The importance of our gardens to our mental health and wellbeing has become increasingly apparent, and interest in gardening and growing our own produce from home is at a peak. Indeed the curiosity and enthusiasm towards gardening seems to be contagious! The fear of venturing “off-piste” and growing something new, or just of getting into gardening in general in the first place, in case we cause damage or mess things up often holds us back or knocks our confidence.
Gardening is an exciting journey, a big experiment, and every gardener worth their salt discovers something new every day. As a gardener, I have experienced many disasters and disappointments, but have also had many successes and rewards.
With spring in the air, it's the perfect time to head outside and plan ahead for next few months. Whether you’re keen to experiment with growing your own vegetables for the first time, you want to bring some colour to a small corner of your patch, or you just want to spend more time outdoors, now’s the time to do it!
Food for thought
If you’re considering growing your own produce for the first time, there are plenty of options – including low-maintenance plants that will reap you the rewards in summer, when you’ll benefit from a garden full of fresh food to enjoy.
Salad leaves grow extremely well in all soil types, and can be planted in a small section of any garden, in pots on the patio or even in-between flowers in your flower beds.
There are a few key points to remember when growing salad leaves. Firstly - water, and plenty of it... something that’s perhaps not an issue in the UK! But if we (fingers crossed) get dry and warm spells then it’s crucial that salad leaves are drenched regularly with water. Plenty of water ensures that the plants give regular crops throughout the summer, and continue to grow well into the autumn.
What kind of salad leaves are easy to grow?
- Spinach – these small leaves are perfect in any salad, and when the plant matures, the leaves are particularly good in stir-fries and smoothies. To harvest them, remove individual leaves from the plant and allow it to grow back.
- ‘Cut and come again’ lettuce – the best thing about this type of lettuce is, as the name suggests, as you cut the leaves, new leaves will grow back and provide consistent crops throughout the summer. To harvest, cut the leaves with scissors and watch them grow back. You’ll have fresh leaves again in 10 days' time.
- Rocket – delicious in salads or the perfect addition to a sandwich. Harvest a few leaves regularly and consistently to encourage further growth.
Salad leaves flourish in sheltered, sunny parts of the garden. March is an ideal time to sow, but place them on a warm window shelf indoors initially, and keep them inside until at least April to avoid cold weather.
Sowing the seeds
You’ll need pots, compost and seeds. No pots? No problem! A recycled grape box or similar is a great alternative.
- Put some moist compost in the pot
- Spread the seeds evenly over the soil
- Add a thin layer of compost to cover
In around 7 days' time small shoots will appear, and in about three to four weeks the small leaves will be ready to harvest.
Top tip – sow any additional seeds after about a week, to ensure you have a regular supply of fresh leaves.
A splash of colour
Once your crops have been taken care of, how about bringing some colour to your garden?
Flowers are beneficial to nature, particularly to pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Research also suggests that flowers have a positive effect on our mental wellbeing. Bringing a little colour to a small corner of our garden works wonders to help lift our spirits.
What kind of flowers can we grow ourselves at home?
I love growing all kinds of flowers, but if I had to choose I would always go for flowers that are beneficial to nature, are colourful and are easy to look after, such as:
- French Marigold – small orange and yellow plants that grow well in pots, hanging baskets, borders and in or around vegetables. They attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies, and help protect salad leaves from snails.
- Sunflowers – these are a firm favourite, and are great flowers to grow at home with the children. A competition to grow the tallest sunflower is sure to keep little ones entertained, and what’s more the seeds will also attract hungry, small birds to the garden during the winter.
- Nasturtium - a red, yellow, and orange flower that is aesthetically pleasing in the garden and can be eaten in a salad.
To grow, follow the same steps as for the salad leaves. When they’ve grown at least 3cm above the compost or soil, move them into larger pots. By early May they’ll be ready to be transferred to their new home in the garden, or to pots on the patio.
There is so much we can do in the garden throughout the year, and spring is the perfect time to make the most of the early mornings and enjoy some fresh air. As the days are slowly but surely getting longer, there’s no better time to venture outside to plan your garden adventure, to the accompaniment of birds twittering and singing away. As March moves into April their song becomes louder and even more magical and your garden adventures will bloom.
If you would like more gardening advice or are interested in my gardening adventures have a look on my Instagram page - @adamynyrardd.
Gardening at its best: inspiration from the experts
The natural landscape of Wales is spectacular, but many gardeners across the country have been busy making our countryside even more beautiful by designing and creating incredible gardens.
National Botanic Garden of Wales, Carmarthenshire
The National Botanic Garden of Wales attracts more visitors than any other garden in Wales. Over 8,000 different variations of plants can be seen here, scattered across 560 acres (227ha) of beautiful countryside.
Clyne Gardens, Swansea
Japanese gardens, lakes, wildflower meadows, bluebell forests, towers, chapels and gazebos are among the striking features in this 19th century paradise. Clyne Gardens has a collection of rhododendron, pieris and enkianthus of national importance, and is well worth a visit when the flowers are in bloom in early summer.
Treborth Botanic Garden, Bangor
Designs for a pleasure garden at Treborth were initially introduced over 160 years ago, but funding issues impacted the work on turning Sir Joseph Paxton's original creation into reality. It was during the 1960s that the site came to be a focus once again, when it was taken over by Bangor University. Designed by academic experts, Treborth Botanic Garden is now a research institute for horticultural skills, and an idyllic place to visit.
Dewstow Gardens, Monmouthshire
Dewstow Gardens is a remarkable story of loss and discovery. The original Edwardian gardens were buried in the 1940s before being returned to farmland, and were only rediscovered in 2000. The excavations revealed entire ponds, marshes, reefs, and labyrinth of tunnels, grottos and collections of sunken ruins underground – all restored diligently to its former glory.
Garden centres galore
There are plenty of high quality garden centres dotted across the country – with experts on hand to provide helpful advice for any budding gardeners. These are all worth a visit:
Camlan is a garden centre and local produce shop on the A470 near Dinas Mawddwy in Mid Wales. The eco-friendly company is powered by solar and rainwater, and the shop sells a wide range of Welsh cheeses, fresh bread and local meats – and a weekly organic vegetable and fruit box can be purchased. The garden centre sells plants grown in Wales and across the UK, which is therefore well-suited for the Welsh climate.
Fron Goch Garden Centre
Fron Goch is a garden centre, local produce shop and restaurant in Llanfaglan near Caernarfon. The family-run company has grown and expanded enormously over recent years, and is now recognised as one of Britain's best garden centres, recently winning the North West Best Garden Centre award from the Garden Centres Association.
Pugh's Garden Village
Pugh's Garden Village has two garden centres in South Wales – one in Radyr and the other in Wenvoe in the Vale of Glamorgan – both of which offer a unique shopping experience. With over 15 shops, restaurants and food halls, the centres resemble a small village! Pugh's monthly events are very popular, particularly over the Christmas season.
Bellis Brothers is an independent family business located on the outskirts of the village of Holt near Wrexham. As well as boasting an impressive garden centre, it is also home to a local produce shop, a gift shop and a seasonal fruit and vegetable picking service on the farmland. October draws the crowds to Bellis, as visitors flock to the centre to pick their pumpkins for Halloween.