Thinking about strategies

That is to say, thinking about what strategies the plants are using in the garden and how I can appropriately respond.  Yesterday I was tidying up the edge of the lawn working my way along the ‘long border’.  As I went I was looking closely at what was growing and how the individual plants are faring.  It was not long before I saw that the mints I planted last spring were starting to take off in all directions.  ‘That’s hardly surprising!’ I can hear you thinking – we all know that is what mint does and famously that is why people always recommend putting it in a pot rather than in the actual garden.  Well, of course I have to be different – I have never grown mint in a pot – and until yesterday, however unlikely this may sound, I have not seen it do this famous spreading behaviour.

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Mint starting to spread

So there I am patiently working my way along this edge and the garden has given me something to think about, which is what I love to do.  The reason I have never confined mint to a pot is precisely to see what it does naturally.  This is my reasoning with all plants – let them be themselves and see what happens.  In my former, Telford, garden the soil was rich and fertile even before I began experimenting with forest gardening and edible perennials.  There was mint there that did not run and I have mint in one place in this Borderland garden close to the hedge that has not gone very far.  So why the different behaviour?  I am wondering if the rich soil in my old garden meant that the mint did not need to travel?  In the case of the mint near the hedge it may be constrained by the substantial roots of the damson and hawthorns and it is also a bit shady so not ideal conditions for it perhaps.

Regarding the mint in the long border my hunch is that it may be to do with plant strategies for improving the soil and also with gaining the nutrients they need.  The ‘long border’ is characteristic of this garden and this area in that it is clay mixed in with lots of stones derived from the shale rocks that lie very close to the surface and can be clearly seen in woods adjacent to where we live.

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Local rocks in the woodland

I wonder if the mint and the other plants placed in the long border by nature, like docks, dandelions and lots of self seeded salsify, are trying to break up the hard packed soil for me – the mints pushing through sideways and docks and salsify and others (like Jerusalem artichoke) pushing down vertically they are breaking up the structure.  To me that seems worth considering and so I am going to let the plants get on with growing the way they want to and see what happens.

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Mint and salsify with a bit of grass mulch and forget me not

 

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Dock, dandelion and forget me not

 

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Chicory

The main strategy for this bed is to improve the soil alongside growing fruit, herbs, vegetables and flowers.  The other strand to improving the soil is to add as much biomass as possible to it – mainly by mulching with plants from the border and some other materials such as grass cuttings.  So I will use the dock and dandelion leaves as mulch; and the same goes for the chicory I planted – it gets far too large if allowed to grow unrestricted, but is a useful source of mulch.  In the meantime the roots of these plants make themselves useful below ground.

As well as adding biomass mulching between the plants I want to encourage enables me to suppress some that I am not so keen on at present (like herb Robert); in due course the flowering plants and other herbs and vegetables will close the gaps.

I do not think I will need to do much over the coming summer to keep it all in a reasonable balance and of course it will be interesting to see how far the mint does spread.  I am prepared to eat my words (as well as the mint) and find out in due course that this was a silly strategy, but the deeper point is that I will always want to find out what plants actually do in practice and not just take the ‘accepted wisdom’ as a given.  My ongoing aim to be in a co-operative agreement with nature whereby she is given as much freedom as possible and I gently ‘tweak’ the system towards the set goals.

This is the most wonderful weekend this year – warm sunshine, birdsong and such abundance spring up everywhere.  Winter is over and the world is celebrating!

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Long Border April 2017

Posted in Borderland Garden, Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, Relationship with nature, Telford Garden | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My favourite flowers – for me, for bees and for lots of other lovely insects

I may have many other ‘favourite’ plants beside these, but these three are if you like, my favourite of favourites for being utterly lovely, attracting bees and many, many other insects and they need as many as we can possibly provide for them.

Spring us just about upon us and many of us will be busy planning and planting in the coming weeks.  To feed as many bees and other insects please include these three lovely members of the apiaciae family (previously known as umbellifers):

Fennel – the herb rather than the vegetable.  I have large clumps along a path and the plants are literally buzzing through the summer.

