Chronicles of Kate – Garden Design: Dilemmas, Delphiniums and Monty Don

I love to look at garden magazines- in fact this is one of the highlights of my Sunday morning along with listening to Gardener’s Question Time on BBC Radio 4. I find the programme both amusing and informative and being on the radio makes it even better.

Why is this? Because at least on the radio I am not looking at the gardens while the topic of the programme is, for example, on the use of herbaceous perennials in borders. I am interested in this very subject because I have been struggling to get my borders to look good and it has taken quite a long time. I had a few things in the main one last year – it is south facing so good for anything that needs a lot of sun but can get really hot plus the soil is not great at all; dry and full of small stones.


Since I started my garden, I have become quite a gardening geek when it comes to making sure I plant what will grow there versus what I would like to grow. In fact, I have gone so far as to plant things I don’t really like i.e. 48 lavender plug plants (can you honestly tell the difference between a Hidcote and a Munstead?) I couldn’t go into my living room for a week and when I did it made me feel sick – there was nothing soothing or relaxing about it – except for when I had to get outside for a relaxing walk to get rid of my headache (isn’t lavender meant to help you relax?). I just found the whole lavender thing really stressful in the end but I thought I would try them since they do well on poor soil.


I am not a fan of either cucumbers or runner beans – possibly courgettes in the form of cake smothered in lemon poppy seed icing. But I have a small garden and a lot of the easy to grow vegetables recommended for small spaces are not what I would like to grow, in fact last year caused me more effort than if I had just grown a patch of mint or other herbs – thyme for example – useful for just about any culinary adventure. Note! Do not plant courgettes or cucumbers if you don’t have an outdoor tap – and are not prepared to lug buckets and bucket of water outside. (I am now on more than friendly terms with Thames Water).

My point to this is that you should not be persuaded to plant what you don’t want to because it is recommended in a magazine and because it is easy to grow. Who is growing these vegetables and what is the definition of easy? Turn to Monty Don and his very easy crop of cucumbers – the kind suitable for a small space – usually these are the F1 Hybrid types – I still don’t know what the F stands for but I am sure every gardener trying to grow these easy veg could come up with a few words and I don’t think it would be fork, fertilizer or farmyard. An aside here- why are gardeners put into this stereotype of passive types poking around in the veg patch looking complacent conjuring up imagines of Franciscan friars taking time off from prayers to check out the grapes for the next wine harvest. It sounds ideal- but isn’t the picture in my garden or I would think in a lot of gardens. Gardeners come in all forms but I can imagine there are a few Gardening versions of Gordon Ramsey- in fact Alan Titchmarsh made a few comments about this in one of his monthly articles in Gardeners World magazine pointing out that some of the expletives coming out of the garden shed would make your hair curl or at least get your tomatoes to ripen a few months earlier than anticipated.

show garden

Leaving the F1 hybrids aside, let’s take a look at the influence of gardening magazines. Why is it that every time I sit down to flip through the pages of the latest copy of a gardening magazine I go from looking forward to the helpful advice of the expert gardeners to putting my tea down and almost crying by the time I get to the page 3 centre fold garden of the month- of which the garden belongs to a reader of the magazine that has sent the photo in as a standard to strive for and an indication of what all gardeners can do with a bit of determination and a bag of money received after discovering the Roman coin in the poor soil. I ask you. I am not convinced that having a half acre garden on Scilly where the front entrance is adorned with massive pots of banana plants is a very practical example. Moving on to the next shot of the two owners standing on a lawn surrounded by herbaceous borders growing 5 foot delphiniums ( tip- these make a stunning display at the back of a border) does it need to be said?

soil testerIf you are happy to go ahead with the soil you have then I would suggest that you take the time to do a soil test to find out the type. I made this mistake with the lavender because after all the fuss about it and the time it took to bring on all the plug plants and after taking the time to read up on the type of soil conditions which involved mixing in a good amount of horticultural grit- after all of this they haven’t done very well because I forgot about testing to find out the type of soil- acidic or alkaline. I will be taking a look at this topic in my next post along with how to improve your soil after you are familiar with it giving you more choice of what to grow using basic composts and organic matter without over doing it and spending too much money but keeping in mind plants that will grow well in the specific type including conditions i.e. clay, poor drainage, silty etc.

I look forward to any comments and while talking about delphiniums – should we have a Delphinium growing contest? Or how about Larkspurs?

Discovering What Is in Your Garden: Making Seed Compost

In the last year, I have spent more money on gardening than anything else.

This year, I decided to do what I could on my own and research the methods to reduce cost and learn something new about gardening at the same time. It is simple really when you consider traditional gardening methods which probably involved planting what would grow by taking a good look at the soil and going by the general environmental conditions in your area. Where I live it is chalk downs and for the most part this is the soil that I have in my garden. Over time, I have learned about the soil by the types of plants that are growing there naturally. Knowing your garden very well in all aspects and especially the soil is the one thing I have discovered will save time and money.

The less you have to spend on the things you already have in the garden means you can splurge on the things you don’t have and would really like to have. For me, this would be my dream of a green house, a cold frame and a raised bed or two. The raised bed and cold frame you could probably make yourself but I will leave that for another post!

Today, I made my own seed compost. After some research, I put together this mix:
1 quarter all- purpose compost sieved
1 quarter locally sourced mole dirt ( I have no moles in my garden-yet!)
1 half well-rotted leaf mould

I put all in a large tub mixed it really well and sieved it again just to make it very fine for seeds
It turned out really well. I filled up one seed tray of Hellebore (helleborus purpurascens) and three pots of Norway Spruce (picea abies) that I got from a free seed packet.

I learned some valuable lessons: one is to take the time to go about and discover what you can forge from the countryside near you- within reason and legally. I discovered the mole dirt when I went out for a walk one day and realised there were moles everywhere. This got me thinking about the soil. I went back a few days later, filled up a bag and lugged it home to my garden. This soil is quite good since it has been sifted for the most part already by the moles themselves. Of course you have to take a good look at the soil and make a judgement as to what the structure but unless you are collecting it from an area that has been previously an allotment it is likely that the soil will be the same as what you have in your local area.

How I came to get all of these necessary ingredients is the key.

I already had some left over compost, and the mole dirt I foraged but I didn’t have any leaf mould- this is something that I need to get prepared for next year. During the summer, I made a place in the corner of my garden where I put the left over compost after sifting. During the winter, leaves had accumulated there and lo and behold without realising it I had made well – rotted leaf mould. This came as a happy realisation that I had a lot more to work with in my garden than I thought I did.

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