My quest for a cottage garden
March 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
It is that time of year when I feel very greedy. Hardly appropriate in Lent but there you have it. A sense of longing for what I do not have creeps in. It is hardly gluttony or envy, just a desire for a little bit more. And it is prompted not by the latest gadget or a desire for what my neighbour has but by the early spring sun and seasonal renewal.
After the grey drizzle of a mild but dark winter there are signs of life in the garden. The narcissi are blooming, the tulips have put on a growth spurt and there are young leaves on the rose and hydrangea bushes. The chard and winter cabbage are going strong as the winter kale runs to seed. Mint and chives are producing new growth. The blackbird is singing loudly, eager for a mate. The blue tits dance and dive round the bird feeder… There is hardly an abundance of crops and the hungry gap is still to come but the sap is definitely rising in both the garden and the gardener in me.
This week the postman delivered my latest order of vegetable seeds: runner and French beans, carrots, leeks and lettuce seeds. I have already potted on the tomato and spring cabbage seedlings and they are enjoying the gentle sunlight on the living room windowsill. I’ve sown my first beetroots and lettuces in modules and early carrot seeds in pots of sandy soil. I am willing on a liberal sowing of sorrel, mixed leaves and radishes and the potatoes have started to go into my array of large planters.
All this potential goodness fills me with joy but I cannot help wanting more. A supply of home-grown cut flowers to be precise. Previously I have grown calendula for pollinators and pest control and a small patch of lavender for the wardrobe but my heart longs for jugs of flowers.
It would be very easy to focus on the square feet of soil I do not have, the beds and borders for which there is no space in our little London garden. Or I can look on the bright side, thank my lucky stars I have outside space and stretch my creativity to devise ways to squeeze in a few pretty flowers. A hint of a cottage garden in our allotment-style backyard.
Mr M and I have already decided to sacrifice some of our limited seating area for another raised bed. As this will be a fresh one (i.e. new compost and less likelihood of pests and diseases), it will primarily be devoted to vegetables: French beans to the rear, carrots in the middle and spring onions and baby leaks to the front. As I have read that wispy Love-in-the-Mist works well amongst carrots, I shall add some dark blue Miss Jekyll, which should look stunning against a backdrop of white-flowered runner beans.
Our old raised bed has done sterling service over the last three years but it deserves a break and some replenishment. I shall leave the new crop of chard and this year’s garlic in the bed, but dig out the kale that served us well for over a year. In its place will go undemanding lettuces and radishes and a wigwam of sweet peas. I am hoping that these nitrogen-fixing plants will add nutrients to the soil as well as supply delicate fragrant flowers for our living room.
The back bed is home to this season’s brassicas (a couple of plump cabbages but mostly thin, tall cavalo di nero), a few rose bushes and spring daffodils. I plan to sow beetroot around the edge of the bed and add a couple of cosmos purity seedlings, verbena bonariensis (a tall, see-through plant that does not rob anything of sun light) and some stocks for their heady smell and cottage garden feel.
As the back garden is a busy plot, I shall to stick to whites, blues and purples, punctuated by the occasional shot of orange from the calendula and nasturtium I grow for pest control purposes. The front garden – all two by six foot of it – will be a much hotter affair! The bed already contains self-seeded calendula, to which I shall add blazing tithonia rotundiflora’, daisy-headed feverfew for that country look and ammi visnaga, a gorgeous umbellifer beloved by pollinators (and a welcome little extra from Higgledy Garden, my independent flower seed supplier).
Greed may be a sin but surely a desire for the gorgeousness of a cottage garden is not that bad, especially if it fuels creativity, spurs me to tend what I already have and allows me to share an abundance with neighbours, friends and the local wildlife!
Many of the flowers I plan to grow are bee-friendly.. A detailed list of pollinator friendly flowers can be found here.
*Kailyard is the Scottish word for a kitchen garden or potager. It is not only wonderfully descriptive but also an attractively austere word. The vocabulary of gardening and common names of plant are actually another dimension of the joy of gardening. How can words like fiddleneck, teasel and greater quaking grass not conjure up memories of lost histories and untold stories…?