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.
KODAK Digital Still Camera

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.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

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

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Spring polypatch, November 2016

KODAK Digital Still Camera

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 , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review of ‘The Long Border’

This review of the bed I call ‘The Long Border’ is the second of a number of reviews I am undertaking to assess how the garden is changing and developing.  My previous post on ‘The Triangle Bed’ gives further details of my change of approach.

When we first moved here the garden was all laid down to lawn and my partner and I took up a narrow strip along the path in the first year of gardening here (2013) which was the beginnings of this bed.

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The Long Border being carved out of the lawn

It was widened the following year and again in 2015.  It now measures 11 m long by 1.5 m deep.  It lies in front of the property alongside the house.

In March this year it was looking quite dormant but quickly sprang into life.

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Long border March 2016

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Long Border May 2016

This is how it looked yesterday, not bad for November.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Long Border November 2016

From the outset it has been developed as a polyculture, initially of fruit bushes and herbs, flowers and vegetables.  In 2014 it provided increased growing space to put plants and sow seeds that needed a home before other beds were developed.  In 2015 eight fruit trees were planted, with the intention of keeping them very small, more like bushes than trees.  This year I decided to simplify the contents of this bed somewhat, but even so counting up the plants listed in the table below there are 77 different plants.

The current aims is for this bed are:

  • to look attractive for as long as possible
  • to have flowers for many different insects for as much of the year as possible
  • to produce fruit (in due course) and herbs and possibly other edible crops
  • to be largely free of the need for ongoing maintenance.

In practice maintenance is generally taking out unwanted plants and to this end I have planted a number of oca plants between the bushes and trees as a ground cover.  Oca has proven to be tolerant of winter conditions here so I can safely leave them in over the winter to provide an even thicker ground cover next year.  Eventually I will probably harvest some.

The ground hereabouts is very, very stony combined with heavy clay.  The underlying rock is shale and breaks readily but occurs in awkwardly shaped pieces that are resistant to my trowel.  I have never attempted to dig this bed apart from planting things and that was a big challenge when planting the trees.  However plant roots are doing the job for me.  The carrots that I sowed originally and latterly self sown salsify, scorzonera, burdock, dandelion and dock, plus others have loosened and lightened the soil considerably.  I have been adding mulch on top to increase the organic content, largely using the plants that have grown in the border.

 

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Cardoon, chokeberry and others 2016

I have prepared a table below to catalogue the plants and their intended purpose and where applicable whether that was achieved.  A few brief conclusions are given at the end.

For 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    
Burdock Edible root

Flowers

Self set 2015

Not harvested, one has seeded from plants elsewhere this summer

Earth nut pea Edible root

Flowers

Planted 2013

Seeds harvested to be shared and sown next year.  Tubers too hard to harvest at present, stony soil breaks the underground ‘strings’ they are attached to.

Jerusalem artichoke Edible root

Biomass

 

Probably planted 2014

Will harvest later in year and remove from this bed.

Oca Edible root, but planted as ground cover. Planted 2016

After a slow start, did cover some ground.

Parsnip Edible root, plant left to flower for the seed. Self set in 2014 or 2015.  Seeds harvested and scattered in vicinity.
Root chicory Edible root

Flowers

Biomass

Grew far too large for the bed.  Roots cannot be harvested as stony soil breaks them.  Large amount used for biomass mulch.
Salsify Edible root

Flowers

Self set 2016

Not harvested, will leave to flower, tap root is helping to loosen compacted soil.

Scorzonera Edible root

Flowers

Planted 2014

Seeds saved to be shared and sown soon.  Root not harvested yet.

Skirret Edible root

Flowers

Planted 2014

Not harvested yet, will be digging up and possibly moving later in the year.

Onions (alliums)    
Nodding onion Edible

Flowers

Planted 201

Not harvested, allowing to grow larger.

Allium Mount Everest

 

Edible

Flowers

Planted 2016

Used as decorative species.

Allium nutans (blue chives) Edible

Flowers

Planted 2015

Nibbled (possibly slugs) relocated elsewhere.

