Transform your garden: 5 First Steps

If you don’t know much about plants or gardening, revamping your own space can be a daunting process. As millennials living in the city, many of us don’t have a lot of spare cash, but we’re quick to learn new things and have the confidence to achieve what we set out to.

Although a professionally designed garden is the end goal, many of us have rented spaces and first time homes can require some low-cost cosmetic help to make it a beautiful, accessible and enjoyable place to spend time and host parties in. Follow the steps to transform your neglected outdoor space:

  1. Tame the jungle

If you’re not faced with a plain concrete square, you’ve most likely got a wall of overgrown green that makes getting out of the back door near impossible. Start by getting rid of this. There’s no short-cut around investing in some heavy-duty gardening gloves and rounding up a few friends to help you remove the unwanted jungle. Start by identifying weeds (look for brambles, nettles and dandelions) and pull these up, ensuing you pull from the base to ensure the whole root is removed. Then pin point any ‘welcome’ plants that might just be overgrown (such as ivy, shrubs and rose bushes), and trim these back to sensible scale (check online for pruning specific plants if you’re not sure). You should then be left with a space that is free from weeds, with a few salvaged plants that can be the base of your garden.

  1. Assign some areas

If the space is small, you might just have enough for a seating area and some pots. If you’ve got a few extra metres, think about assigning it to a raised bed for growing veggies or a wild flower area. Longer spaces, typical of town gardens, could lend themselves to a seating area, beds, pots and a utility area, giving space for a small shed or space to hang the washing. Decide roughly where you want things to be to help structure the area.

  1. Plant shopping

If you have no idea where to start, that’s okay! First, have a look at how sunny/shady your space is as this will impact plant choice. Decide if you want plants in pots or to directly in the ground, and start looking at how many you will need – remember, they will grow, so don’t overestimate on numbers. There really are hundreds to choose from, so have a look online at common garden plants, and you’ll get a feel for the style you like. Cottage garden plants involve lots of flowers and abundant foliage, but you can also choose to focus on ferns if you’ve got a shady spot, or go for a colour theme. Going to a garden centre and describing your space to a horticulturalist is a good idea to get first-time advice.

  1. Garden furniture

You’ll most likely want somewhere to sit outdoors, so buying some garden furniture is a must. You don’t have to spend a fortune, and savvy shoppers can find a table with chairs online for £50 – £100. Think about what materials will compliment the surroundings, while also being durable during winter – avoid paint that will peel or chip in frost. If you’re into upcycling, you can also make the most of old chairs or even construct your own seating from crates, making sure they add tasteful appeal and won’t look tatty or fall apart.

  1. Finishing touches

A garden needs to be a relaxing and enjoyable space, suiting your passions and needs. Think about what cushions and blankets you can invest in to add comfort on summer days (waterproof options available), and purchasing some lanterns or outdoor fairy lights to make the space usable in the evenings. If you’re into cooking and eating healthily, you can also add some trays for salad leaves or potted herbs, and larger pots for vegetables.

The important thing is to make a start on your space, and watch it develop. Once you’ve got the foundations of space and style, you can constantly add plants or remove elements that aren’t working as you become more confident with gardening. If you’re in need of inspiration, Instagram, Pinterest and gardening magazines are great places to start.

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Visit: Open Garden Squares Weekend

Open Garden Squares Weekend (9th – 10th June) is back for 2018. This is a spectacular opportunity to look around London’s most interesting and beautiful gardens, spending a sunny weekend soaking up the capital’s greenest spaces while learning about wildlife, botany and the environment. As well as behind-the-scenes walks and tours, the varied programme includes activities, workshops and free events.

In it’s 21st year, the annual event allows members of the public to explore private spaces and horticultural hot-spots. The weekend is run by the London Parks and Gardens Trust to raise awareness of the large social, economic and environmental contribution these spaces make to our city.

Ranging from historic grounds to floating and skip gardens, there are 200 gardens to visit spanning every corner of London. This year’s line up also includes access to botanical trials, cocktail bars, meditation session and discovery walks and tours. Timings and details can be found on the website here: www.opensquares.org

Top picks include:

  • The Royal Collage of Physicians’ Medicinal Garden – elegant and educational medicinal plant garden near Regent’s Park. Tours of the 1,100 plants contributing to international medicine: 10am – 5pm, Saturday and Sunday.
  • Bonnington Square – Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night open-air performance, celebrating theatre in the beautiful outdoor space: Saturday, check website for times.
  • Centre for Wildlife Gardening – Wildlife tours, pond-dipping and nature trails for a day of education and enjoyment : 10.30am – 4.30pm, Sunday.
  • Jamyang Buddhist Centre – Guided tours and meditation sessions for those looking to connect with themselves and the natural environment : 10am – 4pm, Saturday.

Tickets: One weekend ticket grants access to all the gardens. £15 advance, £20 bought over the weekend. Under 12’s go free.

Keep up on social: Find more information and share photos via…

Twitter: @OpenSquares #OGSW18

Instagram: @opensquaresweekend

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Chelsea Flower Show 2018: 5 simple ideas

Every May Chelsea Flower Show takes over London’s sunny Chelsea embankment, showing off spectacular gardens and the world’s most glorious plants for 1 week only (22nd-26th May). I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak at the gardens in the final stages of build this year, seeing world-class designs come to fruition and soaking up ideas on everything to flower choice to veg growing.

Few of us will ever have a Chelsea-style show garden on our rented patio, but there’s still so much enjoyment and inspiration that can be taken from aspirational events like this (the gardening version of London fashion week…). Although the Chelsea designs are complex and highly skilled, there are general concepts and ideas we can use in our own back gardens, window boxes and patio pots:

  1. Match flowers to rugs and cushions to create an outdoor living room

The deliciously fresh Eco-City Garden by designer Hay-Joung Hwang shows a green space adjoined to a residential apartment flat. We don’t all have patios as big as this, but we can certainly match our flowers to our cushions, as seen here! Hwang has selected yellow, orange and white lupins and matched the outdoor soft furnishings, creating a cosy yet classy effect that any of us could achieve.

  1. Use recycled and sustainable garden materials

 The warm toned Mediterranean garden, designed by Sarah Price, champions the use of sustainable materials in gardens, including the use of reclaimed French roof tiles to form screens. If top designers can up-cycle used materials for their gardens then so can we! Think about using old crates to grow flowers and herbs or starting rows of salad in pipes split open. Reclaimed wood from fences and railway sleepers can be used to build raised beds.

  1. Enjoy green spaces for better health and wellbeing

Matt Keightley’s RHS Feel Good Garden highlights the benefits that everyone can experience from spending time in green space. Simply spending time in a park or garden is proven to have positive effects on health and happiness – you don’t even have to have your own garden!

  1. Use rocks to create shape and structure

Designer Kazuyuki Ishihara maximises the use of rocks and water in his traditional Japanese garden design. The placement in relation to each other is a key aspect of Japanese gardens, and we can take inspiration from this by using rocks amongst plants in our spaces to create structure and interest.

  1. Choose a theme for added interest

All of the Chelsea gardens carry themes and messages, designed to evoke emotions and even transport visitors to another world. Although we’re usually working with what we’ve got when it comes to gardening, it’s worth thinking about a style you like and sticking to it, creating unity and a pleasing place to be in. Hot colours, coastal plants and Mediterranean tiles are starting points which can be developed over time.

 If you’re keen to see more of the stunning RHS Chelsea Flower Show gardens, check out the website, or watch the BBC coverage on most days this week. Tickets to the show are still available!

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Sweet peas: grow in 4 steps

Somehow, it’s April already, even though spring seems to be taking its time to arrive. If, like me, you intended to exercise your green fingers this spring and try growing a few new things, now is a good time.

This year I’m trying sweet peas – known to be incredibly easy to grow in pots of directly in the ground, and a very satisfying for any beginner gardeners wanting some easy garden colour.

