13 Jul Green fingers: lexi’s lockdown gardening journey
I love being outdoors.
I haven’t scaled mountains or swum across oceans. I haven’t even travelled that much for relaxing holidays. But I love being outside. I love being close to nature amongst all the life and colour. If you sit silently and just let nature wrap its arms around you – worries tend to take a backseat to a pure glow siphoned from the ground itself. Maybe I’m just a romantic- just try it. Sit, absorb and smile.
Ever since I was a little girl I’ve been around gardening. My aunty did gardening for a living and my mum has always been passionate about it too. We would spend hours in my aunty’s garden with her massive pond full of fish and beautiful water lilies. Tall, water loving brightly coloured plants providing protection to frogs and toads that made homes in the shady depths. She had long winding borders filled with different hues of blue and purple with white dotted in between. Lush greenery burst out from a rich ground and swirls of perfectly mixed gentle scents cradled you as you walked through the garden. I remember walking along her stepping stone path to the very end of the garden where there were gorgeous delicate flowers growing over a wooden arch that led to a vegetable patch and greenhouse. I remember imagining all sorts of creatures and magical creations lived there. To me, there was no place more magical than that garden.
They both had this gigantic book that was basically a plant bible. My mum kept the book in its box, and it was always handled very carefully- to this day it’s still in pristine condition! It’s always a good go-to. Tools were kept on hooks on the wall or in the green garden shed next to boxes of seeds with handwritten labels. Trips to the garden centre always meant coming home with a boot-full of plants that we had to hide from Dad before he moaned about “NOT MORE FLOWERS”. We couldn’t help ourselves when wandering down rows and rows of brightly coloured bursts of natural art with multiple layers of petals or architectural shrubbery- and there was always room for another statue. I used to visit the farm shop at the end and get a bag of the sweets in the old-fashioned pots or jars or picking out the biggest eggs from local farms. They were all rippled on the outside and I was always excited to see if they had a double yolk! The little shop sold useful bits, knick knacks and gifts and I always used to pick up a fridge magnet or something pretty but little for my mum.
I’m fortunate enough to live in a house with a good-sized garden. It’s my parents’ house- but as they’ve got older the dreams and plans for the garden have become more of a fantasy or impossibility. My mum has been retired for a year and has been hit with some pretty tough health stuff so gardening, even as a retiree was out of the question. My dad works all week in construction and spends his weekends recovering mostly! So- the garden became my project. Generally, when people think of gardening, they associate it with the older generation when they retire and long, boring days twiddling flowers about. SO…. I’m going to show you why gardening is so much more.
This is what my garden started off as years ago. There was a pond, a mound of earth at the very end that kept getting bigger and bigger and still labelled a rockery.
I then moved away for Uni and work and left behind my passion for gardening. However, in December 2018 I moved back to London and in the spring of 2019 I re discovered why I love gardening.
For me, I needed gardening. It’s been studied in depth for its benefits on mental health, and this was something I really needed to spend some time on. I was stuck in a strange period of my life recovering from some pretty rough work-place mental bullying, a bad break up, a career that I had to leave in a city I had to leave if I was going to literally fight to live another day. I had to take time to heal myself; however long that would take, if at all possible. I don’t particularly remember the first couple of months living back in London- but I do remember when I started to feel a bit more alive again. It was when I got outside and re-discovered who I am.
A garden in the very early spring isn’t the most appealing place to be. Almost nothing is in flower. Mostly, everything is just damp and still asleep. Plants are busy underground furiously working to stay warm and absorb as many nutrients from the earth that they can. Nutrients are a bit sparse in winter months so plants will try to make the vitamins and minerals they absorbed the year before stretch until they get some sunshine and feed. However, it’s a crucial time for a gardener; we need to be out there weeding, tidying, planning for the year ahead and making sure the garden is in as good a way as it can be for the spring. I find that the earlier months of the year are a great time to cut plants or shrubs back to encourage fresh growth for the new year. It helps make the new growth even stronger. I think at the time, this reflected exactly what I was in need of. I needed to shed last year’s rubbish to make way for a stronger and new person to come through. It’s all in the prep.
After an entire year of hard work, planning, planting and healing the garden was finally looking in a great way. I transformed the end of the garden into a gorgeous rockery- to this day I have no idea how I managed to do it in one day. I had cleared the bed of weeds and the overgrown plants that were out of control. I dug down 2 ft into the soil to ensure all roots were gone and I measured out a membrane to put over the top. A membrane is a sheet of breathable material that blocks anything from underneath growing through- this works on a rockery as the plants you typically plant on a rockery don’t grow in very deep soil. On top, I sieved more earth to make my shallow planting area without large pebbles and unwanted materials. I then had to move gravel. SO MUCH GRAVEL. Wheelbarrows and wheelbarrows of gravel from the front garden through the garage to the back, shovel it out onto the freshly sieved earth and make sure it was evenly dispersed. Once done, I lugged giant rocks and carefully placed them according to colour and the architecture they provided to the overall view. It is easy to forget about the hard work and preparation that can go into things- but that day I knew I’d never overlook the preparation someone had put into ANYTHING. Here was the result:
I got my job with Bums at the end of 2019, so I’d had the entire spring/summer to enjoy what I had started to create. Going out into the garden every day had provided me with a reason to get up, something to set goals for and keep myself motivated. The hard work, the sweat, gave me fulfilment and satisfaction much like you would hope to get out of a job. Through the tears of frustration and the tears of joy I rediscovered a Lexi that I had lost along the way and I made it my mission to never lose her again. Gardening and being outdoors had given me more than I could have ever asked for; it kept me alive.
