Advances in Gardening Series: Thoughts on The Fan, and the problems of overabudance

The Fan late in the season, about to be pulled out. See earlier photos of The Fan here.

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Last fall we dug up a sort of feral herb bed and replaced it with a more formal, three-part bed that I call The Fan. The idea is to use this bed to plant annual herbs and flowers. While some of these plants are medicinal, it is also a bed dedicated more to aesthetics than the rest of our garden, so it’s also a place where I particularly want to plant flowers and plants of strong visual interest.

The first crop, planted in November, consisted of Calendula, chamomile and poppies. All three grew wonderfully well and provided a nice focal point for the garden. The Fan is right outside our back door, so is what most people see first. It looked professional–like we actually know what we were doing.

The downside of this season’s fan was in fact its abundance. It looked nice, but it provided too much plant material. In the case of both the chamomile and Calendula, I could have done with half the plants for my teas and salves. The poppies looked gorgeous and fed the bees, which is all I care about. I’m not complaining about those. Oh no. Wait. I will. Early in the season, thinning on a big bed of poppies was a real pain. I had to do it over and over again. It was worth it in the end, but next time I’ll not sow seed so thickly.

All in all, the result of this overplanting is that it became a make-work scenario. When I wasn’t thinning poppies, I had to be out there constantly, deadheading the chamomile and Calendula just to keep up with it all. Deadheading (chopping off the spent flowers) encourages more flower production, which is important if you want a continual harvest. It also collects seed, to keep it from spreading everywhere. Despite my efforts, I know a ton of seed fell, and when the rains come next year, I’ll be pulling Calendula and chamomile volunteers.

Moral is, know what you need, and plant no more than that. Unless you’ve got the time and energy to maintain larger, more flashy beds. I’m all about making it easy on myself, so next year I’ll plant less. Of course, it takes experiences like this to learn exactly what our needs are. This is just how it goes.

¬†What’s next:

The next round of plants in the fan have to be able to stand our hot, dry summer. This is a bit of headscratcher for me. Most of the plants I’m interested in grow best during our cool season. So what’s going in there next is sort of eccentric. One section will be an Echinacea patch. Another will be black cumin, which has historical medical uses, and the other is broom sorghum, because it looks to be gorgeous, and I want to make a broom. You’ll hear more about all these in future posts.

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10 Comments

  1. what about aloe? I know it isn’t annual, but would it grow well there? it’s so useful, and may provide a nice change visually from the more tall, flowery plants.

    Also, St. John’s Wort?

  2. I think Echinacea is also a perennial. And broom sorghum gets really tall but broom making is fun.
    I made one under the tutelage of a RevWar reenactor. In order to get it tied tightly enough she had us hang a rope from a tree limb, add a foot loop to the bottom and use it to wrap around the bundle to compress it really hard before we tied it around a stick. (I hope that isn’t too confusing.)

  3. Aloe would be nice, thanks for the suggestion. We have some growing but it would be nice to have more.

    And funny, that photo looks way better than it actually looks right now!

  4. I grew broom sorghum last year with my eyes on the broom at the end of the season. I ended up with a bunch of really pretty spindly things that never ended up looking like a broom. Some of it has volunteered again this year. Perhaps I’ll look into that rope with a foot loop idea.

    Do you have plenty of lemon balm/melissa? I end up using it for tea, tinctures and products. Just a thought…

  5. Plant mint. Hahaha! Just kidding! Don’t do that!

    I’m looking forward to seeing how your broom deal works out. Is there something you could plant for the chickens? Maybe millet or something?

    How about perennial herbs that don’t need a lot of water like lavender, thyme and oregano?

  6. One plant that I am experimenting with for our hot dry summer is sesame. I planted my seeds a couple of weeks ago so they should be sprouting soon. They are slow to sprout and need to be kept damp until they do, afterwards you can let them go.

  7. @Paula: Chicken feed is a good idea. I’ve got a perennial herb bed already, so this one was supposed to be where I play with annuals. Question is whether I have the patience to play w. annual crops 2x a year. In that way, more lavender looks like a good idea! ;)

    @Jojo: Yes, sesame! I wanted to play sesame. Just didn’t have the seeds. Couldn’t get the pantry seeds to sprout and didn’t order any because…uh…I didn’t get around to it. So I had to use what I could get at the nursery. Still want to do it, though…

  8. did you start your chamomile from seed or a plant? any good sources in LA? I’d like to try growing it on my balcony for tea.

  9. I started my cham from seeds, then transplanted the seedlings into the bed. I can’t remember the seed brand. Likely either Botanical Interests or Frachi. We get the seeds we don’t special order from Sunset Nursery on Sunset here in LA. But if you just want one plant you may as well buy a seedling–Sunset Nursery has those.

    Cham doesn’t like strong sun or heat–I consider it a winter plant for LA (planted in in Nov–now, in June, the last plants are giving up the ghost). But if you pamper it on your balcony and give it some shade you might be able to chivy it along.

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