Earlier in the year the woods and lanes around me were scattered with bluebells and there was wild garlic to be picked. Lately the brilliant yellow of buttercups have been shining out, and the bike path I regularly used has been flanked by clouds of frothy white cow parsley. In my front garden there're masses of pale yellow and bright orange California poppies, the fragrant thyme's been flowering, and now the verbena's joined in the party. I've got Verbena rigida Venosa which is a compact plant, and Verbena bonariensis which is the leggy, slender stemmed plant beloved of fancy RHS Chelsea gardeners (and me!). The back garden's home to an array of container plants, mainly tomatoes, courgettes and strawberries, and I thought I'd note down some of the 'lessons learnt' so far, as we come almost to the end of June. (Yikes! It'll be autumnal before we know it if this year keeps racing along like a thoroughbred.)
So what've I learnt, or at least realised I lack knowledge of?
1 - Fresh strawberries for breakfast is an achievable luxury. It's very pleasing to pop outside in my dressing gown and gather a small handful of berries to go with my chopped apple and yoghurt. It's not taken a massive effort either. I bought four or five plants last years, which I think cost a fiver, and spent money on potting compost and containers. But for that small investment I've had lots of fruit, plus the plants send out runners which produce baby plants, so you end up getting a lot of 'bang for your buck'.
2 - Broad beans are super-easy to grow. They've really been no trouble at all, apart from just needing staking with some pea sticks or bamboo poles to stop them getting too wind blown.
3 - Courgettes and tomatoes need large containers to grow in. I've belatedly realised how pointless it is to scrimp on large containers and try to squeeze these space hungry plants into too-small tubs. By large I mean containers that're at least 32cm in diameter. The containers are robust. They'll last for years, so it's a false economy not to buy a few more. If the plants have room they'll respond by producing lots of veggies for my dinner plate. I can save money by not splurging on expensive plants as impulse buys from garden centres instead of being miserly about buying suitable containers.
4 - When your water supply's metered, it pays to get a rainwater butt. Yorkshire rain falls freely, so I need to buy and get fitted a water butt to ensure I'm not wasting tap water during dry spells.
5 - Sunflowers are instant mood-lifters. There's something very appealing about their wide, generous faces held up to the sun, and I need to grow more of 'em next year. Lots more.
6 - I'm gradually learning the volume of planting and the forward thinking that needs to go into growing veggies in particular. If I want to seriously grow enough to keep myself in salad leaves, tomatoes, courgettes, yellow squash, runner beans, broad beans, as well as berries and herbs over the summer months I need to be less slapdash and 'oh! me and my tiny appetite'. I need to be more systematic about, for instance, growing salad leaves like rocket as 'come and cut again' crops. I need to think 'oh! me and my not-so-tiny-appetite'. I need to think like the manager of a veggie and soft fruit production line. How can I get a constant crop so I don't have to nip down to the Co-op for a bag of pre-washed salad leaves as I've run out? Plus, I need to grow staples like spring onions and spuds. Prices in the shops are only headed one way (up, up, up!) so the more I can grow, the better.
Gardening does seem to be the constant realization that you know next to nothing. Whether that's about how to get rid of aphids or about how to pronounce complicated Latin names for flowers or which shrubs grow well in shady spots. It's all about learning, and thankfully there're plenty of ways to do that, from 'Gardeners World' on telly to online resources like the RHS website, and to cheap-as-chips gardening books available secondhand in most charity shops. Though the best way to learn is getting stuck in. Literally getting your hands dirty. Try. Fail. Succeed. Gardening is, to use that hideously overused word, a 'journey' and in a complicated and increasingly bat-shit crazy world it's one of the most peaceful and life enriching interests you can have.
Moved from a garden-less city flat in the South West to a Yorkshire village in 2016. I now have a garden ... of sorts.