Cottage gardens and English borders are examples of “Old Fashioned Gardening”. Why say that? I think it has to do with the amount of work one is prepared to do, the need for intensive gardening techniques, and the result of an abundant all season show.
It is common in more modern landscapes and lifestyles to have goals of work reduction, ease of maintenance, and simplicity in design. Compare that with the types of garden plans from Gertrude Jekyll’s day.
A Few Vintage Techniques
What might I include in the idea of old fashioned gardening? Well, one technique I hear little of today is “double digging”. When was the last time you were advised to employ this venerable technique when making a garden bed?
I should probably explain… Double digging involve digging two layers deep, and incorporating organic material.
How To Double Dig Visuals
The Biennial Show
Another technique from a bygone day is buried with the term “biennial”. The term remains, and many gardeners know that this refers to a plant that takes two growing seasons to complete its growth cycle. But today’s garden rarely needs to utilize the peculiar traits of a biennial plant into their plans.
First let’s look at what happens with biennials:
First season from seed, the plant is putting down roots and growing its leafy structures. The second season involves flowering, going to seed, and dying.
Examples of biennials:
- Sweet William Dianthus
The whole idea of utilizing the unique characteristics of biennials was to provide an “in between” flower show in the natural lull between some of the cycles in perennials. Especially within the spring to summer time right before roses reach their peak, but also in later summer.
Because of breeding advances which bend the natural cycles, there is less of a difference between biennials and annuals for the gardener. Both very often bloom the same season planted from seed.
Still, you can experiment in your own garden to see if certain biennials fill in those seasonal spots where color is needed.
Pruning New Plants
I don’t know if this truly qualifies as an old fashioned gardening tip, or if I just don’t see it advocated as often as I used to…
The idea here was to give a plant, whether tree or vine, usually, a running start in putting down roots that will later benefit the plant’s growth.
We usually buy container plants nowadays, and we look for the largest size or height possible. Then after planting it, we are loathe to lose any of that “superior” growth. But the older advice ( which I think is just as valid today) is to trim down that new plant by a third.
Yep. Lop that extra growth right off.
This is important in perennial vines like Clematis, and in new trees.
Old Fashioned Advice
I don’t always remain mired in the “old ways”, but sometimes experience shows that those techniques and tips gave good results. They might be supported by today’s science on the subject and other times not.
The problem with sorting through such information is that we aren’t always given all the facts. Like the old family tradition story of always cutting off the ends of the ham before baking… once the story was unearthed, it turns out Grandma’s pan was just too small, and it had nothing to do with the outcome of a finely baked ham.
The same way, some of the old ways depend upon specific conditions or climates. How to know if this is useful for you? You can research or experiment. Or you can just take someone’s word for it. Gardening is an art, which employs science.
So often we are treating it the other way, and while I’m not prepared to argue against it, our own common sense might guide us to working in our gardens with an eye to results that best suit us.
I know this is a rather rebellious idea in the scientific age, but there you go. I still add organic matter to the native soil when planting a shrub or a tree. Heck, I even add little handfuls of compost when planting a perennial.
But I also don’t garden as much as I used to, and my place is no longer my own little showcase. I have reverted to the idea that it is for my own pleasure and must be whittled down to what I can presently handle.
But I do remember double digging a plot or two and the longtime benefit it rendered.
Well, that is enough reminiscing for now… garden season has begun and I need to use this sunny day to attend to some garden work.
Blessings to you all, my friends.