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Fennel and carrot in long border summer 2014

Carrot has the most remarkable number of individual flowers on each head and is incredibly beautiful.  For flowers this year, plant a carrot, for flowers next year sow some seed and leave the plants over the winter, they won’t die!

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Carrot in flower

Flat leafed parsley – plants purchased this year may be in either their first or their second year of growth; if they don’t flower this year, leave them in to do so next year.  Seeds sown this year will flower next year.  If you let even one plant go to seed as I did in this border you will eventually have an absolute mass of plants all flowering together which is one of the most loveliest sights I have ever seen.

Flat leafed parsley in flower

There are lots of other plants in this family which are all similarly attractive to bees and other insects.  Early in the year there is sweet cicely and angelica which can be sown this year for flowering next year.  I should have seeds of both to spare from my plants later on this spring or summer – leave a comment for me if you would like some.

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Angelica about to flower

 

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Sweet cicely

Posted in Borderland Garden, Flowers, Relationship with nature | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Forest gardens are natural systems

From the outset a forest garden is designed as a natural system.  We provide the physical structure – various edible trees, climbers, shrubs, herbaceous perennials and some annuals – to make the best use of the physical space and ensure a diversity of plants for the various needs of an ecosystem.  After that it is largely up to nature to work her magic.  Diversity ensures health, an abundance of biomass which is allowed to compost naturally back into the soil ensures increasing fertility.  Allowing plants to flower and set seed calls forth new generations and fills gaps and nature adds her own plants in from the wind or from the seedbank of the generations before that is sitting in the soil waiting for the opportunity to grow.  This enhances diversity and makes the system yet more resilient.

When I began my forest gardening adventure I had in mind to make minimal interventions and let nature have as free a hand as possible.  This has continued to be my practice and will remain so.  I have quickly looked through photos from 2016 from March to December to illustrate nature’s role as primary gardener – there were hundreds to choose from so here is my selection:

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Last summer’s mashua stems covering the ground through the winter – habitat for insects and protection for the soil

 

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Blackbird feasting on ivy berries

 

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Ground cover beneath gooseberry bush, self sown lamb’s lettuce and salsify amidst twiggy debris

 

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Chives, parsley and bugle were planted here, forget me not and dandelion added by nature

 

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Leaf beet, self sown from the previous year’s seed

 

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Tree onions growing very strongly, surrounded by clover, marjoram, land cress, skirret, fennel and with some dead plant material (possibly land cress) feeding the soil behind them.

 

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A forest of fennel – incredible for the bees and hoverflies in summer then the seeds feed blue tits in winter

 

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Sunset apples on a tree which has been in the garden for three years

 

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Daubenton’s kale cutting from the previous year has spread to lean across the lawn and is growing strongly as the autumn approaches.

 

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November now and the frost has come. Plants are bending to the cold but the oca, Jerusalem artichoke and mashua here will give a harvest yet.

 

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December, the garden is sleeping but the structure is in place to provide habitat for wildlife over the winter months and to protect the soil.

 

And it was also beautiful – largely thanks to the flowers planted by nature:

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Salsify flower land cress and forget me not behind

 

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The ‘triangle’ bed

 

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Self sown Californian poppy and self sown vetch

 

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Self sown foxgloves

 

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Yarrow, vetch and fennel

 

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Polyculture edged with nasturtiums and fennel

 

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Jerusalem artichoke in flower

Standing on the cusp of spring 2017 I am so looking forward to what unfolds this year.

 

 

Posted in biomass, Borderland Garden, Flowers, Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, Polycultures, Relationship with nature | 5 Comments

The rules of spacing

From one of my favourite bloggers – Luke Simon – who blogs asn ‘Mortal Tree’ – a fascinating and informative post about how trees grow. I am going to order the book he recommends right now as it looks amazing.

Mortal Tree

I was at a Christmas party in conversation with a local Timken engineer who, hearing I design food forests, wanted to pick my brain on apple trees. He had six trees in two rows of three, well spaced in his backyard. He was throwing out terms about the mainstream organic sprays he was using, and framed his questions expecting me to know some super organic spray, or spray regimen, that would fix his problems of pests and low vigor in general. I don’t think he expected the answer I gave: ‘What’s planted around the trees?’

