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.

dscn4615-long-edge-beginnings

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.

img_2012-long-border

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

KODAK Digital Still Camera

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.

dscn6504-fennel-and-carrot

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

 

 

About Anni Kelsey

Author of Edible Perennial Gardening and avid researcher into edible perennials and associated useful plants.
This entry was posted in Borderland Garden, Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, Polycultures, Seeds and seed saving and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Review of ‘The Long Border’

  1. mortaltree says:

    I appreciate all the details you provide. I recall that you used to leave tuf in place for new beds, simply laying mulch over it. I’m curious if that was a purposeful change in policy or just a response to the new situation?

    Like

    • Anni Kelsey says:

      He there!
      It was a bit of both. The Triangle Bed and Long Border were primarily for flowers and temporary plant accommodation to begin with and I didn’t deem fertility particularly important. The turf removed to create these beds was part of the foundation for the perennial veg polycultures on the other side of the garden (with branches, sticks, twigs, grass cuttings and other organic materials from the garden).

      This gives me an interesting comparison between what I think of as the raw unimproved beds and the polyculture beds. There is a very significant difference between them in terms of performance – the polyculture beds are much, much more fertile. No surprise really!

      What I also want to do is to see just how long it takes for a much more gradual build up of fertility and improvement in soil texture to occur in the Triangle Bed and Long Border, just by means of adding the biomass they generate back directly back into the beds to break down and enrich them and also for the plant roots and worm activity etc to break up the extremely hard soil. The soil is certainly better textured but I don’t know if there is any more fertility there yet.

      Anni

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