To kick start this new series I am going to give you an insight into my own gardening journey!
My gardening journey began as a child …
I have a photo (must dig it out one day!) taken when I was very little with pigtails, with my great grandfather in the garden. My great grandfather loved gardening. in the photo, I am sitting right next to him in the vegetable patch, digging with a trowel in my hand and totally in my own zone. Think it all makes sense now!
Growing up my mum always grew her own vegetables and greens. We moved homes a few times during my childhood and one garden even had an avocado tree. We used to pick our own avocados, back in the days when these fruits were not in fashion! My mum used to whip them up with some milk and sugar and it was the most delicious dessert, creamy and light.
My mum had a great kitchen garden where she grew a variety of vegetables with fruits like mangoes and mulberries too! I loved the fresh greens which were all harvested in season and so tasty. There were a lot of flowers and shrubs growing in our front garden when I was growing up, and the love for these remains with me till today.
Once I started working, I felt my environment in the hospital labs was too clinical. So the first thing I did was to add some indoor plants to the lab, a few spider plants went a long way in bringing nature in where I worked. Spider plants are so undemanding making them one of the easiest plants to grow in your home or office … even if you forget to water them for weeks, just saying!
My homes and gardens
Once I got married, my gardening journey took me to our first house, which had a long narrow stretch of a garden. I bought some flower seeds and followed the instructions on the packets. Straw flowers and French Marigolds were the first and I still remember the joy of growing them that first summer. Fond memories of watching them bloom and sharing all my extra plants with friends and family … a practice that still remains with me today! My hero at the time was Geoff Hamilton and I watched his programmes avidly, invested in his book and it was definitely happy reading!
Our second home and the one we live in at present has a much larger and wider back garden which faces west! Although it is blessed with lots of sunshine, this garden has been pretty tricky to work with.
Bumps on my gardening journey …
I struggled with the heavy clay in my garden. Even when the seeds proudly emerged from the soil surface, they would inevitably be devoured by the huge slug population that seemed to live in the secret underworld! This was so frustrating especially when my children were young, as they enthusiastically sowed carrot, sweetcorn and lettuce seeds. Most of their seedlings and plants got damaged by slugs and we actually stopped growing food, as I was reluctant to add slug pellets to my vegetables!
I changed tact and concentrated on planting the borders instead with some evergreens like Choisya, flowering shrubs like Hydrangea and herbs like Rosemary and Sage. I bought all these plants from a local charity where they took their own cuttings. It was part of a mental health initiative to help patients in their recovery. Almost 20 years on and the borders have grown into beautiful shrubs which tend to take of themselves. They only need an annual pruning to keep them in shape. Plus all the rosemary and sage we need and dare I say enough to feed a whole village!
Growing my own food was still a dream and one day it came true! I picked up a book, Grow All You Can Eat that was to transform my gardening. I felt I had arrived at a very exciting destination on my gardening journey.
Raised Beds in My Gardening Journey
Raised beds sounded promising and so we decided to try building one bed that spring. I bought seed packets of perpetual spinach and dwarf beans and I can honestly say that this was the beginning of growing my vegetables successfully. I had bought new compost and top soil for the raised bed and the spinach and beans grew beautifully! We picked off any slugs that were on their way to the bed.
Lots of spinach and beans that summer, plus a few herbs too. I felt so encouraged that in late summer we added another raised bed to plant kale, purple sprouting broccoli and leeks – all bought as young plants from the garden centre.
I found caterpillars trying to devour these in autumn but hand picking them was enough to get rid of them. For the first time, we had homegrown winter vegetables, fresh and so tasty!
City of Raised Beds
Spring came along and you guessed it, we added 2 more raised beds and planters for the patio. I am fortunate that my husband loves his Do It Yourself (DIY) projects and was happy to make these for me from scratch. A variety of planters are available in good garden centres and online if DIY is not your thing!
This now became my city of raised beds and I felt so much richer for it! Since then, I have added cucumbers, aubergines, chillies, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, beetroot, radishes and so much more. In the coming year, I am looking forward to adding more fruit varieties to my garden. Particularly, soft fruits like the berries and currants.
My favourite is perpetual spinach as it’s great raw in salads and so tasty in cooked dishes. It is an easy greens to grow from seeds and happy to live outdoors in all weathers. A definite recommendation from me if you are beginning your edible garden!
Moving On …
Of course, after the raised beds came a greenhouse in my gardening journey. I am grateful for this additional space in the winter months as it allows me to grow during this long cold season in a protected space. The greenhouse is also very valued in spring where all the seedlings live before they move outdoors. It has been a great addition although if you are starting out, you can easily begin growing without one. Greenhouses are great but not necessary for starting your own garden!
My Love for Gardening
I love gardening as I can be as creative as I like. Plus it fills you with so much hope as you sow seeds, transplant seedlings and water the young plants. A hobby that results in fresh harvests that are so tasty, no matter how small! Getting out there on warm sunny days, before and after work and any other moments that life offers. It is just the most calming and wonderful feeling … and I would love you to try it too!
Community Gardening Projects
Sharing my love for gardening is important to me. This has been particularly evident in the London gardening projects which I really enjoy being involved in. It is a joy to share gardening skills with children, young people, volunteers and corporate company employees. I have found that community gardening projects are so important in supporting the mental, physical and emotional health of those that need it most. Sowing seeds, nurturing plants and harvesting food together – what could be better!
My Tips for New Gardeners
My tips for new gardeners would be to just start and grow what you love to eat! You don’t need a big space to grow your food; grow bags, pots, planters, window boxes are great starting points … even a recycled clean container with holes in the base for good water drainage. All you need then is a packet of seeds, some good compost and off we go!
I will say that gardening is not easy but you will become more resilient as you learn to follow nature and dealing with what comes next. Gardening is a learning journey which never ends. Read and explore more about what you are growing. Just imagine the taste of those homegrown ripe tomatoes, fragrant basil leaves and juicy red strawberries that you can pick fresh!
I write this blog in the hope of inspiring and supporting more new gardeners everywhere, so please feel free to share it.