We often think of the rules of spacing as rules for keeping other plants away from each other. In practice I find the lines blur between species, and enters a much more broad science: it’s what should be included near the plant, as well as what shouldn’t. Between these two aspects, you make or break…

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Pennard Plants

The range of suppliers that provide interesting heritage and perennial vegetables is increasing all the time.  I used to survey all the companies I knew of each year to provide a summary for readers but that would be too big a job now!  So I want to do the occasional blog post to bring attention to certain seed suppliers and plant nurseries that I think are particularly good.  Pennard Plants are one of these.

I have been ordering from them for years, since my early days of sourcing perennial vegetables and I would think I have had something every year since.  This week I have just taken delivery of three step-over fruit trees, a hydrophyllum virginianum, a Chinese celery and a mouse garlic plant – all new to me.  More about the fruit trees soon once they have been planted properly.

If you click here you will find a super range of wild and unusual edibles and here for a range of unusual edible plants.  There are plenty of other things to browse as well!

I have just spotted some perennial buckwheat and other things I did not order before, so am about to do so.

The sun has been shining this afternoon and my partner and I have been out in the garden tidying up a bit and admiring the snowdrops and aconites, the lamb’s lettuce and the many and various plants and shrubs that are preparing to burst forth soon!

Posted in Borderland Garden, Edible Perennial Gardening, Fruit trees, perennial greens, roots and tubers, Suppliers | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Readers’ reviews on Amazon

Hello everyone – this is more of a letter than a blog post.

Since my book – Edible Perennial Gardening – was published in 2014 I have been delighted to receive a number of emails and also personal comments about how much people have enjoyed it.  As it is coming up to Christmas and lots of people enjoy giving and receiving books as presents I thought I would make a suggestion about my own book.

Permanent Publications (my publishers) suggested to me that I ask anyone who has enjoyed it to write a review on Amazon as so many of us find other people’s reviews very helpful in deciding whether or not to buy something.  I know I often look at Amazon reviews of books I am thinking of getting, although whenever possible I buy them elsewhere.  I don’t think you have to have bought through Amazon to leave a review on there, so I shall leave it to those of you who have enjoyed my book to consider posting something on there.

For anybody who has not got a copy and would like one, it is available through Green Shopping which is the trading part of Permanent Publications and if people buy this way I get more of the proceeds!  Today the price is £13.45 at Green Shopping and £14.95 on Amazon, which is actually not what I had expected to find.

Best wishes, Anni x

 

Posted in Edible Perennial Gardening | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Review of spring polyculture patch

This bed was started in the spring of 2014.  Originally I just needed somewhere to transplant a number of perennial vegetables from my first bed in this garden (below) which was about to be covered over with an extension to the house.

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First polyculture patch, September 2013

The original polyculture bed that I was about to lose had been ‘constructed’ the previous year  from all manner of organic materials found in the garden – decomposed leaves etc from the hedge, ivy from the hedge, lawn cuttings, hedge trimmings and more.  Over the first growing season it had taken on a reasonable texture and I wanted to re-use this material.

The spring polyculture bed lies on the southern border of the garden adjacent to an evergreen hedge.  The garden slopes down to the south and also to the west, so the corner of this bed that lies in the south west corner of the garden is damp and shady as it also lies in the shade of the neighbouring house and fence.  It is a curvy shape, about 6.5 m long and between 1.75 and 2 m deep.

On top of the lawn, without removing any turf, I first laid some decent sized branches that had died within the hedge and some that I had also cut out.  On top and amongst these I placed other woody, twiggy materials and then covered these with the material from the original polyculture.  I put an edge of stones taken from other parts of the garden and put a decorative edge of willow round it. To my mind the decorative edge was not strictly necessary, but knowing that the planting was going to be unconventional the edging was included to provide some reassurance to the neighbours.

 

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Spring polyculture patch, just finished March 2014

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Spring polypatch being planted May 2014

Over time the bed has been extended lengthways to where it meets an apple tree.  It has also been built up with upturned turfs removed from elsewhere in the garden and lawn cuttings.