This year we have all been faced with an unexpected situation with much confusion and a lot of worry. We were confined to our homes with very little to keep us occupied. In the first week of lockdown I spent all day in bed in floods of tears, struggling to adapt. The next Monday I woke up, and just knew I was going to be ok- I’d had my bad week. I gave myself the time I needed to be sad and knew I didn’t want to be like that for any longer. How was I going to make it through? I looked out my window and I just knew. We had some amazing weather quite early on this year and it meant I could get outside without being rained on or risk catching frostbite and actually get things done. I started with seeds.
I bought a pop-up greenhouse (we don’t have space for a large built greenhouse, so this was the next best thing- it was £10 and an absolute bargain!) and after just a couple of weeks my seeds started to come alive.
I was hooked- this was exciting! But I was going to need a good space to plant all of these on once they were big enough. It was time to tackle the ‘veg patch’ that had been there for the past year and a bit without being tackled. I began to remove the weeds that had claimed the earth and start re homing the few plants that were left in the ground. I had to dig about 3 feet down in some spots to take out roots and generally assess the state the earth was in. Prognosis? Not good. The earth was dry and dusty.
After removing around half of the soil it was time to add some nutrients. Many bags of soil and manure later I had the joyous role of digging it all in! I wanted to add some Blood, bone & meal but needed to let the earth settle for a week first as to not overload everything. Sometimes doing too much to a freshly prepared bed can actually have the opposite effect- there is such a thing as over feeding plants which can actually kill them!
Before I could plant, I needed to be able to protect my crops. I myself have a cat, my neighbours have a cat and there are more all around. To a cat- this prepared bed was looking a lot like a posh litter-box for sure and once planted and producing crops all sorts of wildlife would soon find it’s way in. I went and bought a roll of netting that has soft connections as to not cause harm- and just using a few bricks I secured the edges down around the patch. Once this was sorted, I could start to plant up! I planted yellow peppers and some carrots, red onion and radish seeds (as they are seeds you can sow directly into the ground and don’t need to be grown in a warm greenhouse first).
I wanted to know how much I could grow successfully. I found some potatoes in the cupboard that had little tentacle bits growing off and decided to plant them and see what they would come to- why not! Part of the fun of gardening is the trial and error- what will come to fruition and what won’t. The excitement of seeing if it’ll work is the best part!
Now I could turn my attention to the garden. I love wildlife being around me when I’m outside and we always try to grow plenty of brightly coloured flowers not only for our visual but to attract bees and butterflies. I needed to go over the beds and make some adjustments. I saw on my community Facebook group that a small local plant nursey was offering a delivery service following social distancing measures. I signed up to the mail system and every week I began getting a new availability list and order form. I was able to order a great variety of plants, veg babies and soil. It felt great to be supporting a local business in such hard and uncertain times; the service was outstanding and the plant quality phenomenal. Adding splashes of colour to the garden was going to be a great summertime surprise- and now look!
Now, many months later I have a veg patch filled with potatoes, beetroot, radishes, carrots, red onions and peppers. I have about 12 different tomato plants. I’ve had some of the best strawberries I’ve ever tasted from my own back garden. I ran out of space and had to make another smaller patch for my purple sprouting broccoli, courgettes and more carrots and have had bowls and bowls of fresh lettuce leaves for weeks.
I still craved that magic from Aunty Ann’s garden all those years ago. Though now an adult, I still wanted to see the fairies hopping from plant to plant. I couldn’t do it in the whole garden, but I could make a fairy corner. Small, delicate flowers to sit next to adorable miniature garden signs, houses and benches. A real fairy haven. Now I enjoy going and sitting by the fairy corner in the evenings watching the wind rustle through the greenery imagining all the magic that was going on without me seeing.
I honestly cannot encourage you enough to get involved with gardening. Whether it be in a big back garden or on a windowsill. The hard work and care brings you fantastic results; it’s fulfilling work with a lot of excitement along the way. The possibilities are endless- whatever you can imagine you can manifest. Let your creative juices flow and enjoy the sensation of seeing the fruits of your labour right before your eyes. Take time to go and visit professional show gardens; the hours and hours of back-breaking hard work and genuine love put into them cannot be ignored. Surround yourself with nature and allow yourself time to heal.
Life is hard. So, take some time out for yourself. Go outside, see what’s there. Enjoy all the little things.