There I was minding my own business pricking out the Brussels sprouts seedlings I should have planted out about three weeks ago, when my husband turns up with a turfcutter in the back of the car.
“Special offer!” he calls out of the window. “Fifty quid for the weekend!”
And thus began our Great (and Rather Unexpected) Leap Forward.
The garden has been progressing like this for quite some time. Ages pass while I become disillusioned and dispirited by paddling madly to keep in the same place while three-quarters of my windy acre is still thirty-year-old wilderness and the other quarter only sporadically under control.
Then I have one backbreaking weekend (sometimes two, if it’s a really major job) and everything changes.
This time it was the three grassy terraces leading down from the side of our house to the garages.
It’s a pretty big area – around 40ft x 60ft – and until now all we’ve done is mow it.
I object in principle to lawns: biodiversity deserts, high-spenders on the carbon front what with all that lawnmower fuel, and a horrid waste of time plodding up and down of a weekend when you could be pricking out the Brussels sprouts instead.
So I’ve had a speculative eye on this lot for quite a while. It was never going to be an extension of the veg garden (it’s the soakaway for our septic tank: ’nuff said). And it’s in plain view all the time: when we’re not looking down on it from our bedroom, passers-by can see it from the drive. So it needs to look pretty.
Cue my long-hankered-after cutting garden.
In my head, I am the sort of person who wafts gracefully among the roses, woven basket over one arm, snipping a cottagey pink here, a blood-red rose there, and maybe the sheer unadulterated luxury of a midnight-blue delphinium or lipstick pink peony (imagine giving yourself permission to actually cut diva flowers like that to bring indoors!).
Well. We have a way to go yet.
The turf-stripping was a blast: we got it all off in a morning, with quite the best powered gardening machine I’ve ever encountered. It cuts the turf off in lovely long ribbons which you can roll up, just like the proper stuff. Our former lawn is currently enjoying a new life in the chicken run.
Then I roped in some help, in the form of our indefatigable forester friend who works like a Trojan and had the whole lot dug over and the overgrown hedge and shrubs on the left cut back to their proper bounds within a day (in a stroke widening the garden by six feet), fuelled only by strong coffee and cigarettes. I suspect he may be pickled. Eventually each terrace will be edged with a metal retainer and a hedge of hyssop (of which more later): but for now, it’s time to plant.
Cutting gardens have a place in any self-respecting kitchen garden, and the Victorians loved them (there are cutting gardens to die for at both Heligan and the Duke of Devonshire’s pad at Chatsworth).
Producing flowers for the house is just another aspect of growing your own, when you think about it: instead of shipping in roses from Kenya or tulips from Tanzania you reduce your flower miles (and carbon footprint) to pretty nearly zero. (Of course you can just not have flowers in your house: but where’s the fun in that?)
Plus they pull in the pollinators like nothing else. I must admit my motivation here is purely selfish: I might look like I’m doing my bit for the ecosystem and saving bees and suchlike, but what I’m actually doing is tempting in the wee beasties who can make my strawberries produce fruit, and my beans set pods. Bigger harvest for me, lots more bees for the tree-huggers: everyone’s happy.
It doesn’t even have to be that labour-intensive: I’ve already sown the top terrace with an annual mix which took me all of about twenty minutes and will keep me in cut flowers till the first frosts.
The second is next in my sights, and I’m currently drooling over Crocus’s glorious list of cut flowers. So far on the list: sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascene) and lots and lots of this wine-red cosmos.
It’s the first step on a long road, but it’s an important one, and best of all it makes me feel like we’ve made some progress at last. I’ll keep you posted.