything else was brought by nature.
I would not want most of these plants in the vegetable polycultures, but allowing them space on the wild edge of the garden increases the scope for biodiversity and as far as I can see must be a good thing. Unplanned and largely untended as it is this steam bank is nevertheless one of the loveliest parts of the garden and I can’t take any responsibility for that at all!