As lockdown eases, Team AG looks back on 100+ days of gardening misadventures, happy accidents and personal triumphs. It's good to share...
Garry Coward-Williams, editor
My fiancée Gill and I have lived at our house four years and we have worked hard to develop our garden from an overgrown disaster area into something more appealing to us and one that would encourage wildlife.
However, as you all know, it takes a lot of time to make big changes —unless you have former AG deputy Editor Alan Titchmarsh and a TV crew to hand! We didn’t, so it’s been a slow process.
However, with the lockdown in place there was nothing to distract us realising a project we’ve been wanting to do for a long time: to create a rock garden in one of our three borders. Previously this border was home to an unruly collection of ferns and as much as we liked them, we felt they would be better at the rear of the garden.
The task seemed pretty simple: dig the ferns out, clear away any old root systems, turn over and replace soil and then start planting.
However, those ancient ferns were not prepared to go quietly and it took a huge amount of work with axe and spade to hack them out. To add to the difficulty we found this border had been a dumping ground for rubble and so huge bits of stone had to be levered out.
Then we discovered that below the soil surface was in a series of massively dense root systems. By the time we excavated the root networks and rubble we were left with a huge crater!
Undeterred we replaced and fed the soil and planted euphorbia, sea thrift, aubrieta, primroses, geraniums, eryngiums, thyme, salvias, clary, santolina, forget-me-nots and lavender.
The whole project took around four days and probably would not have happened so quickly but for lockdown.
Ruth Hayes, gardening editor
The one – admittedly somewhat slight – consolation following the cancellation of this summer’s holidays and festivals has been the chance to keep an eye on the garden all season.
The hope is that these unbroken weeks of care and attention will result in generous crops and prolific blooms, an urban Garden of Eden if you will.
So far the only casualty has been our leeks, which didn’t enjoy the hot, dry start to summer (not helped by our inadequate watering) and bolted at breakneck speed, throwing out flower spikes and turning hard, woody and inedible.
They have been removed and a fresh lot planted so hopefully we will be able to salvage something for the Christmas table.
Otherwise the garden has put on its best show yet, thanks no doubt to the soggy start to the year followed by that glorious early summer.
Lockdown gave us the chance to spend more time growing and tending and the veg patch in particular has been astounding – rhubarb, mangetout and beans, punnets of soft fruits, figs, salads, tomatoes (slow to redden but now getting there) and an embarrassment of garlic, onions and shallots.
Best of all has been the asparagus. We planted two roots back in early spring and waiting for the first shoots, not to eat this year because the plants are too young, but to watch and celebrate.
And we waited. And waited. And then we waited a little bit more, with some extra waiting added to the end of that too and then last week, just as hope was almost lost, the first thin, brave spears appeared above the ground.
Since then we have been watching their daily progress with the intensity of doting parents and dreaming of future springs tasting of rich, buttery luxury.
Lesley Upton, features editor
I’ve had quite a few gardening successes so far this year, including broad beans, strawberries, lettuces, potatoes and sweet peas at the allotment.
There were also some failures – notably peas, because I neglected them, so they became strangled by the weeds and eaten by the pigeons. Needless to say, I’ve probably picked only 20 or 30 pods from the four rows that I sowed.
The gardening success that has given me the most pleasure, though, is my English lavender in the back garden. It has gone bonkers this year, and has attracted so many bees I find it hard to count them all.
The bees, as far as I can tell, are mainly white-tailed bumblebees, with a few honeybees and red-tailed bumblebees. I am taking more of an interest in the different bee species now that so many of them are attracted to the lavender.
I have spent hours watching these insects going about their business, and find it very relaxing. It’s also exciting when I think I’ve seen a ‘new’ bee, as I rush back indoors and search for one of my wildlife books.
I grow my lavender in front of the greenhouse, but it has grown so well this year that it has blocked the entrance!
I now have to step over the lavender and the bees if I want to get inside the greenhouse, and sometimes the bees aren’t too happy about being disturbed!
Janey Goulding, assistant editor
When people talk about ‘everything but the kitchen sink’, I’m guessing they never had a kitchen sink like mine. It’s a veritable Battersea Dogs & Cats Home of plants that are being cared for – Battersea Plants Home, if you will.