The current aims is for this bed are:

  • To grow leafy greens and fruits
  • For the slightly newer westerly end, which is sunnier and better drained – to grow different onions and a few root vegetables.
  • Across the whole bed to supplement the edible planting with herbs and flowers for both visual effect and for the insects
  • To be as maintenance free as possible

The table below gives a comprehensive list of what is in the bed at the moment.  As noted in my previous review posts in the table the purposes the plants can have are:

  • Edible
  • Flowering
  • Medicinal properties
  • For biomass – at the end of the season, or sooner if they are too large for their space I cut back plants and mulch the ground where they grew, feeding organic material to the soil.
  • To supply nitrogen
  • To help break up the soil

My observation is that every plant that flowered attracted a good deal of insect life and was also visually delightful so my notation of ‘flowers’ in the table is intended to reflect this dual purpose (unless noted otherwise the flowering period is summer).

Name Purpose When sown and notes
Root vegetables    
Jerusalem artichoke Edible root

Biomass

 

Probably planted 2014

Will harvest later and replant for next year.

Mashua Edible root Not yet harvested.  Remains of last year’s crop not intentionally planted in this area as it gets a bit big.  Have been cutting / pulling it back through the summer.
Oca Edible root Not yet harvested
Salsify Edible root

Flowers

Replanted from other borders where they were too congested.  To leave to flower.
Skirret Edible root

Flowers

Planted 2014/5

Not harvested yet, will be digging up and splitting the plants at some point.

Onions (alliums)    
Chives Planted along the edge for decoration as well as for cutting.
Perennial leek Edible Planted 2014/5

Not harvested this year, produced flower heads and large collections of bulbils.

Three cornered leek Edible leaves and flowers Some planted in previous years, self seeds and increases each year.
Welsh onion Edible Transplanted from another bed in 2015, being left to grow and multiply.
Wild garlic Edible leaves and flowers Planted along the back edge in 2016 to help prevent grass and buttercups growing over the bed.
Fruit    
Blackcurrant Edible fruit Maturing bush, has buds on for fruit next year.
Gooseberry

Hinomaki red

Edible fruit Young plant from cutting not mature enough to fruit yet.
Jostaberry Edible fruit Maturing plant, should fruit next year.
June berry Edible berries Planted 2015

Still a young plant, no fruits yet.

Wild strawberry Edible fruit Small plants along the edge produce small quantities of fruit through the summer.
Edible greens and herbs  
Buckshorn plantain Edible leaves Sown from seed in 2015.  Small plants struggling a little bit in the damp, shady end.
Cardoon Edible leaves and flower buds

Flowers

Young plant, still small.
Fennel Culinary and medicinal herb

Flowers

Transplanted from elsewhere.

Fantastic for insects, harvested for seeds, blue tits also eat seeds.

Good King Henry Edible greens Trying again in 2016 after finding out this is palatable if soaked in salt water before cooking.
Lamb’s lettuce Edible greens

Spring flowers

Self set 2016
Land cress Edible greens

Spring flowers

Originally sown in 2014, has been re-seeding since then.
Lemon balm Culinary herb
Marjoram Culinary herb

Flowers

Planted 2014

Not harvested, has attracted insects and looked lovely.

Sorrel Edible leaves Planted 2014.

Substantial perennial plant.

Sweet cicely Culinary herb

Flowers

Planted 2014

Attractive flowers

Wild rocket Edible greens

Flowers

Probably self set one or two years ago.

Not harvested, more in the garden than we need.