Perennial leek Edible Planted 2014

Sent up flower shoot but immature and bulbils did not form.  Move to better soil.

Garlic Edible Planted 2015

All bulbs harvested and some replanted.

Fruit    
Blackcurrant Edible fruit Planted 2013

Young plant, did not fruit.

Cherry ‘Morello’ Edible fruit Planted 2015

Young tree no fruit yet.

Chokeberry Edible fruit Brought from previous garden, planted 2013.  First year of good fruiting.  Fruit left for birds.
Gage ‘Reine Claude de Bavay’ Edible fruit Planted 2015

Young tree no fruit yet.

Gooseberry

Hinomaki red

Edible fruit Planted 2013

Has grown better than the currants and had the first good harvest this year.

Jostaberry Edible Planted 2014

First year of berry production, not harvested as away and birds had them.

June berry Edible berries Planted 2015

Still a young plant, no fruits yet

Mirabelle ‘Ruby’ Edible fruit Planted 2015

Young tree no fruit yet.

Mirabelle ‘Golden Globe’ Edible fruit Planted 2015

Young tree no fruit yet.

Pear ‘Concorde’ Edible fruit Planted 2015

Young tree no fruit yet.

Pear ‘Invincible’ Edible fruit Planted 2015

Young tree no fruit yet.

Quince ‘Vranja’ Edible fruit Planted 2015

Young tree no fruit yet.

Redcurrant Edible fruit Planted 2013

Young plant, had a few berries.

Whitecurrant Edible fruit Planted 2013

Young plant, had a few berries.

Edible greens and herbs  
Bay Culinary herb Planted 2015 as small cuttings, still very small but growing now.
Catmint Herb

Flowers

Planted in 2014
Cardoon Edible leaves and flower buds

Flowers

Planted in 2014.  Keep meaning to harvest leaves in spring, but have not done so yet.
Fennel Culinary and medicinal herb

Flowers

Seeds sown in 2013, recurring / increasing since.

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

Hosta Edible leaf shoots

Attractive plant

Planted 2016
Hyssop Insect plant

Flowers

Planted 2016
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.
Lavender Herb

Flowers

Several planted in 2016
Marjoram Culinary herb

Flowers

Planted 2014

Not harvested, has attracted insects and looked lovely.

Mints (various) Culinary herb

Flowers

Several planted in 2016

Some harvests

Rosemary Culinary herb

Flowers

Planted in 2013

Cut back this year as getting too large.

Sweet cicely Culinary herb

Flowers

Planted 2014

Attractive flowers

Thymes Culinary herb

Flowers

Several planted 2016
Wall germander and hedge germander Culinary herb

Flowers

Transplanted from triangle bed in 2016

Attractive flowers

Valerian Medicinal herb

Flowers

Planted in 2016
Wild rocket Edible greens

Flowers

Probably self set one or two years ago.

Not harvested, more in the garden than we need.

Flowering plants    
Agapanthus Flowers Planted 2016
Annual flax Flowers

Seeds

Sown in 2016
Achillea (yarrow), wild Flowers Self set in 2016
Buttercup (creeping) Flowers Already in the garden.  I always pull this up when I see it.
Calendula Flowers Self set 2015
Californian poppy Late spring and summer flowers Self set 2015

 

Christmas rose Winter flowers Planted 2016
Clove root Wild flower Already in the garden.  I always pull this up when I see it.
Crocus Spring flowers Planted 2016
Cyclamen Autumn flowers Planted 2016
Daffodil Spring flowers

 

Planted 2014

Attractive flowers

Dandelion Wild flower Here already
Day lily Edible flowers Planted 2014

Not harvested

Forget me nots Spring flowers

 

Self set 2015

Attractive flowers

Herb Robert Wild flower Already present in the garden.  I allow it to roam for a bit and then pull it up.
Nasturtium Flowers Sown in 2016
Nettle Edible leaves Already in garden.  I pull it up from this border.
Nigella (love in a mist) Flowers