Here’s how to grow them in just a few easy steps…

1. As I started my sweet peas in late February, the seeds had to be sown indoor in containers. However, it’s not too late to start them now, either indoors or outside in pots or a flower bed when it gets warmer. Sow them in a tray to germinate then transplant to larger pots, or just start seeds in pots with enough space to cope with the young plants.

2. Plants will shoot up to several inches high in a few weeks to a month. Seeing bright green spring growth is always exciting, but to avoid the plants getting spindly and weak, we must ‘pinch out’ the shoots. All you need to do is wait until there are about four double leaves up the stem, then just above the highest pair, literally pinch off any growth above it between your finger and thumb. This sounds brutal and is always tricky as a new gardener as it feels like sabotaging your good work, but it will encourage side shoots to form and stronger plants, ultimately creating more flowers!

3. Once the plants are 4-6 inches tall and looking healthy, begin acclimatising them to the outdoors (providing the weather is fine and there’s no more frost forecast). This means opening windows and popping them outside for a few hours when you can. This will give them strength for planting the outdoors in their final position.

4. Finally, either plant them in pots outside, or in flower beds. As you’ll want a full display, plant clusters of shoots together, but leaving around 15-20cm between clusters. Then make sure they’ve got something to climb up. This can be a support frame, or a few canes tied together. You can also grow them up walls and fences if there’s enough for the tendrils to wrap around. Then, keep them well watered and watch them flourish.

The beauty of sweet peas is that the more you pick, the more they will flower, so keep deadheading and cutting yourself bunches to keep them in flower longer. They smell amazing, so work well in a kitchen vase or as gifts throughout the summer!

Edible 2018: GYO

‘Grow your own’ is nothing new – kitchen gardens, allotments and veg patches have been around forever. However, in the past few years there has been more and more of us squeezing edible plants onto our rooftops and balconies, with a younger, health conscious and eco-friendly generation realising the benefits of growing your own fruit and veg, and becoming a little more sustainable.

I dread to think about how much plastic I get through buying supermarket produce. It’s relatively cheap and irresistibly convenient, especially living in central London, where farm shops are few and organic veg from health stores costs almost as much as rent.

I’ve always enjoyed growing edibles, but this year I want it to be more than just a satisfying hobby, and actually form a substantial part of the greens I eat. I’ve planned out how many pots, troughs and make-shift containers I can fit into my south-London garden, and what will grow in each. I’ve learnt from recent years that growing too many of the same thing either leads to a glut of produce, or all of them failing if the conditions aren’t right. For that reason I’m going to grow fewer numbers of more types of veg. I’ll keep two or three of each variety, giving extra away to friends in order to avoid overcrowding.

What’s in the line up? So far I’ve sown (ambitiously for February) broad beans, potatoes and tomatoes, all indoors. I’ve got herbs and salad on the windowsill, and hardy peas planted outside. In a few months time when the weather is warmer, I’m going to add strawberries, spinach, cabbage, green beans, courgette and aubergine. I’ve tried aubergines before and they didn’t survive beyond seedlings, so this year it’s Take 2 with a dwarf variety that will grow in a pot and can be moved around to the most suitable place in the garden.

If you’ve never grown veg before, then tomatoes, salad leaves and green beans are easy options to start with. However, it’s a good idea to consider what you eat most of and save yourself money, time and plastic waste by growing your own. Let me know how you get on!

Petersham Nurseries: Covent Garden

A very exciting thing has happened. The much loved, infamous Petersham Nurseries in Richmond now has an urban sister. Bringing with it exquisite botanicals and aspirational lifestyle pieces, it is the epitome of chic horticulture sitting in the centre of Soho.

Mirrors, furniture, plants and a well chosen selection of books about herbs etc automatically make this one of my new favourite shops in London. It mixes antique homewear with affordable pots and seeds, making gardening both traditional and sexy.

Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, it is an experience that seems to blend your dream home with a lived in conservatory, so definitely worth a wander around. Whether you visit at 10am or 6pm (both of which I have done…) the candles are burning and the assistants are spraying plants and setting out new greenery, achieving sort of urban garden centre oasis.