Flowering plants    
Bugle Flowers, not edible Transplanted from elsewhere in the garden for edging.
Buttercup (creeping) Flowers Already in the garden.  I always pull this up when I see it.
Calendula Flowers Has been re-seeding itself each year
Clove root Wild flower Already in the garden.  I always pull this up when I see it.
Daffodil Spring flowers

 

Planted 2014

Attractive flowers

Dandelion Wild flower Here already
Forget me nots Spring flowers

 

Self set 2015

Attractive flowers

Foxglove Flowers, not edible Spring flowering plant.
Honesty Flowers, not edible Spring flowering plant.
Nettle Edible leaves Already in garden.  I pull it up from this border.
Parsley Culinary herb

Flowers

Donated plant from a friend, half dead on arrival.  Planted and left to flower to get more plants next year.
Pulmonaria Flowers, not edible Spring flowering plant.
Radish Flowers Has been in the bed for several years, self seeding each year.  Not grown for root but for flowers which are amazing.  Flowers are edible as are young pods and flower shoots.

 

Self heal Medicinal herb

Flowers

Transplanted in 2014 from elsewhere in garden
Wild marjoram Culinary herb

Flowers

Has been in the bed since the beginning, lovely!
Yarrow Flowers
Others    
Dock Wild plant

Tap root to break up stony soil

Leaves for accumulating nutrients

Here already

Leaves pulled when too large / encroaching on other plants and mulched on bed

Spring pea Garden plant bought for early flowers and nitrogen fixing.
Ground ivy Spread from next door and is prone to over run this and other beds.  I will be removing it as far as possible next year.

Assessment

This bed very quickly established itself, looking very good and producing harvests in its first year.

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Spring polypatch, August 2014

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Spring polypatch, August 201

It has continued to be easy to look after, productive and attractive!

 

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Spring polypatch in August 2015 (second year)

Harvests

  • Lamb’s lettuce which self seeds from year to year. Harvests can start early in the year and last for several months until the plants run to flower and seed.
  • Land cress – some plants stay in situ and new ones are self set. Harvests are from early in the year for several months.  Later, larger leaves can be cooked.
  • Wild rocket – harvests are from spring to late autumn every year.
  • Leaf beet – some plants stay in situ and new ones are self set. Harvests are from spring until the plants send up flower shoots.  I let the seeds ripen and collect them to share with others.
  • Variegated Daubenton’s kale does not flower and is potentially ‘harvestable’ all year round. This year has been a very good year with harvests through much of the summer.  I take cuttings in autumn and winter to propagate more plants.
  • Other kales – currently Taunton Deane and Asturian kale. Harvestable in the spring, autumn and winter.
  • Herby harvests have included chives and lemon balm. The former for salads and the latter for herbal tea to help me sleep – for which it is very effective.
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Asturian kale, spring polypatch August 2016

 

Fertility

This bed is elevated above the level of the underlying stony, clay soil and has a high proportion of organic material within it.  It has developed a lovely textured soil, full of worms that seems very fertile and produces good, healthy plants. It doesn’t need any additional edging to hold it in place.

I have tried growing peas in this bed for additional nitrogen fixing, but they don’t grow at all well.  I will try with more field beans next year, which I think I have used here before.

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Spring polypatch, August 2016

Flowers and biodiversity

This bed has lots of flowers in the spring – wild garlic, three cornered leek, sweet cicely, forget me nots, pulmonaria, honesty and more.  In the summer it is awash with radish and marjoram flowers but could include more variety, which is something to think about for next year.

Because of the dampness here I have several times spotted frogs and toads lurking just beneath the soil surface.  There are no ponds or streams very close so it is good that this provides a suitably damp habitat for them.

Maintenance

This bed looks after itself very well apart from the need to keep on top of the buttercups that would surely over run it in this damp corner if I did not remove them.  They still grow in the lawn behind the bed, so will continue to be a ‘problem’.

There is not a problem with slugs here, though you might expect that given the damp conditions.  This is due at least in part to them not really being present when I started this garden.

Cabbage white butterflies are a problem later in the year.  To begin with I do take off either the eggs or the affected leaves, but after a while they get ahead of me and I give up.  This year when we went on holiday in September there were lots of caterpillars all over the kales, but by the end of October the plants had re-grown and I was harvesting

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Spring polypatch, November 2016

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Spring polypatch November 2016

This is what it looked like this morning on a glorious, sunny, frosty, clear November day!

Posted in Borderland Garden, Fruit, perennial greens, Perennial Vegetables, Polycultures | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments