In normal times, having a big garden is a blessing, but sometimes you wish you had that bit more time to lavish on it.
It’s a joy, of course, to look out upon your own rolling lawn and flower beds, or spend time in them, weather permitting. But work, a social life and other day-to-day duties, can all come between you and your garden and leave you with less time than you’d like to really make the best of it.
The coronavirus outbreak may appear to present few upsides, but being stuck at home is at least a great opportunity to put in extra hours in the garden. Everything is bursting into leaf around now, making it the perfect time to kick off the growing season with gusto.
Build a raised bed
Planting veg? If you grow them in raised beds, the most time-consuming part of your vegetable gardening is the picking.
The late John Seymour, the self-sufficiency guru, reckoned 9 sq m of veg would produce enough to keep an adult going all year. Make them from timber (pressure-treated softwood or oak, if you have the cash) or, if you are not so bothered about aesthetics, galvanised corrugated iron. This comes in a range of colours but black looks almost smart. Fill with topsoil (ideally weed-free) mixed with green waste (try bettaland.co.uk).
I’ll be posting a YouTube video on making these shortly, so stay tuned.
Only sow what you’ll eat
Cut-and-come-again mixed leaves are easy and will be ready for picking in about six weeks. I sowed some at the end of January – 'The Good Life Mix' from Thompson and Morgan – on my kitchen window sill in modules, and they are now just ready for cutting in mid-March. You could now sow direct broad beans, kales, lettuce peas, radish, parsley spinach, turnips and more.
...but don’t forget blooms
While in the sowing mode, you could start a few annuals off, such as easy things like cosmos. Start them off on the kitchen window sill in small cells, and while these are getting going, perk up your borders by removing any dead herbaceous remains and pesky weeds and do a late pruning of your roses if you have not had time before.
Apply a thick mulch
Around 50cm deep all over the soil is fine. I find the green waste the best: it adds organic matter and keeps down the weeds. It also looks good, but please don’t dig it in, it is far better left on top. Come May or after the frosts, you can pop in clumps of the cosmos or other annuals to fill out any gaps.
And finally, some finishing touches
Now might also be the perfect time to take a good hard look at the design of the garden, too. Do you have a good-sized sitting/eating area directly accessible from the house? If it’s a long trek away, it rarely gets well used. Our main area is on the north side of the house, but the French doors from the kitchen open on to it and we use it non-stop during the summer months and frequently need a sunshade.
If your budget for a terrace is tight, don’t scrimp on size; gravel is more affordable and you can mix this in with a few paving slabs, finances willing. Later on you can do a pucker job.
Make sure there is room for an outdoor sofa, a table and chairs and a fire bowl to chew the fat around on a summer’s evening.
If you want to help save the planet, why not dig yourself a decent-sized natural type garden pool, too? Use the topsoil you dig out to fill your raised veg beds, line the hole with EPDM (similar to butyl, but superior), fill with water and plant up with stunning marginal and submergent plants. Then, sit back and watch the wildlife come in.