Making the most of green spaces closer to home has become a priority in the past few weeks, so we’re focusing our attention on cultivating positive practices through planting. Our social media editor discovers all her garden has to offer, and finds out what to plant in spring.
When I offered to write a guide on gardening in spring, I was under the somewhat misguided impression that my housemate Katy is the Charlie Dimmock of the millennial generation. As I began picking her brain about bulbs, climbers and ornamentals this morning, it quickly became apparent that this is not the case.
“I’m by no means an expert,” she said: “I’m just pottering around having fun, getting some headspace away from all this sh*t.” Just as I’d been getting ready to head back to the drawing board and find some ‘real gardeners’ to speak to, that comment really struck a chord. What about Katy’s endless experiments in the garden makes her unqualified to advise on the subject?
“There’s an ethos that really resonates with me that it’s less about the specifics of what you grow and more about the purpose behind it,” she says. “Gardening, particularly at this time of year, is about being mindful in general, not about instant gratification. In a month or two months time, things will be growing rapidly. Right now, it’s about planting seeds and watching them pop up slowly. I’m mainly just nurturing seedlings with constant care. It’s all about patience.”
She had me, hook, line and sprinkler (see what I did there). Our four-metre square patioed garden has become somewhat of a sanctuary in the past few weeks, as a space where we can eat, exercise and breathe a little more easily. But if you don’t have the luxury of outdoor space, you can still reap the benefits of a green-fingered activity. “The key message from the gardening community at the moment, in terms of both entertainment and wellbeing, is that no space is too small to grow something,” says Katy. She tells me about people turning balconies and fire escapes into leafy havens. “Even if you don’t have an outdoor area, you can turn a windowsill with a window box into a green space. All you need is to make sure you can get enough sun indoors to cultivate something.” So that explains our bathroom shelf’s new-found alter ego as a hedgerow…
But what should people be planting in spring? “Well, that depends on what you want to grow,” says Katy. “Do you want edible plants so you have the pleasure of eating them, or purely pretty plants and ornamentals?” I usually keep a vase of colourful stems on my desk to lift my mood, so we started small with our potted plants.
These, I discovered, are filled with ‘small perennials’ – add that term to your gardening glossary. Bright and bold, these plants can be picked up relatively cheaply – think marigolds, petunias and verbena. They are relatively hardy and easy to tend, and at the end of the year, they die to return again the next. Think of them as your ‘easy growers that keep on giving’.
Katy says that her focus in our garden last year was purely to fill the beds with colour; she bulk bought ‘naff’ buds to quickly fill the space. Having gained more confidence in her abilities, this year she’s experimenting with more interesting varieties. “The key with this garden is getting height,” she says; it’s a small, courtyard garden with a high exposed brick wall at the back, so we now have towering vines of jasmine and pots of bamboo to make it feel a little less walled in. I’m promised pungent purple jasmine flowers will bud any day now. There’s also a woodland-inspired bed, with ferns, foxgloves and forget-me-knots, while planters sprout tulips and daffodils.
Next, our edible plant section. We apparently have rosemary, mint, thyme and bay (a revelation to me), and are growing oregano and coriander inside. “In May, June and July those herbs will come outside,” says Katy. “Right now, it’s too cold.”
And as we start to think about how often we can get our hands on fresh greens from the supermarket, we’ve also started to seed lettuce, spinach and rocket in the garden. “These are meant to be easy to grow even for inexperienced gardeners,” Katy informs me. “If you have a shady garden and it’s relatively cold, you’ll be fine. These plants don’t like extreme weather so if you plant them in the height of summer, they’ll go straight to seed.” These can take a few months to grow, I found out when I hastily started planning spring salad recipes: “It’s all about the process and patience, Julia,” I was reminded… But if all goes to plan, there’ll be courgettes, tomatoes, pumpkins and chillies before too long too.
And finally, my favourite: sunflowers! Each of my housemates and I picked a different variety to plant, and have been waiting for a week or so for them to germinate. “If you sew them too late, like June perhaps, they might not flower. They can take quite a long time to bloom, unless you have a long autumn ahead,” says Katy.
Living and breathing social media, my interest piqued when Katy opened my eyes to the Instagram gardening community. From Andrew O’Brien’s floral photography to Alice Vincent’s elevated eden in South East London, there’s a whole world of accounts and individuals to follow for ideas and inspiration.
“If you’re starting out, just have fun and give anything a go. You can get seeds relatively cheaply and in bulk, so just see what happens!” she advises. It’s an ethos that sits particularly well with me at the moment; nurture and tend to the space around you, without lofty expectations but with an open mind.
For a mindful activity, try your hand at flower pressing.