As a spell of drought dramatically comes to an end with a weekend of thunderstorms and some much needed heavy rain, I find myself considering the conditions in my garden once again: can a garden submerged in the worst of winter weather also be drought-ridden in summer? Apparently it can, as the fissures etched on the soil surface will testify. So, I have resolved to grow annuals in the sites that suffer these variable conditions, chiefly along the waterfront, and perhaps punctuate with a few shrubs that are able to cope with waterlogging. Annuals will have faded and gone long before the onslaught of winter and, if I collect the seeds, I will have a new supply to sow next year.
I want to make my garden appear natural so that it sits well in its semi-rural surroundings and so, inspired by the colourful fields surrounding Rye last year; fields full of pale-blue flax, the somewhat stronger blue of chicory and the red of the common field poppy, and for economy as much as enjoyment, I cast wildflower meadow seeds into some of the beds unaffected by the river. Once more the Rye landscape is a mosaic of colour and so too are my meadow plants, albeit on a much humbler scale. They are a mix of poppies, cornflowers, marigolds and echiums and they have brought intense colour to a number of beds without costing very much at all. Indeed, they might have filled even more beds or borders but, like many sceptical gardeners, I sowed the seed too densely not believing that all would germinate. The last to fall from the box were distributed more thinly however and as a result got much more room to branch out and form flower buds, unlike their spindly neighbours, these are strong and impressive plants.
I have chosen to grow annuals in these waterside beds, but I may well sow some perennial meadow mix through some of the other beds and borders next year. The only difference in their cultivation is that you must cut perennials back just as they begin to burst into bloom to encourage the plant to form a really good root structure- not a job for the sentimental or faint-hearted as it can be pretty heartbreaking to see the ensuing devastation.
Both types are extremely easy to grow if you follow a few basic rules. Annual meadow plants prefer a fertile soil that has been turned over and enriched with some organic matter, whereas perennials do best on poorer soil. In each case however, the bed must be weed-free so that when the plants germinate they are not competing for nutrients, light and water with thuggish plants such as grasses, docks or nettles. Sow perennials in late autumn sprinkling the seeds on to a 15 cm mulch of sand (this suppresses any weeds that may be lurking in the soil) and gently rake over. Chop the plants back with a mower set to a high cut in spring and then once more in summer. Sow annuals in autumn or spring mixing the seed with sand so that you can see where they are falling. Again, these should be raked in afterwards. Nothing could be simpler and no sight more charming than poppies and other wildflowers moving in a summer breeze.