Edible spice

Self sown from previous years
Penstemon Flowers Planted 2016
Polemium Flowers Planted 2014
Radish Edible plant but grown for its flowers Self sown from elsewhere in the garden in 2015/6.
Rose x 2 Flowers

 

2 plants brought from previous garden planted 2014, another added the same year
Sage Culinary and medicinal herb

Flowers

Planted 2016
Self heal Medicinal herb

Flowers

Transplanted in 2014 from elsewhere in garden
Vetch Wild flower

Nitrogen fixer

Wild gathered seeds sown previously.  Very attractive flowers.
White clover Flowers

Nitrogen fixer

Present in garden before I arrived.
Willow herb Wild flower Present in the garden before I arrived.  I usually pull this out before it sets seed.
Others    
Acer Small decorative tree relocated from previous garden Planted 2013

Growing very slowly, looks attractive

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

Mustard Green manure

Spring flowers

Sown in 2015

Left to set seed, seeds harvested

Field beans Edible beans

Nitrogen fixer

Sown in 2015 from previous crop of beans.
Tulbaghia Similar to onion but different family, edible

Flowers

Planted 2015

Assessment

Harvests

There has been a continual potential harvest of edible greens from this bed that I have largely ignored.  In the spring there were young leaves of land cress, lamb’s lettuce and wild rocket which I did harvest for salads, but later land cress and wild rocket both of which I can cook if they are too strong went largely unharvested.

Herbs, mainly mints and thymes were harvested once the plants were large enough.

The fruit trees are young yet and are performing differently in response to the ‘small fruit tree method’ I am using.  However most of them are developing what look like fruiting spur side shoots so I hope that they will start to flower and possibly fruit next year.

The chokeberry flowered and fruited well for the first time, but I left the berries for the birds.

The red and whitecurrants and gooseberry began to fruit, the gooseberry had a good crop and the blackcurrant and jostaberries may fruit next year.

I have had some Jerusalem artichokes and there will be more to harvest in due course.

Other plants that could be harvested are being left in place, oca for ground cover, earth nut pea as it breaks when I try to dig it up.

I have had some salsify roots, but again these break because of the stony ground.

There have been lots of seeds harvested including calendula, flax and nigella, fennel, earth nut pea, parsnip, Californian poppy, vetch and burdock.

Garlic grows to a good size along the edge of the path.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

the remains of the chicory plant in flower

Fertility

Because the soil is yet largely unimproved and was quite poor to begin with (compacted clay and stones) the fertility in this bed is significantly less than in the main polyculture beds (yet to be reviewed).  I moved some plants earlier in the year and they (tree onions, Welsh onions and other alliums) have grown much faster and larger once transplanted elsewhere.

I have been trying to grow large plants for biomass to add organic matter to the soil.  Jerusalem artichoke and cardoon have done that job well.  Chicory was also good at generating biomass, but was too good, got too large and been cut right back.  I wasn’t able to dig the whole root out.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Californian poppy with vetch climbing cherry tree behind, summer 2016

There are permanent nitrogen fixers in place – earth nut pea, vetch and white clover but I could perhaps include some more; peas don’t grow that well in this border but field beans do.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Salsify flower with land cress and forget me not behind

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Salsify flower and seed head

Flowers and biodiversity

The flowers of calendula, flax, Californian poppy, sweet cicely, marjoram, sage, thyme, valerian, salsify, scorzonera, skirret and burdock all attracted masses of insects, but the fennel was as in previous years an absolute insect paradise.  It also then provided and continues to provide seeds for blue tits.

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Fennel and carrot in long border summer 2014

I have found plenty of beetles and spiders on the ground and one or two amphibians (I didn’t count, but I think one frog, one toad).  There is no surface water nearby apart from puddles but the ground is often damp and there is plenty of mulch to hide beneath.

I have seen snails but they have not been a problem, I have barely noticed any slugs at all in this bed.

