I don’t really want to think about the onset of winter. I can’t ignore it, the days are getting shorter and the leaves are turning and falling, but I prefer to look ahead to the new growing season, plotting and planning the flowers that I want to grow in 2022. Things are still up in the air as far as my own garden is concerned. I think that our extension project should be starting at the end of November, so in theory, I should have a new little garden to plan and plant in the year ahead. But….we’ve been here before (twice) and the extension didn’t happen, so for now I am focussing on my adopted cutting garden at my parents’ house instead.
This year, I adopted a rectangular plot, measuring around 4m by 2m. I dug it over in April and prepared the ground, adding some home made compost, and forking it through. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to grow: cottage garden staples such as cornflowers, zinnias, sweet peas, lilies, dahlias, cosmos and nigella. I was on a tight budget, so I knew I’d need to grow quite a lot from seed. I started my zinnias and cosmos on window ledges in little seed pods around the end of April. I knew I could direct sow the nigella and cornflowers when the soil warmed up. I decided to buy some small sweet pea plug plants, as I would struggle to find space to start those off at home. Lilies would grow from bulbs, and dahlias from tubers. I probably spent about £50 in total, but would I get a return for my money?
This is how things were looking in early June. I planted the sweetpea plugs around some cane wigwams, and I added some extra compost around the base, as I know that these are hungry plants. It took them a little while to get going: I thought they looked a bit yellow and sickly to start with, but plenty of food and water soon sorted that out.
We went on holiday at the end of June, and when we returned, the first show of flowers had happened!
The rule with sweet peas is the more you pick, the more you get, so I got into a very nice routine of driving over to cut the crop a couple of times a week. It’s only about seven miles away from my home. After a long day at my desk, I really looked forward to this. It’s such a peaceful pursuit. Snipping, deadheading, weeding….lovely.
I tried to choose sweet peas in darker colours, as these are my favourite. Buying from a market stall means it’s a bit of a lottery, but I think I did quite well.
Behind those sweet pea wigwams, my cornflowers were growing. I had sprinkled seed in rows, which I marked with canes and string. I was amazed by how quickly they romped away. Next year, I will sow my seeds more thinly so I get stronger plants, but all in all, I was delighted by the ease of these gorgeous flowers.
I bought a batch of lilies from Wilko and some from Lidl and put the bulbs in at the end of May. I’ve grown lilies before and I knew they were pretty foolproof, so I put plenty in, and I opted for really bold colours. I wasn’t disappointed.
Obviously, I didn’t want all my flowers to come at once, so I deliberately chose some later season stars. I am a huge fan of zinnias, and I’d managed to grow some from seed last year. I used the same method, making sure that I hardened off the young, tender plants that I’d nurtured on the window ledge and in the greenhouse cupboard that I bought during the first lockdown. I also selected some dahlia tubers, all bought cheaply from Lidl and Wilko.
I planted the tubers straight into the ground. Some people plant them in pots or buckets first to bring them on, but I didn’t have space and I don’t think it affected them.
My fantasy was to pick buckets of colourful flowers, and although these are admittedly rather small buckets, I did grow enough to keep my vases full all summer long. In fact, as we haven’t had a frost yet, I am still picking a few dahlias. Other successes were the cosmos, with ‘Pink Popsocks’ being my top performer, and the feathery fronds of clear blue Nigella, which lined the side of the path.
The other big surprise (and I do mean big) were my sunflowers. At the last minute, I sowed a row of seeds straight into the ground. I had collected several packets of free seeds from Garden News magazine, a mix of yellow and tawny coloured ones. They grew…and they grew….and they grew.
We measured them, and in the end, they reached 12 feet tall! And they were rather beautiful.
I didn’t really have any major disasters – apart from an achillea which was overwhelmed by zinnias. Very little slug damage, but this could be because my parents’ garden has a couple of resident hedgehogs who are very active at night. No red lily beetle, which I have encountered before when I grew lilies in pots, so I kept a beady out for these little critters. I watered regularly, and staked the plants when they looked likely to topple over. Plus, I had my green- fingered parents watching over the patch, although I did not want to add to their gardening workload, so apart from the occasional watering session, I was responsible.
I’m really inspired to try again in 2022. I won’t try to be over ambitious and pack too much in, because this does mean that plants get overcrowded, but I do definitely want to achieve the abundant look. I’d love to grow some ammi majus, and more cardoons. I only put one in this year and I’d like a few more of the gorgeous heads to dry. For 2022, I’m going for spring colour, so I’m about to put in my crocus, daffodils and tulips. These will have finished by the time I’m ready to plant the summer stars.
I hope this shows that you don’t need ££££ or acres to create a pretty, productive little flower garden. Borrowing a patch in someone else’s space is a good option if you can’t get an allotment.
For now, I’ll be making lists and poring over seed catalogues, ignoring the dark evenings and the wind whistling past the windows.
Bring on the spring….