Grow Your Own – Jump in with us

There is a great opportunity, whatever your skill level, to start experiencing the joy of gardening. Like many things you may be reluctant to start if you have never grown anything before but a love of gardening can start with the simplest of things, as I mention in my first post, I started with very little knowledge and skills, but over time I have learnt and developed my gardening skills and I would love to help anyone who wants to have a go. In reality, you can start with the most basic of materials, e.g. a bag of potting compost, some seeds and some containers to plant them in or you can buy ready to go plug plants and some pretty pots and off you go.

What I can also share is how much joy and inspiration comes from seeing things grow, we are living through one of the most stressful and challenging times this generation has ever experienced. Escaping to our open spaces, however small, is good for our health and general well-being. Even if you only have a balcony, or a window box you can experience the fun of creating micro greens, growing flowers, or nurturing an exotic house plant.

This is also something that you can share with your children, giving them the opportunity to create their own plots, or miniature gardens.

In this Grow Your Own section, I want to share with you my ideas for how you can get started and also to jump straight in with a plan of some of the ways that you can start to grow your own.  

Traditionally gardeners start to plan their annual planting in the autumn ready for the next year, but I want to give you the opportunity to start gardening right away with what may still be possible to plant and then gradually build up to a full year, next year. While you may think that nothing happens in gardens during the winter, this is a wonderful time to plan and prepare for the growing year ahead. Once you start to look at the seed catalogues you will suddenly find yourself with a large shopping list!

When you visit garden centres after lockdown the experience is likely to be very different from what existed previously, there will be new Covid-19 guidelines, so in your initial visits it will be helpful to go with a plan of what you would like to buy and before you visit make sure you have an idea of how much space you have available for your plants.

Depending on what you already have a available a basic list could include the following:

 For window sills, balcony or courtyard containers:

Multi-Purpose Potting compost (many centres may be limited to a couple of options) for more varieties please see my soil guide.

Seeds – (make sure you read the back of the packets for sowing dates) – while many seeds may need to have already been sown for indoor sowing look for seeds with outdoor sowing options or ones with May – June sowing to get you started. Growing from seed is great fun and for only a few pounds you can grow so many plants. Bear in mind that seeds do have a ‘sow by’ date, make sure when buying your seeds you look for the longest date possible so that they are nice and fresh. Also, take a look at my recent post on seed suppliers.

Plug plants – these are great for creating an instant plant display, depending on the size of your chosen container, look at the labels for the final growth size to make sure that you plant your pots with enough space for the plants to fill out. Easy and cheap options are pansies, geraniums, petunias and begonias.

A small trowel for the balcony, or an old spoon for a window box.

Containers – look for pots with drainage holes or a container with a self watering channel, you may also want to purchase a drip tray or pot feet to aid drainage. Be creative with your containers, you may have old crates or metal buckets already in your garden that you can use. If buying new try to source biodegradable pots but make sure there are drainage holes (you can add these with a nail and a hammer or a drill). Be aware that while terracotta pots look very pretty and rustic, they can leach extra moisture through the pots and can dry out quicker and therefore will need more water in hot weather. They can also crack in the winter in frosty conditions so you may wish to look for ‘frost free’ labels, or be aware that you will have to wrap them with bubble wrap, or a horticultural fleece in the winter.

For small gardens

If you are planning to plant in a garden investing in some basic, but good quality items will make your life easier. 

Spade and fork
Hoe for cutting weeds and cultivating soil / borders
Lawn edging tool
Multi-purpose compost

When you visit the centre, you may also find that there are plants that are reduced because they are past their best, but with optimism and care these plants can still deliver. I remember visiting my local garden centre a couple of years ago and seeing tomato plants being sold for 50p, I bought several and took them home and with no expectation, found that they were still delivering the most delicious tomatoes right up until December. I can promise you this, anything you grow yourself to eat will taste infinitely better than anything you can buy in the supermarket and with the recent Covid-19 situation being able to provide food from your garden is even more important. You can often pick up reduced items such as Dahlia tubers and if you put them straight in the ground even though they may not flower that much in this season you can dig them up after the first frosts and store them for the next year. They are definitely a plant that keeps giving.

