This summer I have been learning a few lessons. Not the book-reading kind – I’ve taken a break from horticulture studies as I decided that it would be madness to add this to the summer agenda of school holidays, parenting, working, enjoying the heatwave and almost constant watering. I plan to resume studies in September (seems like a good ‘new-term’ kind of time to do it) but there have been plenty of other things to learn on a more practical level during the past few weeks:
1. I CAN have a nursery in my back garden. This is number one because it’s been the most exciting and satisfying lesson of recent weeks. For quite a while I’ve dreamed of having my own nursery – growing the kind of plants I love to sell to others – and I’ve take a big step forward by simply doing it. I had quite a large number of surplus perennials and annuals which I had grown for planting in the front garden. So I started a Facebook page, listed a few plants on FB Marketplace – and people actually wanted to buy them!
I’ve called this a micro-nursery because it really is tiny – both in size and in stock availability – compared to a proper commercial nursery anyway! It’s very small-scale and I have not made a huge amount of money – perhaps enough to re-invest in some plants and seeds for next year. But it has been worth it for the experience of producing plants for others, learning how to market them and deal with customers and moving towards my dream of owning a little independent nursery growing wonderful perennials, annuals, herbs and shrubs suitable for Scottish gardens. In fact, I suddenly realised that not only moving towards it but I’m actually doing my dream – the Secret Garden micro-nursery is my own little corner of the earth for doing just that. It may be small, and I may not make a living from it just now – or ever – but I’m doing it! Having dipped my toe in the water this summer, so to speak, I’m excited to see how I can take it forward. I am already planning ahead for next year: which plants to grow again and which were not successful or less popular; better ways to market the business, how to grow and expand via social media…. I have so many ideas for how to keep going and growing – and I’m so glad I’ve taken the first step.
2. Echinaceas are tricky to grow from seed.
When they do succeed and flower in the garden they are gorgeous and are currently providing a fantastic pop of pink in my front border. But I have been trying since early spring to grow the intriguing looking variety ‘Double Decker’ and this is the result…
Barely an inch of growth for the entire season. I don’t know if it’s the seed, the soil, the conditions, or my lack of faith. But those echinaceas are not going to grow into beautiful, flowering plants. Mainly because I’ve composted them.
3. Don’t grow cucamelons too close together.
This was a difficult lesson to learn, resulting in me recruiting my eldest daughter to help me untangle about 20 young cucamelon seedlings which had started to twine around each other as well as other plants in the greenhouse. We spent some time separating the cucamelons’ delicate tendrils, trying not to damage them. Finally we got them all apart, so I potted up the ones I wanted to grow on, supporting them with bamboo canes. I also potted a few more into a hanging basket, to see if they’ll grow as successfully hanging down. However I was still left with quite a number of plants which no-one showed any interest in buying (I guess my local customers are not as interested as I am in experimental or exotic fruit/veg!) so I had to compost these too. Which leads me to the next lesson…
3. Don’t sow too many seeds!
I do this Every. Single. Year. and tell myself I don’t care – I just want loads of plants!
But inevitably there are Too Many Plants. So I have to spend more time and effort potting on, watering and resisting throwing them away because I hate getting rid of potential plants. However they do end up going in the compost as I have no room or they’re not selling or become too poor quality to sell. If I want to raise more plants to sell I must be more efficient with space, materials and my time. So – I will sow more sensibly next year. I will sow more sensibly next year. I will sow more sensibly next year… I will…
4. Don’t dig – and don’t do green manure
I wanted to have a no-dig policy this year…but then I also decided it would be a good idea to sow green manure. But these two things are not entirely compatible. Yes, I think it is possible to do both – but I ended up doing neither very well. The green manure grew well in some beds, but not so well in others, at least giving me an indication of the soil quality in each one. But in the spring I then had to cut down and either remove or dig in the plants. I tried to remove the majority of the largest plants, but eventually ended up digging over most of the soil, which still had shoots and roots left in them. This is, of course, what you are supposed to do with green manure – but didn’t comply with the no-dig theory! This autumn I will try to mulch the beds and may well cover some over if they are bare. I don’t tend to grow many winter crops so I think I will mulch, cover and officially begin my no-dig policy next spring.
5. It’s all about layers
The front garden is looking well – probably deserves its own separate post to update on how it’s developing – but I still see lots of gaps. I can see bare soil and smaller-than-they-should-be plants. When I visit other gardens, I notice the fullness of the planting, how each plant blends together and merges to create a whole effect. I think I am moving towards this, but it’s taking time. And that’s ok. I’m learning that I can’t achieve this look in one growing season, unless I empty the bank account at the local garden centre (not an option, according to my husband). But I appreciate that this year there’s an extra layer that wasn’t there last year. And next year there will be another and then another, until I’ve got the overflowing herbaceous border that I can see in my mind’s eye! I’m playing the long game – and that’s good, because I’m really enjoying it.