Hi everyone, what strange times we live in, our lives so dramatically changed almost overnight. The uncertainty of what the outcome would be and of what future lays ahead. For us, thankfully our garden offered support and whilst all the usual visits to gardens and shows were cancelled we were able to work in the garden immersing ourselves in the comfort and enjoyment of growing things. The challenge would be how to obtain seeds, plants and compost and although my skills on the computer are limited we were able to obtain most things through the internet, a big thank you to all those who maintained and delivered this service, it was a lifeline for gardeners, indeed we will be forever in debt to all the essential services without whom we would have been in real trouble.

I have always been an optimist, you have to be as a gardener, there are so many things that have an impact on success with growing, perhaps the most unpredictable being the weather. 

Not unsurprisingly the number of people taking up gardening has increased hugely, I guess with limits on our movements it is no wonder really. I just hope that all those who turned their attention to the garden will continue, and that you all gained support and relief from the stresses of the situation. 

Whilst our lives have been turned upside down, our gardens and plants have seen little change apart from a little more attention from a human wielding a pair of secateurs menacingly, just waiting for that bloom to fade or branch to stretch out of place. The weather although changeable has on the whole been fine, if a little windy at times. We have been continuing with both developing areas of the garden and carrying out seasonal tasks, sowing, preparing, planting and of course weeding. We grow quite a lot of vegetables and fruit, although I must say not to be self sufficient but to enjoy the taste and fulfilment of home grown vegetables. My advice has always been to start with the more reliable crops such as salad leaves and herbs. They can be grown in pots and containers which generally offer more protection from slugs and a richer more reliable growing medium. Once you have mastered growing in containers then the trick is to prepare an area of the garden improving the soil so it resembles as near as possible the compost in the pots. This is achieved by adding well rotted compost, keeping weeds at bay and feeding plants, it does take a little time to build up the soil structure, but well worth the effort, providing the opportunity to expand and experiment with new and less commonly available plants and vegetables. 

This year we have grown shallots and garlic planted last autumn, and I must say they have done very well, ‘Mersley White’  and ‘Iberian White’ garlic, ‘Longor’  and ‘ Echalote Grise’  shallots, they all store very well and need little attention apart from weeding. Most garden centres and nurseries are now open and stocks of autumn planting garlic and shallots will be available in the coming weeks. If you are tempted to try and grow garlic bought from the supermarket be warned, they may not perform too well, chances are they are imported from warmer climates and not suited to ours. 

One thing I will say is that growing herbs from supermarkets is quite rewarding, indeed for those who are new to gardening its a great way of growing some of the more popular herbs, such as basil, parsley, coriander, thyme. These are sold as plants growing in pots rather than cut, and are meant to be placed on a sunny windowsill and used at will. They are in fact clusters of plants, usually grown from seed and forced in greenhouses to make lush fresh plants. Because they are overcrowded in the pot they don’t last too long, but a tip to keep them going is to split the seedlings and plant them in separate pots or troughs. I have done this with basil, carefully teasing the clump of seedlings apart into small bunches of say three to four seedlings than spacing them out in a 12 – 15 inch (30 – 45CM) trough filled with good quality potting compost. Water carefully and place on a warm windowsill but not in direct sunlight (this may scorch the leaves). 

Trays are available that sit under the trough to avoid water spoiling the paintwork. In the early stages ( first week or so) do not overwater as the roots need to develop more before they can take up moisture. After about two weeks you should be able to harvest the tips of the basil, feeding with a weak tomato feed once per week should keep them going and with care they should last right up to Christmas. It’s a good idea to buy two initially, one to use straight away and one to split to grow on.

Even if you’re not into growing things to eat, it is worth spending time pottering or relaxing in the garden, or on the balcony, the fresh air and contact with plants has been proven to help relieve anxiety and stress. Gardens are a great place to block out all the frustrations and uncertainty of life, dream a little and enjoy the wonders of plants and the natural environment.

Happy gardening,

Martin

Next month, (harvesting and storing crops, make a strawberry bed, planting bulbs).

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