Gardening through lockdown? Go online and support our small growers | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Help keep independent plant suppliers afloat – and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of gardening in these uncertain times

In uncertain times, gardening can be a powerful therapeutic tool. When distracted by fresh air and new growth – and with your hands and mind busy – it is so much easier to live in the here and now, focussing less on the things beyond your control. Yet, like many industries, the current situation is hitting small, independent growers hard. Coinciding with the crucial spring season, this period could really mean make or break for the many tiny, family-run nurseries that underpin UK horticulture. However, British mail-order plant suppliers will be able to reward your support now with plants to boost your spirits. All without you having to pass your front door.

D’Arcy and Everest has been producing some of the finest alpine plants in the world from their Cambridgeshire nursery since 1992, including some species I’ve never seen anywhere else. These are perfect if you have a bright spot with well-drained soil. This doesn’t have to be a traditional rock garden or alpine bed, as their tolerance for searing sun, poor soil and drought also makes these plants perfect for windswept roof terraces, or brightening up gravel driveways.

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In worrying times, there is nurture to be found in nature | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

From tending seedlings to digging potatoes, gardening brings comfort and healing

My column for the first Sunday in any month usually focuses on the jobs to do, the seeds to sow, depending on where we are in the growing season. But these are unusual times. So April’s column will be published next week.

I thought, instead, to explore the comfort and healing I find in gardening, whether it is digging a trench for potatoes on the plot or tending a rose in a pot on the terrace.

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Fresh veg hard to come by? Grow microgreens | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Check your garden, path edges – even the back of your kitchen cupboard. Then get sprouting

The hungry gap is traditionally that moment when winter stores are dwindling and spring greens are not quite ready: just about now. Of course, when there’s a virus around as hazardous as Covid-19, it takes on a whole new meaning.

You probably have a larder full of pasta and tins by now, and perhaps a freezer full of peas; but fresh greens may be harder to come by. Growing super-quick windowsill greens will allow you to sprinkle nutrients and vitamins over dishes, adding flavour and boosting your immunity. Curried baked beans served with a delicate heap of fresh coriander and kale seedlings is a mighty lot more tasty (and healthful) than without.

Related: Pot to plate: how to set up an indoor herb and veggie garden

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Topping it off: 'Mulch is like the warm hug you give to the soil'

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Mulching cuts down on your water usage, makes for healthier soil and even keeps pests at bay – and if you get creative, you never have to buy it

“Hi, excuse me, hello!”

This I say at rising decibels, as most of the people I address when pleading for mulch are wearing protective hearing gear. Once I’ve caught their attention by waving frantically in their face, from an appropriate distance of course, they often – but not always – take off the ear muffs.

Related: Turning crap into gold: why a composting habit will change your life

Related: Worm composting: a beginner's guide | Alys Fowler

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If you have to self-isolate… then why not self-propagate, too

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Three easy ways to clone your houseplants

For those of us who have to self-isolate in the coming months, gardening can be a great escape. A growing body of research suggests that being around plants can reduce stress and anxiety, thus gardening can provide not only a welcome distraction from the headlines, but much-needed signs of growth, new life and positivity.

The best news is, you don’t even need a garden to get these benefits. The beauty of houseplants is that even people like me, who might otherwise be looking at four walls and Netflix for weeks on end, can benefit from horticultural therapy. So, in that spirit, here are a range of houseplants you can propagate at home right now to lift your spirits. Home propagation is also an excellent way to get new plants for free.

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Brassica, lettuce and tear peas… inspiration from Sanlúcar

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

A trip to the sun yields plenty of ideas – but can I grow anything this good?

Late February, Henri’s birthday trip to Sanlúcar in Andalucia. We first discovered the ancient city by accident when disappointed by Jerez. A cab to the coast, the old fail-safe. A place to fall in love.

Here, magical inner courtyards echo the Moors: plants in pots, painted tiles, water, cooling shade. There is a small vegetable plot outside our window. I am shamed by its perfection. Six raised rows, generously spaced: one of brassica, the rest a crisp green lettuce and another redder leaf. There are bitter-orange trees and bulbous lemon, fragrant blossom.

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How to grow bugles | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

It’s a seriously good bee and butterfly plant that doesn’t mind poor soil, thrives in shade and grows quickly

I have fallen for a very ordinary sort of plant; the small woodlander, Ajuga reptans, or bugle. It’s a native that’s fond of damp forest floors, where it creates a dense carpet of small blue flowers that are delightful: not showy or spectacular, just rather lovely and flowering right through to early summer.

It’s not just any ajuga that has caught my eye. Ajuga reptans ‘Rosea’, as its name suggests, is a pale rose-coloured form. I have planted it under one of my apples, near a bench that catches the first of the morning sun and is perfect for a quick coffee as I take in the blossom before the day starts. The blush-pink apple blossom is mirrored in a pool of pink below; I have never been so shamelessly romantic.

