No one warns you before you get into gardening that it can be terrifying, but it is (and I’m sure that’s not just my anxiety disorder talking). I love reading gardening books and allotment blogs and I love to marvel at the spaces other people have created, but when it comes to our own plot I feel overwhelmed and out of my depth. Blogging about it and sharing my fears is one thing, but there’s also that inherent dread that someone who knows what they’re doing will read this and despair at the mess we’ve created. It didn’t seem so bad when we were growing vegetables in beds used in rotation, something that was transient and meant to be dug over at the end of the season. There’s a lot more responsibility in building habitats, places of permanence that are expected to perform year after year – and even though I’ve read, and read, and researched, and read some more, we’re still novices who haven’t done anything like this before. It’s a scary and confusing gardening world out there. But it’s autumn and time to plant bulbs and sow wildflower seeds and create the pollinator-friendly environment we’ve been promising to do. It’s time for us to feel the fear and plant the bulbs anyway.
We’ve been planning to add two new pollinator beds to the plot. A small one beside our herb bed, and a wildflower section underplanted with spring bulbs around our fruit trees. This is our progress.
I have to confess that the small bed doesn’t look anything like how I envisaged. I’m hoping it will eventually grow into itself.
I started by relocating a small achillea millefolium ‘Cassis’ from the other side of the plot to the far corner of the bed and added 3 x verbena bonariensis that will one day give a little bit of height and structure to the back of the border (ignore the fact that there’s 4 on my plan…). I don’t want to completely block out the view of the raised herb bed behind, so I’m hoping that as the plants grow you’ll still be able to glimpse the feverfew, oregano and strawberries through the froth of verbena. Bulbs added to this bed are a mixture of alliums and tulips. There are 3 x ‘Purple Giant’ alliums to continue the purple verbena theme interspersed with 3 x ‘Mount Everest’ to reflect the white of the strawberry and feverfew flowers. The tulips, ‘Mystic van Eijk’, will be soft hues of pink and apricot. I’m hoping they won’t clash with anything but they’re here because they were freebies and I couldn’t fit them anywhere else! I marked the buried bulbs with sticks so as not to disturb them too much when planting the strawberries and bergamot, but I realised it would’ve been easier to plant the bulbs last, around the other plants. Lesson learned.
A lot of the advice I read about alliums suggested using other plants to cover the dying leaves. To this end, I divided and planted an old potbound bergamot. I added strawberries around the front of the bed and pegged the runners amongst the tulips. I trailed runners from the old strawberries in the herb bed across the new bed to give the appearance that the strawberries are tumbling out of the raised bed and pooling into the lower one. To be honest, it looks a mess!
And the three large flowered thrift, Armeria pseudarmeria ballerina, right at the very front look out of place and disjointed. I’ll have a rethink on those. I was hoping the flowers would echo the shape of the allium flowers giving the bed a sense of cohesion, but I need to do a bit of rearranging. I should’ve stepped back and observed what I was doing as I was planting. Another lesson learned.
We’ve also made a start on the main wildflower and spring bulb area. This is probably the largest bed on our plot. I’ve been gradually digging it over to remove as much nettle, bindweed and dock as possible, and I’ve dug in some spent hops from the local brewery to aid drainage.
Last month Shelley from Imperfect Zen sowed some wildflower seeds with me and two pots of her Beebomb seedlings were ready to be planted out. I’ve plonked them straight in the ground to minimise disruption to seeds yet to germinate. I’ll leave it to nature to do the rest.
These Beebombs contain corn chamomile, cornflower, poppy, corn marigold, red campion, white campion, salad burnet, common sorrel, yellow rattle, self-heal, cowslip, ribwort plantain, oxeye daisy, rough hawkbit, lady’s bedstraw, wild carrot, common knapweed, and yarrow. I don’t expect them all to grow and survive in our clay soil but at least 12 of those species are suitable so it will be interesting to see what happens.
The frustrating thing about planting bulbs and sowing seeds is that there’s nothing yet to see for the hours of work we put in. There must be at least 300 bulbs under that soil, but you can’t tell that we’ve done anything at all.
My biggest fear is that if/when the bulbs grow the plants will look too placed, but I’m hoping as the years pass the bulbs will naturalise and mix and look as though they’ve always been there.
This was our general plan:
We planted 5x Camassia leichtlinii (Caerulea Group) in front and drifting to the right of the pear tree (centre back), To the left of the pear are 10 x daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus). Around the apple tree (bottom left) are a mixture of 50 x winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) and 50 x snowdrops (Galanthus). along the front of the bed and running to the centre is a mixture of 75 x snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) and a large quantity of grape hyacinths from my parents. Running from the centre of the bed, across and to the top right is a swathe of random tulips, again kindly given to us by my parents.
Once all the bulbs were planted we raked the soil and sowed a packet of yellow rattle seeds from Sarah Raven and a packet of bee-friendly seeds a friend gave me from 38 Degrees (containing phacelia, borage, nigella, and eschscholzia). I have a few more pots of wildflower seeds at home to eventually add including 1 x bird’s foot trefoil plant, some rupturewort, and a mixture of Bee Mix and Urban Meadow seedlings from Seedball. Seedball kindly advised me via Twitter which of their products would be best suited to our soil.
So here we are, beds (mainly) created and lessons (hopefully) learned. Whilst writing this I’ve realised that it doesn’t really matter if we go wrong, or something doesn’t grow. It doesn’t matter if something looks stupid, or out of place. I don’t have to feel the weight of all those plants dependent on me to survive – because they’re not. They have earth and sun and rain, and I’m only really needed now and again to make sure they’re getting on ok, or to reign them in when they become too unruly (I’m looking at you, brooklime). I don’t think the pollinators who stop here to feed will judge me on my Armeria, and I don’t really need to worry about what other people think. I know that all you amazing gardeners reading this were once like I am now, and I’m sure there are things in your garden that leave you floundering too.
Now, if only I could apply this wisdom to other aspects of my life…