Aesthetics

There have been flowers from spring when the land cress, sweet cicely and forget me nots flowered and there are still flowers now in mid November.  Some of them have been absolutely magical.  I am hoping to enhance this by planting lots of white flowering plants the end near our lounge.  Some other flowering plants have been moved to increase their visual impact.  In addition I may decide to sow some more carrots next spring for flowers in 2018.

This picture was from last summer and is something I would dearly be able to bring together again – nature did it for me on that occasion!

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Love in a mist seed heads, calendula and Tulbaghia 2015

 

 

Posted in Borderland Garden, Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, Polycultures, Seeds and seed saving | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The ‘Triangle Bed’

This is the first of a number of reviews I am undertaking this year.  In previous years I have always made a note of the time spent working in the garden and the amount of produce I have harvested as an indicator of the effectiveness of this means of gardening.  Having done this for a number of years I am happy in my own mind that I get plentiful edible rewards for a small amount of labour.  So this year whilst I have continued to record the time I spend, I have not recorded the weight of the harvests.  Even if I were to record the weight of the harvest it would be much less than the maximum amount that has grown because in a multifunctional and largely perennial garden:

  • Some plants are saved to make more for future years, eg many of the alliums (onion family plants)
  • Some plants are shared with other people
  • Some are more productive than I actually can use eg kales and other greens
  • Some harvests I just don’t get round to – I haven’t yet tried eating cardoon leaves although I fully intend to each year.
  • Some harvests I leave for other creatures such as some raspberries for birds.

I think it is important to assess what I am doing in some way and decided to review the garden bed by bed on the basis of what function(s) I had intended for each bed and the plants in it to perform.

This first review is of what I call ‘The Triangle Bed’ and until just now when I went out to measure it I was under the impression that it had three sides.  Actually it has five!  They measure approximately 6 x 4 x 3 x 2.5 x 2.5 metres.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Triangle Bed June 2016

It is the first bed you see on entering the property and lies alongside the house.  Therefore one of the main purposes is for it to look good.  However, that is not sufficient for me!  I want multifunctional beds as well as multifunctional plants.  To ensure that something is living / growing all year round which is important for fertility I have planted shrubby perennial bushes, small trees and herbaceous perennials.  They also provide some measure of structure.  Some herbaceous perennials are for flowers and others for their edible parts.  Importantly there are herbs for the kitchen.  I also use the bed for looking after plants that I want to watch over more closely when starting to grow them.  Altogether there are 57 different plants growing here.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Triangle Bed June 2016

I have prepared a table below to catalogue the plants and their intended purpose and where applicable whether that was achieved.  A few brief conclusions are given at the end.

For 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 which is dominated by clay and stones.
KODAK Digital Still Camera

Marjoram in Triangle Bed August 2016

 

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    
Burdock Edible root

Flowers

Self set 2016

Not harvested, one has seeded from plants elsewhere this summer

Chinese artichoke Edible root Planted 2016

Some shared and will harvest some later in year

Evening primrose Edible root

Flowers

Planted 2015

Roots not tried yet, seeds harvested for next year

Jerusalem artichoke Edible root Probably planted 2014

Will harvest later in year

Mashua Edible root, but planted as ground cover Planted 2016

After a slow start, did cover ground.

Oca Edible root, but planted as ground cover Planted 2016

After a slow start, did cover ground.

Parsnip Edible root, plant left to flower for the seed 2 self set 2016 and 1 planted previous year

New plants, not harvested, the other set seed which has been harvested and sown.

Salsify Edible root

Flowers

Self set 2016

Not harvested, will leave to flower, tap root is helping to loosen compacted soil

Skirret Edible root

Flowers

Planted 2014

Not harvested yet, will be digging up and possibly moving later in the year.

Yacon Edible root A small plant that has only just reappeared in November.  Discovered in summer 2015 when I thought I had lost my crop (in someone else’s care over the winter).  This plant had overwintered in 2014/5 and again in 2015/6.
Onions (alliums)    
Allium hookeri Zorami Edible

 

Planted 2016

Not harvested, allowing to grow larger.

Allium nutans (blue chives) Edible

Flowers

Planted 2016

Not harvested, allowing to grow larger.