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Turning crap into gold: why a composting habit will change your life

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

In the era of Covid-19, we’ve had to move away from bring-your-own containers and reusable coffee cups – composting can help ease the burden

I have never laughed, cried and wanted to make brown butter apple cake more than now.

We don’t know how long it will be before we emerge from our chrysalises into the world again. But while we’re at home many of us seem to have paused to reflect on our consumption choices.

I hope we keep our newfound habits and do not fall back on old ones. The soul-benefiting DIY posts from around the world already feel like exactly what social media, in its best light, was built for.

Another realisation I’ve noticed in this quest for improvement is the process of literally dealing with one’s crap, whether it’s the spiritual, physical or organic variety.

Related: Chickens rule: why the backyard chook is the pet of the decade

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Experts’ tips on surviving – even enjoying – life under lockdown

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Missing the pub? Invite friends to online cocktails. That’s just one tip from our panel of experts on how to make the most of enforced downtime

Henry Porter, novelist and Vanity Fair editor
One of the nastier aspects of the pandemic is that it turns your friends and all that you do to show them affection – hug and kiss; share meals and drinks – into a deadly threat. And yet, in this appalling moment, we need our friends more than ever, and it is probably true that our immune systems do, too. Isolation is bad for a species addicted to social intercourse.

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How to make spring flowers last long into summer

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

The appearance of spring flowers means it’s time to plant for early summer. Orchids and lilies are a great place to start

Each year when the first spring bulbs start to come into their own, I take it as a seasonal cue to start planting their summer successors, it’s like planning what you fancy for dessert halfway through a slap-up lunch. As I sit looking out at a cloud of perfect magnolia blossom, here’s the list I am drawing up for the months to come…

Here in the UK, we don’t tend to think of orchids as outdoor plants. However, there are a range of perfectly hardy species that offer up good early summer interest. I love Bletilla striata alba for its delicate white blooms. These woodland plants thrive in deep, rich soil in dappled shade, but will fare well too with their heads in the sun, but feet in the shade.

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Early primroses come with memories of love and mothers

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

We’re past the equinox, a time to look ahead to new blooms, as well as back to treasured memories

We’re there. Winter’s over: we passed the vernal equinox – 3.40am, Friday 20 March – when daylight wins over darkness. When spring and seeds and hopes for the year are safely unleashed. When most gardeners start trickling back.

Today is also Mothering Sunday. For many it’s a day to look back as well as forward. For me, it means primroses. One of the few days when Lilian would go to church, with many other mums, to be given flowers picked by the village school kids. My reluctant brother and me draped in cassocks and surplices in the choir. Devon hedgerows in the 60s were awash with primrose, so everyone picked them for Mother’s Day, encouraged by their teachers. A lot less likely now, I think.

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How to grow blueberries | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

To enjoy a summer crop, the trick is in the soil, which should be acidic, porous and damp

I cannot say that I am exactly rich in blueberries; my harvest is modest, but for three or four weeks I can pick handfuls to scatter over my breakfast cornflakes. It never occurs to me to want blueberries, or cornflakes for that matter, outside of this brief summer fling, but for those glorious mornings my pleasure is sated.

Blueberries are acid fans and that makes them tricky to please, because they want garden soil with a pH between 4.5-5.5; most sit somewhere around 6.5-7.5. And therein lies the problem. Blueberries in the wrong pH sulk and can turn chlorotic: the leaves go sickly pale green; the plant becomes stunted; yields disappear.

Related: Blueberry recipes | Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Related: Which plants are the best bird feeders? | Alys Fowler

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Go to ground amid coronavirus: how to grow a living pantry to eat this winter

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Starting a vegetable garden takes more love than money, and in a time when Covid-19 is making us rethink how we consume, it makes perfect sense

In times of uncertainty, there always seems to be a spike in sales of cookery and DIY books, my bookseller and publisher friends happily tell me.

The last spike in major book sales occurred around the GFC a decade ago. Did you notice the resurgence in fermenting, canning and knitting? Homesteading became cool again. Years before that, Victory gardens strengthened communities during and post-second world war and were the reason that many did not go hungry.

Related: Why love and gardening always grow together | Allan Jenkins

Reconnecting to nature by means of a little gardening is a tremendous balm for these peculiar times

Related: Don't panic, Australia. The coronavirus doesn't mean we'll run out of food | David Littleproud

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Nature's healing potential – for us, and the planet

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

The destruction of the countryside is denting my optimism, writes John Green. And Eileen Peck discusses the need to regreen our front gardens

Patrick Barkham asks if nature really can cure us of our mental health problems (Green Prozac, Review, 14 March). He eloquently describes how reconnecting with the natural world can help us at least recuperate and find solace in a way that our urban environments cannot. However, as Richard Mabey says in the article, it is not a panacea and nature itself is going through its own crisis; no amount of walking through silent woodlands and desertified fields will provide the sought-after cure.

