Before the COVID-19 pandemic, my gardening contribution mainly consisted of planting up a few hanging baskets once a year and drinking wine while I watched the other half take care of everything else. In our little garden we’ve got a patio, a few shrubs here and there and a patch of grass that is reasonably green. Monty Don and Alan Titchmarch have nothing to fear from our limited skills.
When the pandemic hit the UK in spring 2020, like many, we embraced most of the ‘lockdown trends’. We
endured enjoyed Family Quiz Zooms, online cocktails, devoured Netflix, tried (and failed) to purchase an inflatable hot tub, tried our hands at crafting/upcycling and even did a spot of overdue decorating. But the one trend we dabbled with, enjoyed and is probably here to stay is gardening.
My initial blame lies with my local Marks and Spencer food hall, although you are probably wondering how a store that excels at ‘lunch on the run’ could be responsible. Last spring, M&S were giving away something called ‘Little Garden’. Spend £20 and the cashier would give you little biodegradable pots of joy where you could grow things from seeds. With little to do in lockdown, we decided to make the best of a bad situation and have a go at growing our freebies, and cracked on with chilli plants, violas and pansies.
To our surprise, they worked! Really worked! We ended up with two pots full of happy little pansies and violas and a splendid crop of red chilli peppers. You can imagine our pride as we chopped up our home grown produce as we cooked with them – in fact, you would have thought Mr SJB had actually invented curry the way he banged on and on about how he had grown his ingredients himself, even if it was only a small part of the actual dish!
My garden and how I use it has changed in the last year. Before COVID I took my garden for granted and underestimated how important it was to me. It has quickly become my sanctuary, my safe place, my support bubble. Even though rules now permit me to meet people in my garden, I have not invited anyone in. I’m keeping it for me. For now, anyway.
In the past 12 months I have sat outside rain or shine. I have watched the changes that all four seasons bring as plants and shrubs die back, bud and bloom. I have sat and gazed at the stars at night, watched birds soar, insects hover, followed clouds across the sky and marveled at the colours a sunset and sunrise can bring. I’ve even sat outside in snow and caught snowflakes on my tongue.
I’ve now got comfy chairs, a sunny spot and some bankets and cushions for outdoors. But I’ve also got a little veggie patch. OK, more a tiny raised bed and a couple of pots. But in lockdown both me and the other half have enjoyed the slow and steady progress of growing things. There is something immensely calming and reassuring watching life sprout from a little seed. It can’t be rushed and you need to plan ahead for when your seedlings are ready for the next stage. Also, different plants need to be grown at different times, so you end up with a little to-do list and action plan that makes you feel like a real gardener!
The way I use and indeed view my garden is never going to be the same. Yes, sure, at some point in the future we will be having small gatherings in the garden as we reconnect with those we’ve been unable to spend time with. Maybe I’ll even look at other ways to ‘dress up’ my garden as we keep safe outdoors. No need to stop at cushions and blankets when I can add fairy lights and garden decor.
We’ve grown to enjoy our gardens in the evenings more, too, especially now we have finished Netflix. So maybe I will treat myself to some fancy lanterns for candles, or even some solar LEDs. We make more of an effort to eat outside in good weather and our garden sanctuary is becoming an extension of our home – another room even.
At some point work will return to normal, longer shifts will become the norm again and we’ll have less free time. The luxury of lockdown was time, and as keen as we have been to do more to the garden, we know that in the future there will be more demands on our time which will mean less for the garden. It has been the reason why we have kept our projects small and manageable so we can run around with a mower, do a quick spot of planting, pruning and pottering and still have time to just sit and stare.
Our garden has become a colourful little place, full of positivity. It’s where we feel happy and at peace. I’ve become quite fond of a place that was taken for granted for far too long. Warm and sunny days are ahead of us so this weekend all of the garden furniture got a bit of a seeing to, sprucing up wooden tables and cleaning everything down. Last year saw a huge increase in gardening related sales, and I have a feeling this year won’t be any different, so if you are looking to invest in a few bits and bobs I’d get in early. I also have it on good authority that the ‘in’ colours this year are yellow and grey if you want to keep it all on trend.
Keen gardeners will probably scoff at our efforts, but we are still loving the feeling of growing something from seed. We have upgraded from the M&S pots and now have a window sill nursery, gently coaxing a variety of vegetable seeds into life so we can grow some more goodies in our tiny vegetable patch. And yes, I still sit back with a glass of wine as I supervise the other half … what else can a girl do as she waits for her seeds to grow?