Allium senescens ssp senescens Edible Planted 2016

Not harvested, allowing to grow larger.

Allium walichii Edible

Flowers

Planted 2016

Not harvested, allowing to grow larger.

Day lily Edible flowers Planted 2014

Not harvested

Garlic Edible Planted 2015

All bulbs harvested and some replanted

Three cornered leek Edible

Flowers

Self set and just appeared for first time in this border
Fruit    
Blackcurrant Edible Planted 2014

Young plant, did not fruit.

Cherry, Cariad Edible Planted 2013?

Young tree, had a few cherries.

Jostaberry Edible Planted 2014

First year of berry production, not harvested as away and birds had them.

June berry Edible berries Planted 2015

Still a young plant, no fruits yet

Quince (type) Edible Planted 2015

Did not fruit

Edible greens and herbs  
Bay Culinary herb Planted 2015 as small cuttings, still very small but growing now.
Elecampane Herb

Flowers

Planted 2015

Attracted insects, attractive flowers

Fennel Culinary and medicinal herb

Flowers

Planted 2014

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

Hyssop Insect plant

Flowers

Planted 2014

Has attracted insects and looked lovely

Lamb’s lettuce Edible greens

Flowers

Self set 2016

Not harvested, only just appeared, currently tiny

Lemon balm Culinary and medicinal herb

Flowers

Planted 2014

Harvested for herbal tea

Marjoram Culinary herb

Flowers

Planted 2014

Not harvested, has attracted insects and looked lovely.

Parsley Culinary herb

Flowers

Self set 2016

Leaves harvested, not yet flowered (next year).

Savoury Culinary herb

Flowers

Planted 2014

Attractive flowers

Sweet cicely Culinary herb

Flowers

Planted 2014

Attractive flowers

Thymes Culinary herb

Flowers

Planted 2014

Not harvested, has attracted insects and looked lovely.

Wall germander and hedge germander 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    
Alchemilla mollis Attractive plant In the garden originally, self set in this bed
Annual flax Flowers

Seeds

Sown in 2016
Aquilegia Flowers Self set from neighbour’s garden plants

 

Bird’s foot trefoil Nitrogen fixer

Flowers

Self set in 2014
Bugle Flowers transplanted from elsewhere in garden 2014

 

Calendula Flowers Self set 2016
Californian poppy Late spring and summer flowers

 

Self set 2016

 

Cowslip Spring flowers

 

Self set 2014

 

Daffodil Spring flowers

 

Planted 2014

Attractive flowers

Dandelion Wild flower

 

Here already

 

Forget me nots Spring flowers

 

Self set 2015

Attractive flowers

Honesty Spring flowers

 

Self set 2016

 

Lungwort Early spring flowers Planted in 2015
Mallow Flowers Self set from neighbour’s garden plants

 

Nigella (love in a mist) Flowers

Edible spice

Self sown from previous years
Perennial flax (one white, one blue) Flowers

Seeds

Planted 2016
Rose x 3 Flowers

 

2 plants brought from previous garden planted 2014, another added the same year
Scabious Flowers Self set in 2015
Sweet William Flowers Self set from neighbour’s garden plants

 

Toadflax Flowers Probably brought from previous garden 2014

Attractive flowers

White clover Flowers

Nitrogen fixer

Present in garden before I arrived.
Others    
Acer Small decorative tree relocated from previous garden Planted 2013

Growing very slowly, looks attractive

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

 

My conclusions

Where there is room for tweaking or a different approach:

  • I could grow some larger plants to supply more biomass and also to raise the height of some of the flowers for aesthetic effect.
  • I tried sunflowers but they didn’t grow, couldn’t get established amongst the existing plants.
  • I tried to grow a celeriac bulb bought in the local market to hopefully get flowers and then seeds, but it rotted!
  • I need to include more nitrogen fixers.

 

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Triangle Bed June 2016

However overall I am very pleased with this bed.