Always be willing to experiment and to have fun with your gardening, last year I planted a number of sunflower seeds and once I planted them out, they grew and grew until they reached an amazing and dizzy height rivalling those that you might find in far sunnier countries.

When you are making your selection of either seeds, or plants, always choose what you like and would enjoy to eat or to look at, don’t be tempted to buy something just because it is cheap and don’t grow vegetables you wouldn’t actually eat!

So if you are looking for a gardening adventure join me on our ‘Grow Your Own’ journey, as we discover together ways of growing food for our tables, cultivating houseplants for our homes, flowers for our vases, or as gifts for others. Let’s all help each other to learn and embrace our green spaces that we have.

I cannot tell how much joy growing has given me and I am so pleased to be able to share with you everything I have learned and will continue to learn. Lets jump in together and join in the fun!

Creating your Floral Displays

You may have heard the terms thriller, spiller and filler when it comes to flower arrangements and displays. What this basically means is that when creating your cut flower garden, flowers in a vase or even container gardens you can have one or two ‘thrillers’ or main show flowers, a few ‘spillers’ that can spill over the side of the container, or vase and a number of ‘filler’ flowers and plants. In Clare Nolan’s In Bloom book she also uses the terms, heroes, supporting acts, fillers, foliage and sidekicks. I love this because when putting together a floral arrangement you will find that you will want more than just three types of foliage and flowers. When I am creating an arrangement in a vase, I like displays that emulate a more natural and whimsical appearance, with plants practically falling out of the containers and vases, you may also wish to look at The Flower Fix by Anna Potter for inspiration. In the list of the seeds below I have used the thriller, spiller and filler terms to give you an idea of what to buy, but bear in mind you will need a lot more foliage that you think to create a wonderful display, so choose a mixture of all three rather than just picking the ‘thriller’ flowers. Try to imagine them in a collection with other flowers and consider colour palettes. Before you leave for the garden centre take photographs of what you already have growing in your garden so you can see how your new plants would compliment your existing collection.

Seeds you can sow this month

Cut Flower Garden

Amaranthus (Spiller)
Achillea (Filler)
Ammi majus & visnaga (Filler)
Angelica (Filler)
Aquilegia (Filler)
Briza maxima aka Greater Quaking Grass (Spiller)
Bupleurum rotundifolium (Filler)
Cosmos (Filler / Thriller in a small display)
Cynoglossum amabile aka Chinese Forget-me-not (Spiller and Filler)
Consolida aka Larkspur (Thriller / Filler)
Echinacea (Thriller / Filler
Gypsophila (Filler and Spiller)
Malope (Thriller and Filler)
Marigold (Thriller)
Poppies (Thriller in a small display / Filler in a large display)
Penstemon (Filler / Spiller)
Platycodon (Thriller in a small display / Filler in a large display)
Pansies (Filler)
Nicotiana (Filler and Spiller)
Sunflower (Thriller)
Scabious (Filler)
Verbena (Filler)
Zinnia (Thriller in a small display / Filler in a large display)

It’s also the perfect time to purchase Dahlia tubers (these will be mainly thriller flowers – especially the ‘dinnerplate’ varieties) for late summer, autumn flowers – many of these will be on sale as the garden centres will have missed out on their opportunity for earlier sales, these are plants that keep giving year after year so I would definitely recommend buying some of these for your cutting garden. Choose varieties that really appeal to you and that you have space for, they do grow quite big but can be grown in pots as well as in the ground.

Vegetable Garden

Onions (including spring)
Lettuce and Salad Leaves
Herbs including Basil

This is just a handful of options for you – refer to the seed packets for more details. Most of all just have a go!

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