As part of the winding down of the cutting beds I have done a little clearing there this week, albeit rather reluctantly removing some of the more attractive seedheads in the process – like poppies, nigella, Briza maxima and ammi. I have, however, kept a range of dried material to use in low season vases, not just the product of these beds, so watch out for these appearing in vases in due course. Whilst clearing I have informally reviewed the progress of the beds over the season, in particular checking back against my records for length of flowering periods.
Keeping the dahlias company, sunflowers, amaranthus, cosmos, clary sage and rudbeckia are still in flower, along with the single zinnia. Apart from the rudbeckia and zinnia, all these annuals began flowering in June so have already given nearly 4 months of blooms. There are a few blooms on the sweet peas here too but on very short stems (although elsewhere in the garden ‘Purple Pimpernel’ has been flowering since the end of May and still looks good), and a sprinkling of small flowers on Nigella ‘Delft Blue’. Ammi visnaga still stands in various stages of growth, requiring firm staking.
Overall, the beds have been a joy to observe in their own right, whether blooms were picked for vases or not, a surprisingly unexpected pleasure. They were not 100% successful though, with the failure of several zinnias and poor performance of larkspur, molucella, and Cosmos ‘Polidor’ leaving gaps in the planting plan. Planting in blocks rather than rows was a definite improvement on the previous year, giving a more attractive overall appearance. This was especially noticeable in the bed in the top picture once the dahlias began to establish as all plants in this bed were successful, giving it a dense and lush look.
The lushness of this bed made me wonder whether it was somehow more fertile than the others; being the bed closest to the gate to the rest of the garden means it was also nearest in line for the contents of any wheelbarrow of compost that came that way. By way of contrast, in the bed at the far end, apart from the sunflowers the other plants are not especially brilliant specimens as you can see by the cosmos and amaranthus. There were gaps from non-performers too, whether the result of poor soil or not. Having utilised some of the fence for sweet peas this season I intend to take advantage of the structure to grow more in this sunny position next year. The black pots you can see here were previously hidden and contain a chrysanthemum and a non-flowering dahlia (one of last year’s non performers too). Next season I will try and plant all the dahlias in the ground to give them maximum space, but having experience what sturdy and attractive plants they can grow into they will be positioned elsewhere in the garden too.
My seed sowing record is going to prove invaluable on many counts and will help me plan future sowings, whether autumn, spring or second sowings. The latter will help fill gaps or prolong the flowering season, whereas I have learned from the former that autumn sowing generally gives a worthwhile headstart and promotes much earlier blooms. I will certainly be adding to the number of varieties that I autumn sow in future, a process which also helps spread the workload which can get quite intensive come springtime. The records also show whether seeds were kept from previous year’s packets, bought new, or harvested myself. Generally ‘old’ seeds have still germinated but not consistently so and for seeds that have been particularly successful (such as Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’) I think in future I won’t take the risk and will always buy new. Likewise, I am learning which harvested seed won’t come true to type, like Sunflower ‘Ruby Eclipse’, and have already ordered fresh seed of this variety for next year but am attempting to collect seed from several others. Sweet Pea ‘Purple Pimpernel’ is growing from seed harvested last year and I will now let the last of its flowers run to seed so I can collect for next year too.
Julie of Peonies and Posies is co-ordinating a cutting beds meme at around this time of the month so do check out her blog where others will post links in due course. This may well be the last post of the season on the cutting beds, so what have I learned?
- cutting beds are attractive as well as functional
- keeping records is definitely worthwhile but gets harder later in the season!
- planting in blocks looks more effective
- consider planting beds according to height
- include dahlias in all beds
- improve fertility
- if the plants are attractive, it doesn’t matter if they are never picked
- utilise fence for supporting sweet peas
- buy fresh seed or collect from varieties that come true
- autumn sow more varieties
- second sow for prolonged flowering
- stake tall varieties early
- pinch out growing tips to encourage bushier plants where appropriate
- keep deadheading, but keep some attractive seedheads for interest and seeds
- keep cutting, not just on Mondays!