  • It has had masses flowers from early spring throughout the summer and still has some in early November.
  • Almost all of these have attracted LOADS of insects, especially fennel and marjoram.
  • I have harvested a good quantity of garlic bulbs and some herbs for the kitchen.
  • There has been life all year round.
  • The plants with deep roots such as dock, burdock, dandelion, parsnip and fennel have helped to improve the soil structure by breaking it up a bit.
  • It has been very easy to maintain and I probably spent less time on this bed than any other.
  • The plants that I wanted to keep an eye on such as the new alliums were just by where I walk every time I come and go, so I could make sure they were safe.

 

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Alchmilla Mollis (Lady’s Mantle) in Triangle Bed June 2016

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End of Triangle Bed June 2016

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Perennial flax and Californian poppy

 

Posted in biomass, Borderland Garden, Flowers, Fruit, Herbs, Perennial Vegetables, review | 3 Comments

Ivy – nature’s larder

Years ago when I began to get to grips with the garden where we previously lived  there was a mass of ivy growing up a fence post.  The post was completely swamped by the ivy and it had made what I then thought of as a tangled mess round and about.  I spent hours carefully removing it, something I would never do now.

In our current garden there is a large stand of ivy growing up an ash tree beside the decking and close to the doorway in to the house which is in flower at this time of year.  By the time we moved here I was well established in a much more natural way of approaching the garden, but even so had not been aware that ivy was such a wonderful plant.  I love its glossy green leaves, globes of pale yellow flowers and neat, spherical black berries and over the four years of gardening here so far I have seen a variety of different creatures feasting on it.

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ivy in flower, going to berries

The flowers attract lots of flies and wasps, but also and much more colourfully, on sunny days it is smothered with red admiral butterflies.  It is rare these days to see more than a single butterfly of any species in the garden.  It took a while to get the pictures as they kept moving about, but eventually they stayed put long enough!

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red admiral on ivy flowers

 

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red admirals feeding on ivy flowers October 2016

At one point I managed to capture seven all at once – if you zoom in they are towards the top of the plant.

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seven red admirals on ivy flowers

Come the winter it attracts blackbirds to feed.

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blackbird feeding on ivy berries

And then in spring blue tits, sparrows and robins love to hop about in the ivy branches.  We placed a nesting box within the clump and as far as we have been able to tell through the thick foliage it has been used in two of the four springs for blue tits to raise their families in.

At the moment it is the wasps that predominate on the ivy and last weekend they kept on coming indoors.  We had a baby granddaughter visiting and understandably the wasps were not popular, but we took it in turns to catch them and put them outside.  I decided to check on what use wasps are – as they are particularly unpopular insects, probably mainly due to their sting.

That took me to the website for the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) from which I have learned that wasps capture, sting and paralyse prey to feed to their larvae.  Different species have different prey such as weevils, caterpillars, flies, aphids and spiders which makes them useful generalists in the grand ecological scheme of things, helping to keep lots of things in balance.

Also on the BWARS website was a feature on the Ivy Bee Colletes hederaeIt said that anyone with large stands of flowering ivy should look for this bee, which is larger than a honeybee and is stripey (which is why I wondered about the wasps).  It has recently come to Britain from the continent and is mainly found in the south.  There is a mapping project to follow its’ spread and the map shows several dots quite close to my location on the very eastern edge of mid Wales. For a while I got quite excited that my wasps might indeed be the ivy bee, but on close inspection and with the benefit of various online pictures and reference works I decided that they are indeed just plain old wasps!

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wasp on ivy flowers

Nevertheless I shall keep a close eye on the ivy just in case some ivy bees do turn up.  I am also allowing more ivy to grow up within the hedge.  Again, in the past I have spent hours removing ivy from a hedge, but now I see its many roles more clearly I am keen to have more.  For a start it will help provide an evergreen barrier in the parts of the hedge which look bare once the leaves have fallen and it will provide more food and habitat for all the creatures I know about and probably many more besides.

