Updated: Sep 21
We joined the queue of (what felt like) eternity, with a generous two meters between every man and his dog. The sun was bouncing off my San Pellegrino hat and I was already parched. The first hot Saturday of May had arrived and apparently everyone else had the same idea: to transform their garden into an outdoor paradise, placating the need for vacation, but most likely falling short.
I playfully and very poorly steered our trolley straight towards the outdoor area of our largest local B&Q. Picking up, putting down, comparing everything that jumped out at me, trying to choose small plants in the same 3 for £12 deal - and failing.
Lesson 1: Shop Local
Around a month later, my friend returned home from a walk with five small plants, explaining they were only a few pounds each from our local garden centre. I felt a pang of upset. Wow! These flowers were beautiful and much more unusual than those I had the choice of in B&Q. In all fairness to myself, B&Q was the only garden supply store deemed essential, therefore remaining open. But this didn’t stop me having the feeling that I could have saved myself a chunk of money and had more choice if I had waited a few weeks.
I spent the next week painstakingly organising my starter plants into compositions of colour, shape and size, easily ploughing my way through a 25kg bag of soil. My new love was born. Like a true lady of leisure, I was now spending as much time as I could with my blooming garden. The thought of looking at my screen was abhorrent. Every morning, my collection of beauty was greeted by a slider wearing, tea clutching woman who proceeded to speak basic French in a very enthusiastic accent.
Lesson 2: Don’t be afraid to cut their heads off!
As nurturing as I was to my new abundance of flowering plants, I knew I had to cut their heads off. I did this to many who were losing their petals, wilting or discolouring. I’m now slightly worryingly scissor happy at times!
What I didn’t know: If you don’t ‘deadhead’ your flowers, they may think they are done for the season and start to grow seedpods ready to reproduce instead. These look worryingly similar to new buds in some cases. If you cut off a head of flowers, they will grow back; in fact, it actually encourages the growth of many new blooms!
With my newfound confidence in my pruning abilities and all of my pots filled with colourful flowering foliage, I felt like I was cruising through the summer. ‘Just keep them looking beautiful,’ I thought to myself. I continued to admire my plethora of pots every day, reshuffling them as they filled out, figuring out who looked the best together and how much sun they wanted, until the sun went into hiding.
Lesson 3: My plants have a disease!!
I guess I cruised too long: I had noticed a white powder on the leaves of my petunias.
Other than that, they looked healthy. I laughably thought something had been spilt on them… a questionable deduction from me. White mildew is like any mould that can spread by spores in the air and can be caused by a build-up of condensation in the plant. Perhaps you have too many plants potted too close together or the foliage has become too dense, trapping the air and moisture. The faster you trim off affected leaves and areas the less likely it is to spread. You can also spray with a homemade solution, but the welcome return of the sun and a good trim has worked for me. I also battled with black fly infestations and snail nibbles, but I won’t ramble. Research which damage your plants are prone to!
Lesson 4: It turns out the work never stops…
Ok, I have millions of plants. So many that I have no space for them all. They are multiplying!
When you first buy your starter blooms, they are tiny. Lots of common varieties like petunias come in a small pack of 6 and you feel like you will need a hefty amount to fill your pots or beds. The plants take off really quickly, especially once they start flowering.
The roots will fill out a pot and beds become crowded. Don’t be afraid to give them some space even if they look sparse at first! I have now returned to work leaving my dozen pots, buckets and trays behind, and, if I’m truthful, I don’t have enough time to give them as much attention as I’d like. I guess my advice is only buy as many as you have time for. They will keep growing and keep needing attention.
Overall, I’m happy! I have picked up one of the most wholesome hobbies you could imagine. Creating my garden gave me time for reflection and stillness - including whilst being quarantined with five members of my partner’s family! - and continues to do so now. It has given me something to share with older generations; finding common ground can be tough and gardening has not only given me a better connection to my grandparents but given me new company in my partner’s elderly neighbours. I truly recommend for anyone considering starting a garden, your own mental health will thank you, as well as that of those around you.
S Loan x
Edited by Daisy Hotopf