For those of us who have loved and immersed themselves in the countryside over many decades and written about it, our closeness to it can only add to our stress and worry. When I return to the lanes, hedgerows and woods I loved as a boy, where I found birds’ nests every 50 yards or so, watched field mice clambering with acrobatic agility up the stems of swaying wheat and heard the mournful piping of curlews and redshank from the marshy fields, today there is only an eerie stillness and scarcely a fluttering wingbeat over the monotone greenery.

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Sweet treats: berries for tight spaces

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

The best fruiting plants you can grow in pots and tiny patches

When it comes to growing edible plants, market research has shown that home gardeners are still far more interested in growing vegetables than fruit. Perhaps – because most vegetables are annuals – it is the promise of faster results. Or maybe it’s down to perceived cost – after all, vegetable seeds are far cheaper to buy than fruit bushes or trees. Or maybe it’s just that people are put off by all the complex pruning rules…

However, if it is maximum reward for minimum cost and in minimum space that you are after, fruit beats vegetables hands down by almost every measure. For starters, most fruit bushes are perennial, so will come back year after year without significant extra cost or effort. Add this to the fact that, generally, their harvests cost more to buy, too. So, with this in mind, here’s my take on the best fruiting plants for small patches, all of which you can plant right now.

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Spring mornings start with gifts and birds | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

It’s still warming up, but the mornings start sooner, days are longer, and the tadpoles and spring are both wriggling into life

The priory blackbirds are calling, an urgent dawn chorus, no longer one eager male but a full spring choir. Downstairs, seed is stirring, too. Flower and vegetable packets and sacks, speaking to me of urgency. There is a break in the rain, a break in the day (it is still not 6.30am). Memories are moving, warmed by imminent spring. I need to see the allotment. I am going away for a few days for my Danish mother-in-law’s milestone birthday. I need to seek the plot’s permission (odd as this may sound), or at least stop by as if to visit an old friend. I come bearing gifts, companion calendula, in a shade of orange by which all others are judged.

Early spring is bringing longer days, more time for trips before and after work. Today I’ll be back before 8am, armed with warm croissants and crusty bread. Hampstead’s trees are blossoming, crocus and daffodils are out, the site is alive with song. Parakeets screech as they pass overhead, en route from their evening perch at Kew to the heath. The robin joins me on the path.

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How to toughen up seedlings for planting in the ground | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Hardening off has to be done slowly, or a sudden cold shock will check growth

There is so much to be done at the moment: all those seeds that need to be scattered and the seedlings that will be rapidly outgrowing their pots. But if you are just opening your first seed packet, don’t panic. It’s always tempting, particularly when Instagram is taunting you, to think that you are behind in sowing. You are not. Don’t get distracted by false gods.

As my mother always reminds me, the hardier veg (beetroot, spring onions, lettuce, carrots, parsnips, basically anything other than chillies) sown later in March or early April grows at such a pace that it will quickly outstrip the early birds. I say this over and over again, in part to remind myself; but seeds sown in step with the season grow in time with the lengthening days, and are much more likely to take on the slugs, snails and other marauders out to get them.

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House plants: make your own miniature mossy world

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

At last, British gardeners are getting excited about ‘mossariums’

Cultural differences in gardening are fascinating. In Japan, there are many specialist nurseries dedicated entirely to moss cultivars. In the UK, the only thing you’re likely to find in a garden centre with “moss” on it is a bottle of moss killer. However, thanks to the blossoming of cross-cultural exchanges of gardening ideas, often generated by following accounts on Instagram, it seems a whole generation of Brits is getting excited about “mossariums” – miniaturised landscapes of moss and rocks encased in glass vessels. But given our lack of dedicated moss nurseries, how do you even get hold of the stuff? Here’s my guide for beginners who want to get in on this trend.

Given our lack of dedicated moss nurseries, how do you even get hold of the stuff? Here’s my guide for beginners

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Vegetables, fruit, flowers – I’m greedy for all seeds | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

There are seed packets are all over the place. As sowing starts, it’s time to sort out this addiction

I have something of the hoarder, like an old bachelor found buried under stacks of books and papers. Yet with me it is always seed.

I am determined this year to face it: my demon of addiction. So today I spent three hours gathering bags and packets of seed, scattered throughout the house; in the kitchen, living room, bedroom, in bowls and boxes. First, sorting them into manageable types: ‘fruit’, such as beans, peas, squash and courgettes; ‘leaf’, which were mainly assorted salads and cooking greens; ‘root’, such as radishes and beetroots of assorted hues; and ‘flower’ – crazed amounts of nasturtiums, tagetes, calendula and poppies. There is even a special category for Italian chicories.

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Alys Fowler: how to breed the perfect pumpkin

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

If you can grow pumpkins, you can breed them, says the Austrian who is creating the heirloom varieties of the future

Klaus Brugger loves pumpkins. In particular, he loves a certain flesh quality and the nutty flavour in winter squash, and because he is a curious type and a passionate gardener, the Austrian wondered whether he might be able to make his perfect pumpkin. I know this because his Instagram account (@klaus_brugger), which is full of pumpkin pinups, is documenting this journey. It’s a brilliant educational tour of how to go about creating your own vegetable varieties on a small scale.

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