With no outdoor plot, the kitchen is my de facto place for practical gardening. Stuffed to the gills with verdant aspirations, you’ll struggle to locate the washing-up, and anyone holding a plate is advised to approach with caution.
Having the confidence to experiment in a small environment is my great gardening achievement. For me, it’s all about the small victories (well, it has to be in my flat).
A year ago, my star jasmine was having a personality crisis, prompting a few cuttings, left for months to root in a jar – during lockdown, these flourished in a new pot and it’s a joy to see all the vigorous, glossy growth.
I’d also been worrying about a flower-free anthurium until I switched to orchid bark: why hello, first flamingo flower in two years!
Arguably, growing Tomato ‘Tom Thumb’ from seed has been the ‘biggest’ project. After cradling these big boys into conical supports, they seemed to grow a foot overnight, and now tower over me like vertiginous teenagers. And like a proud auntie, I’ll say: “Ah, I remember when you were wee small things, and (less like an auntie) just popping out of your modules.”
It’s about having the courage to think laterally, like thinking: yes, I will stick these aloe cuttings in a banana. Why not? The potassium works wonders. It’s something I might not have done before lockdown, but what the heck? Gardening is about taking chances.
It’s also about thinking creatively, and vertically, in whatever container works for a bulging menagerie, from mosaic stepping to macramé boosters – inspired by the RHS Houseplant Takeover, where giant ferns languished in a clawfoot bath and bromeliads jostled for the right side of the bed.
Every joy is an achievement. Next up is Senecio ‘Angel Wings’, which Peter Seabrook mentions in AG 25 July. He says touching the leaves is better than stroking a cat.
It looks to me like a unicorn cabbage, and every time I see a picture I want to bury my face in it. Still, since I don’t have a pet… Battersea Plants Home is calling!
Wendy Humphries, letters editor
It’s amazing how a few small changes outdoors can give you a real sense of achievement.
One single thing that took no time at all was revamp our small patio. Finding new homes for pots and moving the dining table and chairs to a new position on the lawn has made the garden feel so much more spacious and easier to use. Why didn’t we think of this before!
Other jobs that seemed too big during normal times were done at a leisurely rate… the weather was kind and within a few weeks everything seemed ship-shape and in order – the garden has never looked so tidy.
A major undertaking was to rebuild a 1.8m long wooden vegetable trug. It had served us for a few years but recently sat idle as the timbers had completely rotted.
My husband sourced new gravel boards for £5 each from a local fencing company who were doing home deliveries. These timbers were painted with an eco and plant- friendly treatment and a permeable liner secured in place.
The new wood has since mellowed to a lovely silvery grey. Finally, the trug was filled with 450 litres of compost, using bags of peat-free for vegetables mixed with 20 per cent John Innes No 2.
Soon the Humphries’ household will be enjoying the good life with fresh tomatoes, courgettes, parsley, basil, beetroot, lettuce and carrots, all very exciting – move over Tom and Barbara…
Let’s keep gardening!
One of the great things about lockdown was that more people discovered the joy of gardening and growing things and we greatly hope that this won’t wear off now that ‘normal’ life has resumed.
This blog is an insight into what the AG team is up in their gardens, what we like to grow, what we pick and harvest, what’s worked for us and what hasn’t – because like everyone, things go wrong for us too!
Our gardening ‘agony uncle’ John Negus is also still working hard. Send him your problems and questions, with pictures if you can, and he will get back to you with an answer within 24 hours, as he has been doing for decades. Contact him using the AG email address at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We already have thriving Facebook page but are also on Twitter and Instagram. These sites are a brilliant way of chatting to people, sharing news, information, pictures and just saying hello –we will get back to you as soon as we can.
Best of all, as gardeners are generally lovely folk, more interested in plants, hedgehogs, tea and cake than political shenanigans and point-scoring, so the chat is friendly and welcoming.
You can find us at:
So please drop by, follow us, ‘like’our posts and say hello –we will reply as soon as we can. Happy gardening!