Stephen’s Gardening Blog September 2018

Well… now is as good a time as any to start a gardening blog; I have been thinking about it for the last three years (inspired by Bill Collins of Collins Guitars). Now with the BBC Gardeners’ World showing this Friday I feel it is now or never. I suppose that I am quite shocked by people’s reaction to what I do here at Aston Pottery. I create lots of colour in a seemingly organised way, but the truth is that more recently much of it is done in a very spontaneous manner, with me holding perhaps 160 different plants in my head and their relationship with one another and hence how they will look. All my original borders were planned out meticulously (the dahlia border still is) but recently with the development annual border and the evolution of the hot bank a series of plants are taken and placed more with the spontaneity and texture of a Jasper Johns painting. Look up Out Of The Window (1959) or Map (1961) and see what I mean. He has been one of my favourite painters for the last 40 years.

The joy of the annual border is that it can, and does change each year. Slower growing plants such as antirrhinum, asters, heliotropium, rudbeckia, and alonsoa are sown in mid April in shallow trays and pricked out into plugs by mid may. Faster germinating plants such as zinnias, tihalonia, salvias, sunflowers, and cosmos are sown directly into plugs in mid may, giving them just 3 weeks to germinate and grow. Come the 2nd week of June we plant out some 5,000 plug plants into a soil bed which is quite literally rotavated over the night before (measuring 80m X 7m). We use large triangular wooden frames as guiding structures to plant within. The planting taking 3 of us 3 ½ days. Each plant is then individually watered, and a fine sprinkler system is used for the first four weeks if needed. 2 weeks after the planting we meticulously hoe around each plant, and that is it, the bed of plants looks after itself. No weeds can grow because we plant so intensively – this also shades the soil to stop evaporation of water from the sun – which obviously thus far has been more important than ever.

Each triangle of plants has its own reference number and the during the course of August and September I go out several times and make notes on how each group of plants is performing and how well they relate to those around them. It is this detailed information which I then carry forward to the following year to allow me to come up with an improvement on the previous year. This is surely above everything else the best reason to garden. It allows you to develop ideas – be it in a window box or an 80 metre border. You can make many mistakes, hopefully learn, and then try again next year.

Plants have spent the last 200 million years evolving to germinate, grow, flower, set seed and then die, sometimes all within a matter of weeks. At Aston Pottery we utilise all these amazing characteristics in the annual border, so that when viewed in early June we have a bed with plants only several inches high (it really does look empty) but by the end of August we have an 8 foot wall of colour. If you get the chance do come and see our efforts.

I will be writing again next month. So please look in and hopefully you can start to understand why I do what I do, what my influences are for the garden and how I go about doing what I do.