2020 and Covid-19 has turned us into an island of gardeners, says Harriet Rouse
When the chimes of 2020 first struck, it is doubtful that the first thing on our minds was the need to start shopping for vegetable seeds. Dry January may have been on the horizon, perhaps with a side of New Year resolutions; there were likely to be some travel plans for the year ahead and some parties to pencil in; there were some weddings to attend and babies due to be born. Little did we know that come March we would all be dashing to our local garden centre, searching online frantically for tomato seeds that might still be in stock and trading seedlings and soil with our neighbours (from a distance, of course).
2020 and Covid-19 has turned us into an island of gardeners. Whilst in the past we may have prioritised pretty or fragrant planting with - if space allowed - a fruit tree or two, few of us had fully functioning vegetable patches, let alone potting sheds or propagators. As food shopping became more challenging and we spent more time in our homes, many of us found ourselves turning unused pots and beds into future meals with window sills being taken over by trays of germinating seeds, not to mention planting our own seed potatoes for our own harvest of Jersey Royals.
So, what has the last few months meant for our gardens and outside spaces? Well, we have certainly spent more time in them (and the homes attached!). Never have we eaten outside so much before the long days of July of August, nor appreciated the freedom of our beaches. As we start to emerge from lockdown, we see new raised planters in friends’ gardens full of peas and beans; someone serves up a salad proudly telling us that the lettuce and rocket is all homegrown. Perhaps this has been your first foray into growing your own; perhaps you have rediscovered a love for something you’d not made time for, perhaps you are an old hand. Now lockdown and spring has given way to relaxations in our socialising and the summer, with the early crop consumed what should you be planting now?
The good news is that many vegetables can be planted well into July, and still crop this year, so if you’ve any seeds languishing in half-used packets, then why not try planting them out? Fruit canes will ideally already be in, but you can still pick up strawberry plants from local garden centres (do make sure you net them, else the birds and the squirrels will have a feast), and if you have a glut of anything and aren’t in the mood to trade or give it away, freeze or preserve it.
For planting up until the end of July lettuces and rocket grow quickly and well. Carrots can also be sown until the end of July, as can radishes and turnips (you can also eat the greens produced by turnips).
We hate to be boring, but what you put in the garden now, you can reap the benefits from later. Late Autumn is a good time to harvest brassicas – so broccoli, cabbages and kale are well suited to summer planting. Spring Onions can be sown in August for harvesting in April the following year.
As well as turning us slightly more self-sufficient, lockdown has also meant that we have spent a lot more time at home, and – where we have been able to – in our outside spaces. As we’ve been allowed to see friends again, most of those meetings have had to take place outside. Whether you are blessed with a large expanse of garden, or have a small balcony, getting out in the fresh air has rarely felt so important.
But with that comes the desire to make our outside space prettier - and quickly! Whilst many shrubs take time to grow, and trees take years to establish, we’ve got some ideas to help your little corner of the garden feel as if you’re somewhere far more exotic than your patch of Jersey soil. First off, make sure you have a seating and eating area. Garden furniture comes in huge range of styles and prices, and it’s one of the areas of retail that has thrived during the pandemic. But you needn’t spend a fortune. Keep an eye out on local selling pages, or simply take a couple of bean bags and a coffee table outside (this carries the caveat that you need to keep an eye on the weather and bring it back indoors again in case of rain).
Whether it’s a small bistro table, which could use a bit of a rub down, or a large trestle table, you can cover a multitude of sins with a simple tablecloth… add a jam jar of flowers and you’re well on your way to luxury outside dining experience (just add food and wine!). As well as using a lovely tablecloth, you can make any chair more comfortable with a seat cushion – even if that’s just a normal cushion that you’ve bought outside to sit on!
The quickest way to make your garden feel like a beautiful intimate dining area, is to add pots. Lots and lots of pots. A great way to make a small space feel bigger, is to take them off the ground – so place them up on an old bench, or a chair. Even an old upturned plant pot adds height. By enclosing a space, it instantly feels cosier. A parasol not only helps with shade, but by lowering the ‘ceiling’ creates a lovely environment. As the sun goes down, candles (whether real or battery powered) and festoon lighting can create a lovely ambience. Just don’t forget the citronella – mosquitoes like the summer too.
When it comes to what you plant, remember that if you’re able to make the most of the sunshine for being in the garden, the pots will need regular (daily if it’s hot) watering. If buying new plants, then always ask for a variety which are best suited to pots. And whilst we long to have the all year-round heat that would allow some more tropical plants to thrive in the Mediterranean such as the beautiful bougainvillea, the chances of them dying as soon as the temperature dips below 10degrees, is high. If you are looking for a hardier alternative though Campsis radicans is a good place to start but will need a wall to grow up.
To plant your pots, put in large stones and gravel in the bottom quarter, and fill with good quality compost. Loosen the root ball of your plant and ensure that it’s had a good water before you plant it out. Whilst some people prefer not to feed, feeding your plant will definitely help it grow and establish.
If you are looking to evoke memories of long nights in the Mediterranean, then look for ornamental grasses to add immediate height and drama. A focus point of a palm tree can really help give height and maturity to your space, and the grasses are easier to split if contained in a planter as and when they outgrow it. Herbs such as Rosemary and Mint not only smell lovely, but are useful too, and grow well in pots.
For more of a country garden feel, you can’t go wrong with Lavender. It’s a hardy plant and loves sun. Use a sandy compost mix, and make sure you water regularly. What not add a fruit tree in a pot for instant height as well? Though do make sure you choose a pot large enough for it to be able to grow. Echinacea, Salvia, and Hydrangeas all come in varieties suited to containers. If in doubt, just ask at your garden centre. For fragrance Jasmine is a great addition to a patio, but as a climber will need to have support along a wall or trellis.