Ten things to do in the garden WITHOUT a trip to the shops

Ten things to do in the garden WITHOUT a trip to the shops: How to transform your outdoor space while social distancing

  • Gardening will lower stress levels, provide exercise and top up vitamin D levels
  • Anxiety-busting things include sowing seeds, dividing plants and potting 
  • Setting up a group chat with other keen gardeners could help you share tips

We may be living through a time of national crisis, but for Britain’s gardeners there is at least a tiny sliver of a silver lining: social distancing has coincided with the busiest time of the year for gardening.

If you have an outside space – however large or small – then forget about the world’s troubles, pull on your gardening gloves and get out there.

Gardening will lower your stress levels, give you some exercise, help you top up your vitamin D and make your surroundings more beautiful – and you can do it all in glorious isolation.

Here are ten anxiety-busting things to do in the garden in the next few weeks …

A silver lining of social distancing is that is had coincided with the busiest time of the year for gardening 

SOW SEEDS 

Most of us have a few packets of seeds knocking about from last year, or even longer ago. 

Now is the time to get sowing. Don’t worry if your seed packet is already open or long past its sell-by date: sow the seeds anyway and at least some of them are likely to germinate.

As the soil is now getting warmer, you can scatter most seeds outdoors where you want them to flower. 

Try poppies, snapdragons, calendula (pot marigolds), cornflowers, nigella (Love-in-a-mist), nasturtiums, cosmos and larkspur.

If you don’t have any seeds to hand, ask friends or neighbours if they have any to spare that they can pop through your letter box, or order them online: try chilternseeds.co.uk, mr-fothergills.co.uk, thompson-morgan.com or higgledygarden.com.

DIVIDE PLANTS 

Want more of your favourite plants for free? Luckily, this is just the right time to divide or split summer-flowering plants.

You’ll not only get lots more plants, you’ll actually be making the original plant healthier by ensuring it doesn’t grow too big and woody. 

Plants suitable for dividing are primroses, hardy geraniums, daylilies, Japanese anemones, asters, geums and heucheras.

Dig up the clump and gently loosen the surrounding soil; using a trowel, garden fork or even your hands (depending on how tough the plant is), carefully pull the plant apart, making sure each section has plenty of roots.

Replant the sections around the garden, and water well until they’re established.

GET POTTING 

Another way of getting plants for free is to pot up all those self-seeded little plants around your garden. 

At this time of year, if you have a primrose or two in your garden, you’ll almost certainly see baby seedlings around it.

A way to get plants for free is to pot up all those self-seeded little plants around your garden

Hellebores are another great self-seeder; one mature plant can produce hundreds of seedlings.

Other prolific self-seeders are Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle), aquilegia (columbines), forgetme-nots, honesty, nigella and foxgloves.

If the seedlings are very small, then gently lift them up and plant them in pots until they are big enough to handle easily.

Larger seedlings can be replanted straight away around the garden.

CHAT ONLINE

If you want support, encouragement and companionship for your gardening efforts, why not set up an email or WhatsApp group with friends who are keen gardeners. 

You can keep up your spirits by swapping tips and photographs, sharing links to useful gardening sites on the internet, and even donating plants and seeds if you live close to each other (leaving them on the doorstep, of course).

GROW VEGETABLES 

Home-grown vegetables are healthy, tasty and fun to grow. Even if you have only a few containers in which to grow vegetables, you can end up with a surprising amount of produce.

Growing your own vegetables is fun and delicious. It is even possible to grow produce with only a few containers 

Whether you want to grow juicy tomatoes (Sungold is my absolute favourite, but there are dozens of varieties to choose from), beans, peas, salad leaves, radishes, courgettes, chillies or squashes, they can easily be started from seed. 

If you want to try something different, grow cucamelons: these bite-sized fruits taste like across between a cucumber and a lime, and are delicious in a salad or sliced in a gin and tonic. 

You could also order young plants by mail order – Marshalls (marshallsgarden.com) has a great range.

FEED THE BEES 

We all know that the number of bees and butterflies has declined, and gardeners can make a huge difference simply by sowing the nectar-rich plants that these pollinators need to feed on.

Scatter seeds of borage, scabious, marjoram, thyme, valerian, clover and red campion in sunny areas of your garden and you’ll be providing vital nourishment for a range of beneficial insects. 

If you’re short of space, just fill some containers or window boxes with these flowers and herbs and you’ll be enjoying the happy buzz of insects all through the spring to summer.

TRY PHOTOGRAPHY 

Getting good pictures of your own plot is often frustratingly difficult. Use the next few weeks to practise your photography, taking daily shots as the garden starts to bloom in the warmer weather.

You could even post your best photos on social media, or email them to friends and family to cheer them up. 

Getting into gardening photography is a great way to boost wellbeing and you can develop your technique by finding tips online 

You’ll find lots of good tips and articles online – just type into Google, ‘improve your garden photography’.

Some of the techniques that professionals recommend include photographing the garden at sunrise, when the light is at its softest; standing on a ladder to get a bird’s-eye view and investing in a small smartphone tripod (you can get them by mail order at amazon.co.uk for under £20).

A good book is The Garden Photography Workshop by Andrea Jones (available on amazon.co.uk, for £17.99, or only £1.98 as a Kindle book).

STAKE PLANTS 

This is one of those tasks that most of us (me included) put off for far too long, with predictably dire consequences: by high summer, plants that should be standing tall and proud are collapsing all over the place.

If you’re growing peonies, dahlias, delphiniums, oriental poppies, foxgloves, sunflowers and the taller forms of salvias, they will need support with canes and soft twine. 

The trick is to do it early in the season before the plants have put on too much growth, so now is the perfect time.

Create a framework of canes around the plant (the plant will soon disguise the supports as it grows) and don’t tie it in too tightly – it needs to be able to move in the wind.

Staking isn’t the most exciting job to do in the garden, but do it properly and your prize plants will look fantastic this summer.

SUPPORT NURSERIES 

The cancellation of RHS shows such as Cardiff, the Malvern Spring Show and, most devastating of all, the Chelsea Flower Show, has hit small nurseries hard. 

Many of them are bursting with stock and still very much open for mail order business.

Britain has a world-class selection of specialist nurseries and it Pictures: would be a tragedy if we lost them, so do support them if you can.

Some of the best are Bluebell Cottage Gardens and Nursery in Cheshire (bluebellcottage.co.uk) and Edrom Nurseries in Scotland (good for alpines and woodland plants – edrom-nurseries.co.uk).

Plus, Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens in Essex (bethchatto.co.uk), Thorncroft Clematis in Norfolk (clematis and other climbers – thorncroftclematis.co.uk), Claire Austin Hardy Plants (claireaustin-hardyplants.co.uk) and Knoll Gardens in Dorset (a superb range of ornamental grasses – knollgardens.co.uk).

SCATTER COMPOST

If you’ve been dutifully composting your garden and household organic waste, now is the time to get spreading. 

All that rotted material (which gardeners call mulch) will return valuable nutrients to the soil.

You’ll know the compost is ready to use when it has a pleasant, earthy smell and looks like dark, crumbly soil. 

Spread it around your beds and borders, about 3in (5cm) thick: either fork it in lightly or simply leave it to break down into the soil.

If you don’t have a compost bin, why not start one now? Apart from helping your garden, it will also cut down the amount of food and garden waste you throw out.

You can buy a compost bin online (amazon.co.uk), or make your own bin by taking a dustbin with a clip-on lid and drilling holes in the top and the bottom.

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