In the countryside there is lots of ivy growing within hedges, but probably because of mechanical hedge trimming it doesn’t often get sufficiently mature to flower.  So, if you don’t have any ivy growing in your garden do think about either getting some and letting it grow upwards until it flowers; and if you have some already then let it grow and have fun watching watching what visits.

 

 

 

Posted in Relationship with nature | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Patience

Over the years I have discovered that gardening with perennials is about playing the long game, looking to the future and being patient.  You can’t have what you might want immediately, you may not be able to have it soon either, but with patience there is a good chance you will get it eventually.

I do plan things for the garden, but the plans are fluid and frequently adapted, depending on how things go.

I have one mixed bed of flowers, herbs, fruit and perennial vegetables that I call the triangle bed.  It is bordered on one side by the driveway and on the other two by paths to the house.  It is in a prominent place and I like it to look nice.  Generally I have not planned what to grow here and it has filled up with an eclectic mix of things, some planted by me and some by the wind.  This spring one edge looked like this, very cheery with early flowers of sweet cicely and forget me not.  Later on in spring I decided that for this year I would plant oca and mashua within the central area of the bed mainly as ground covers, allowing the mashua to sprawl rather than to climb.

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sweet cicely, garlic, baby Jerusalem artichoke May 2106

However the soil is thin here and I have not improved it much at all yet.  As a result the oca and mashua got off to a spectacularly slow start, so slow as to be mostly invisible during the summer months.  I don’t have pictures for the central part of the bed that time as I didn’t want to record it not working out.

However what did work unexpectedly well was the lovely display of flowers, brought to the bed mostly courtesy of the wind.

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triangle bed in flower summer 2016

Lately however the oca and mashua have started to assert themselves.  It doesn’t matter to me that this hasn’t happened until now as they are not for cropping (at least not this year).  Both have demonstrated that they are reliably hardy over the winter in this garden so I shall just leave them in place.  Next year they should make a good ground cover in the middle of the bed and a harvest in the autumn or winter.

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oca and mashua starting to grow well in triangle bed autumn 2016

Another bed, that I either call polyculture no. 3 or the end bed lies across the garden encircled by lawn and backed by a hedge.  Like the other polyculture beds alongside it, it comprises branches and sticks from the roadside hedge, with upturned turfs and copious amounts of organic mulch derived from the garden.  This is often grass cuttings but also hedge trimmings, pulled up and cut off parts of plants.  I don’t have a compost heap as there is nowhere that is not clearly visible in the garden.  But I effectively stopped using one as the default option for organic bits and pieces years ago and have for a long time just put things down more or less where they derive from to decompose on the soil surface.

So this spring this bed looked rather bare and dull with a few tree onions and a bit of land cress round the side but I had hopes!

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polyculture no. 3 / end bed May 2016

I planned to grow a variety of roots – skirret, salsify, Scorzonera and also I was very excited at the opportunity to buy ulluco tubers for the first time.  Planting them straight into this bed turned out to be a big mistake as only one grew and that was eaten down after a few weeks.  I don’t know what became of the others, whether they were eaten below ground before they had a chance to show or what.  Anyway, next year I will grow them in pots first.  I was just getting a bit cocky perhaps – oca and mashua can be left outdoors here and come up year after year so I thought it would be okay to plant ulluco straight out.  I think this was not very responsible as this is a crop not that widely available and I should not be trying to extinguish it.  To make it worse this bed then developed a truly massive crop of red veined sorrel – known in these parts of the Welsh border as Welsh dock – and truly disliked by the neighbours for its tendency to proliferate.

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tree onion, clover and herbs, mulch behind

However as the year went on and I continued the mulching the red veined sorrel was virtually smothered out of existence.  The tree onion and some garlic also in the bed truly loved the deep rich soil that was developing and produced a marvellous crop.

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mulch of cut down plants (probably land cress) July 2016

I planted some spare beans along one side and at the end of the summer the only plant that had grown started to grow well and by the end of September was developing a good crop.  I had just let it grow where it wanted, not providing any support. I am leaving most of the beans to ripen so as to grow some more next year.

