Digging with a spade is an essential ancient art
I'M having a break. I'm working on a new bed where the lovely long, curved low flint wall joins the taller wall where there is a buttress.
Now, I don't want to plant anything tall here so the wall disappears, I want it to be on show behind carefully chosen plants. I have decided on putting in a large planting of the lovely anemone japonica. I have two favourites I want to use: Anemone Japonica Prinz Heinrich with gorgeous rose-coloured flowers each with quilled petals and Anemone J Honorine Jobert with such dainty white blooms centred with a yellow eye.
These will need a well manured, deep soil with grit added for drainage and because these will be permanent the ground preparation needs to be perfect. They should love it here because they will receive morning sunshine and then in early afternoon the walls will give them light shade.
Planted and running around them I am going to introduce aquilegia vulgaris. No, not the mixtures such as Crown jewels or McKana Giant but two specials. Miss M.I. Huish which gives clusters of double, spurless clematis-like blooms of rich, dark violet interplanted with one called Green Apples which gives gorgeous vivid green-white blooms fading to cream. I have read about this combination and now want to try it!
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Firstly, to achieve this I am using a gardening operation which dates back for years and hasn't changed one jot. It's called digging with a spade. Now before you all turn the page let me just explain how important this is. Disliked by many because of the effort involved it is probably the most important of all gardening operations for the successful growing of plants be they vegetables, shrubs, annuals or herbaceous.
Digging aerates the soil, breaks up hard clods, exposes pests to bird predation, exposes weed seeds to frost, gets rid of perennial weed roots and with the addition of manure, enriches the soil. Even if you have just enough room for a small flower border that piece of ground needs to be well dug over before you even think of planting out. A good dig may be the only one it needs for years to come.
Digging of old was a hard task master. In my student days it was all double digging over two spits deep (about two-feet in depth!). I now prefer what is called plain digging. You take out the first trench and move the soil to the far end of the plot. You then put manure (and in the case of this bed – grit) into the bottom of the trench and lightly fork it in. You take out the next trench and throw the soil forward to fill the first. At the end of digging you fill the last trench with the moved soil.
Many of you will have adopted the modern regime of 'no-dig' with a raised bed and you will be grinning at the work I am now doing. But – you must still dig the soil well at first to open it up, manure it and remove those perennial weed roots. Then you can build your frame and level the soil to its top. Then you must never walk on it or you will compact the soil, you have to work on your plants from each side.
Digging is an essential ancient art. When I was a student and faced with a massively long bed to dig to a two-foot depth my head gardener told me that "It'll blow your cobwebs away; strengthen your muscles; colour your cheeks, give you a healthy appetite and... keep you out of mischief." Enough talking, time to get back to the digging. Nice chatting to you!