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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

 

 

 

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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.

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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!

 

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Shrewsbury Flower Show 2016 — Anni’s veggies – in pictures

I am exhibiting again at Shrewsbury Flower Show this coming Friday and Saturday – 12th and 13th August.  Last year I was part of a group that grew the plants for and built a permaculture themed show garden.  This year I am exhibiting in the ‘Our Futures’ marquee (as in 2014) along with Emma Lawrence (my friend and author of two children’s books – The Worm and Slugs & Snails; Fordhall Farm, Shropshire Organic Gardeners, Shropshire Wildlife Trust and the Dorothy Clive Garden.  We are each presenting ideas for making our gardens, countryside and food chain more sustainable.

I ran out of space on the wall behind as I covered it with plants, so this blog is for further information for visitors to the show as well as you, my usual blog readers.  There are pictures (only) of the same plants growing in my garden on the original post on my other blog – see the link below – and I have given a bit of explanation here:

I grew perennial vegetables with annual vegetables and other plants in eight potato sacks:

The back row from left to right – (1) mashua and earth nut pea (edible tubers), (2) oca (edible tuber) and runner bean, (3) Jerusalem artichoke (edible tuber) and fennel, (4) runner bean, yacon (edible root) and good King Henry (edible leaves).

The front row from left to right – (1) cardoon (edible leaves and flower buds) and sea kale (edible leaves), skirret (edible roots), (2) Welsh onion (all edible) and marjoram, (3) fennel, carrot (second year) and parsley, (4) leaf beet (edible leaves), nasturtium (edible leaves and flowers) and day lily (edible flowers).

The fennel, marjoram, carrot and parsley are there for the insects and the runner beans and earth nut pea plants also fix nitrogen.

It was looking a bit sparse so I popped to the local garden centre and added blueberry, spindle, asparagus, agastache, astrantia, parsley and lavender.  All of these will be relocated afterwards to my garden.

It is time for Shrewsbury’s annual flower show this coming Friday and Saturday and I am representing the world of perennial vegetables.

via Shrewsbury Flower Show 2016 — Anni’s veggies – in pictures

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Plants on the move

I don’t do much in the way of interfering in my garden and as a result plants can move about in unplanned ways that often make lovely combinations.  Some are vegetables, some herbs and others are flowers, but they all flower in their season and look amazing!  All of the pictures below are of plants that put themselves where they are.

Some seeds have arrived from next door including phlox, mallow, sweet Williams and Canterbury bells.

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mallow and birds foot trefoil

 

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mallow, Canterbury bells and sweet Williams

 

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sweet Williams

 

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Canterbury bells

Others came from further afield – cowslip, birds foot trefoil, evening primrose and poppy.

The rest I planted and then let them roam – fennel, parsley, marjoram, sweet cicely, carrot, foxglove, burdock, calendula, Californian poppy, few flowered leek, wild garlic, three cornered leek, snowdrop, crocus, pansy, love-in-a-mist, salsify, wild rocket, leaf beet, radish, alpine strawberry and probably more.

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salsify flower and seed heads

One of the nice things is that you can see which way the wind blows as over time they have mostly spread up the garden, which is downwind.

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Californian poppy with vetch behind with fennel and love in a mist at the back

Other plants are spreading below ground.  Raspberries have appeared on the other side of the hedge and about ten foot along from their original location.  When I attended a forest gardening course with Martin Crawford I remember him saying that raspberries are best if they are allowed to go where they want, so that is what I have done.

Earth nut pea, vetch, Chinese artichoke and Jerusalem artichoke also travel along the bed establishing new clumps.

Of course I also get some of the less popular ‘weeds’ which equally spread by seed – nettle, dandelion, dock and the rest.  I don’t mind that though, they mix in with the rest and in their turn provide valuable functions.  I remove them when they are too large or take the place needed by something else.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Borderland Garden, Edible Perennial Gardening, Flowers, Forest Gardening, Seeds and seed saving, Uncategorized | Tagged | 3 Comments