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bean of unknown name October 2016

Through the summer plants that I put around the edge to demarcate the bed from the lawn put on a super show of flowers.  There are also Jerusalem artichokes and skirret to harvest sometime fairly soon.

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flowery herby edge to end bed

And now as October wears on some more oca that I added belatedly (after the ulluco failed) has started to assert itself.  But as you can see there is still an area that is only mulched.  Next year I will think about what to do with it.  Plant some ulluco maybe?

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oca and nasturtium on end bed with mulch behind

 

 

Posted in Borderland Garden, Edible Perennial Gardening, Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guédelon

I am just back after a lovely holiday in France.  One of the highlights was a visit to Guédelon Castle in Burgundy.  This is not just any old castle, in fact it is not just any new castle either.  It is a new castle being built in the style of an old castle, and crucially, using the old mediaeval techniques.  The project was begun in 1997, and has therefore been ongoing for nearly twenty years.  You can see the castle is taking shape, but there is a long way to go yet.  The builders have taken the date of 1228 as the start date and designed the castle as a building of that era would have looked.

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Guédelon Castle

 

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Guédelon Castle

I first heard about it on the BBC TV programme ‘Secrets of the Castle’ in which the presenters travelled to Guédelon to learn about the ancient techniques being used.  It was a fascinating series which inspired me to go and see Guédelon for myself.

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Mediaeval workplace

The first thing that struck me about the site was the peace and quiet.  In contrast to anywhere in the modern world where noise intrudes everywhere.  Visitors can access all areas of the site and ask the workers about their jobs (if you speak sufficiently fluent French).  I could not ask about anything, nor read all of the information although some was in English and I could decipher some French.  However just seeing what people were doing was sufficient.

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Men at work, quietly!

 

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13th century lifting gear

One of the most striking features of the place is the exquisite quality of the workmanship as you will see from these pictures:

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mediaeval ‘sack truck’

 

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how beautiful is this!

 

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interior decoration using paints made from pigments extracted on site

The castle is sited in a forest on the site of a quarry.  These two resources of stone and wood are the main components of the building and little by little the local landscape is hand crafted with quiet patience into a beautiful building.  Clay is available on site too and used for tiles.  Behind the castle building is an entire mediaeval village comprising a range of workshops all supporting the main building, including a blacksmith, woodwork, basket work, tilery, pigment production, dyeing.

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workshop / store in the woods

 

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pottery from clay extracted on site

 

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tilery

There are also animals – pigs, sheep, hens, geese and lovely horses which pull a cart to transport building materials.

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working horse and mediaeval cart

As well as being an exercise in experimental archaeology Guédelon is in their own words:

 At a time when environmental protection is of such concern, Guédelon is also a construction site on which the Middle Ages offers insights into green construction for tomorrow.

Guédelon provides practical lessons in sustainable building. This pioneering construction site offers information on wattle-and-daub or rubble walling, making and using limewashes, traditional terracotta roof tiles, oak shakes, flax and hemp ropes.

There is much more information on the website and if you find yourself in central France I would recommend you set a day aside to pay this amazing place a visit.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Shrewsbury Flower Show – update

I had a great time at Shrewsbury Flower Show last weekend.  I found that lots of people – noticeably more than in past years – were interested in the perennial vegetables on display.  There were lots of questions and much discussion was generated. It also helped that Monty Don had apparently mentioned skirret on Gardeners’ World on Friday last week so people took a particular interest in that.

AK shrewsbury flower show

At the show I met Chris Smith of Pennard Plants.  He gave a talk about unusual edibles and had a large range of seeds and plants for sale.  Do visit the Pennard Plants website if you have not already done so.  They sell a very good range of seeds including the aforementioned skirret.

I was also very pleased to spot the Jurassic Plants stand where I was able to buy a small blue sausage plant – and a very healthy looking plant it was.

Some people left their contact details to find out more about perennial vegetables, others took details of this blog to see more about what I grow – if you are interested get in touch for any further information!

 

Posted in Edible Perennial Gardening, Events, Perennial Vegetables | Tagged | 1 Comment