In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I opened up this blog to guest submissions, as I know firsthand that writing about plants and gardening can be cathartic. I will be posting a guest post each Thursday; if you would like to submit yours, please email email@example.com.
Here, Sharon Hadden shares her quarantine container gardening plan, including some tips on using extra spare time to invest in some seed care.
Container gardening is very apposite in our current ‘contained’ lives. This is around the time when we are normally rushing out and looking for plants to fill our patio or balcony planters. With restrictions in place, how can we ensure summer interest in our pots and maybe some usefulness if the travel and shopping limits stay in place, meaning a visit to the garden centre may not happen?
It’s time to be practical – not always my style, but I’m busy preparing a whole different look for containers this year. A little thought and planning now and you don’t have to have empty or half-dead untidy containers all over your garden or outdoor area (where you will probably be spending a lot more time entertaining yourself this summer). The truth is that you will more than likely have a little more time on your hands to maintain your garden and planters, so no excuse this year not to tend to their every need, watering, feeding, training and, if all goes well, harvesting your crop.
My plan is to turn my containers into mini vegetable gardens and wildflower meadows. I haven’t got access to all the plants that I would normally use so I need to rethink the normal design and have some fun this year. My containers will have more of a purpose this year but I will also try to keep them colourful, stylish and fun. Seeds are out there in abundance and are easy to get by mail order or pick up at the supermarket – and for the first time in a long while, I have the time to devote to seed care.
So it’s time to take out all the dead and crispy plants that you have not nurtured over the winter, get everything cleaned out and if possible change out your soil and replace with new potting compost. Most large supermarkets will have potting soil, so plan to pick it up on one of your shopping trips. Look for vegetable potting soil if you can. Don’t panic if you can’t; a grow-bag will suffice. If you are unable to remove all the soil, refresh the top 1/3 of your container, making sure that you have loosened all the remaining soil and taken out the old roots. You don’t want the soil to be root bound and so compact that your new plants grow down into it.
I’ve thought about what I might like to have available to eat in the summer and also the look that I want to achieve in my containers. Where I want height and structure I’m planting runner beans; to maintain some semblance of design I have planted Thompson and Morgan ‘Moonlight’, which has white flowers as I love a green and white combo. Building a wigwam structure with sticks will maintain shape and they’ll be showstoppers in the garden. I’m placing these in a sunny, sheltered spot where the wind isn’t going to rip through and destroy everything.
I’m planting small cherry tomato plants in terra-cotta pots next to my bench and popping in a few French marigolds for companion plants. These will help keep away green and white flies and I can also use a few petals sprinkled over salads for a peppery taste. I’m treating the tomatoes as my thriller or impact plant using the simple thriller, filler, spiller pattern.
Both the runner beans and tomatoes are being started in little pots on the window sill and greenhouse, I’ll move them when they are bigger and it’s warmer outside.
Basil and other herbs are easy to grow and will jazz up pasta dishes and salads. I have small, long terra-cotta pots dotted around with basil, coriander, chives and parsley. I can bring some colour interest into the design with ‘Magic Mountain basil’ from Ballcolegrave seeds. It is truly ornamental with large, deep pink flowers and purple leaves. It’s also a little less cold-sensitive than some other basils. The chives will have pretty purple flowers which will complement the basil. Oh, and mint – can’t miss out on mojitos.
I have my height with the runner beans, some colour with the herbs and now I want some low growing green foliage, so I bought a packet of Mr Fothergills Easy Salad Leaves Collection and am sowing different varieties: lambs lettuce, rocket, and mixed leaves in different containers which will all be easy to snip and harvest and will regrow while looking pretty. I like block colour planting when I am doing regular container design.
I do want some bright flower power, and as acquiring small annual plants is not so easy I have gone for a few packets of wildflower mix and pollinator mix. Normally, I would sow these in large wild areas in the garden but I recently saw wild flowers grown in small containers, then placed together, at IPM Essen. It created a beautiful pollinator area, so I am doing the same.
It’s so easy! Sow the seeds directly into the fresh soil in the container, keep moist and wait for the beauty to emerge. With all the extra time I am expecting to have this year in the garden, I want a distraction, and sitting and watching the bees and butterflies going about their work in the sunshine will feed my soul. I plan to record the different varieties that visit my mini wildflower meadow.
So, a brief guide for re-thinking containers:
- Make a shopping list of what you need: soil, seeds, support sticks, tomato feed if you plan on growing them, a watering can, and some cling film to place over your seeds sown in pots to retain moisture.
- Clean out and refresh existing soil in the pots you intend to use.
- Follow the seed packet instructions – always the key to success, not failure.
- Sow some seeds in a warm light place to grow them on (as per instructions)
- Plant out.
- Water when the soil feels less than moist, not soaking wet, not bone dry. Do the finger test.
- Harvest, eat and enjoy, and feel a little bit smug as you tuck into your own pesto sauce.
What’s your gardening plan during self-isolation? Let me know in the comments section below!
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook. You can also listen to The Plant Based Podcast with Michael and co-host Ellen-Mary on iTunes, Spotify and Google.