If that isn’t enough, it’s very own Delicatessen sits a few doors down. Artisan everything, seasonal fruit and veg, and fresh cut flowers sit amongst a small cafe – but you’ll be very lucky to get a seat at one of the few tables.

And finally… there will be a restaurant. Set to open in Spring 2018, so you better reserve your table now.

Petersham Nurseries: Covent Garden online here.

Instagram @petershamnurseries

5 health foods to grow at home

It seems like we spend almost as much on healthy brunches as they do on rent… Most people know how important it is to eat well and fill ourselves with superfoods, but also notice the impact on bank accounts. Growing your own fruit, veg and herbs gives a low cost solution that provides an almost unlimited amount of our favourite goodies. As always, it’s easier than you think!

Here are a few of my favourites and the basics to start you off. If there’s other things that you fancy trying, have a google and find out the conditions they need to thrive. Remember, you don’t always have to grow everything from seed. This year I’m going to buy some maturing plants, such as fruit trees, which means I’ll have a head start and they’ll produce harvests much sooner than they would if grown from seed.

1) Kale
Commonly associate with hippies and packed with good things, kale can be grown in large containers or straight in the ground, depending on your space. Sow seeds from March to June, removing weak seedlings and watering well until mature plants. You can pick leaves from October and they’ll survive throughout winter.

2) Beetroot
A favourite ingredient in smoothies, beetroot can be grown much like carrots. You’ll need a patch of good quality soil or large trough to plant the seeds in. When they’ve sprouted, thin to 1 every 10cm, and keep well watered to avoid stunting their growth. Pull up when they’re the size of small apples – you’ll see their shoulders peeping above the soil.

3) Spinach
I eat spinach several times a week, and it’s never better than picked straight from the garden. You can grow seeds in pots, recycled containers, garden borders or even conservatories, as they’re not too fussy about conditions. Try sowing a handful of seeds at monthly intervals to get a continuous supply. Keep well-watered and protect them from cold weather in the winter.

4) Blueberries
Now these ones are a little fussier about conditions, but it’s worth the extra effort for a bumper supply. Blueberries prefer acidic soil to grow, so I suggest buying a ready grown plant and treating according to care instructions. They work well in pots, as you can control the soil type and water supply. Try to use rain water rather than tap water, as the latter can raise the pH balance.

5) Alfa alfa sprouts
Perfect for salads, and you don’t even need a garden. Source some alfa alfa seeds online or in a health food shop, and place a few table spoons worth in a jar covered with cloth secured with an elastic band. They’ll need to sit in water overnight at first, then rinse every day by swishing water round in the jar before draining. You’ll have a fresh supply of sprouts within 5 days!

2018: Five trends to look out for

Happy New Year! 2018 is here, and there’s a lot to be excited about. Horticulture is continuing to become popular with millennials and city people. It’s not just hippies who are filling their spaces with green, but anyone looking to grow their own herbs and veg or improve their space and health. From talking to fellow Londoners and watching the ever-increasing presence of plants on Instagram, I’ve put together a few predicted trends for 2018…

1.High-street plants

No longer hidden in gardencentres, plants are making their way into our favourite high-street stores, making them accessible to everyone for homeware and gifts. Oxford Street’s Topshop, Anthropologie, & Other Stories pop ups, as well as many others, have flowers, cacti and succulents on sale. Boutique plant shops and workshops, such as Prick, Grace & Thorn, Botany and Conservatory Archives are also increasing in number, with the latter holding a pop up in Liberty London.

2. Botanical remedies

Last year we were putting botanicals in our cocktails, this year we’ll be using them to boost our healthy and heal our ailments. Homeopathic remedies and flower oils have been around for centuries, but a host of new brands using homegrown plants to provide natural remedies and ingredients is sparking our inspiration. Lavender, Peppermint and Lemon Balm are a few of the easy-to-grow herbs that can be used to aid issues such as insomnia, digestion and lack of energy. Take a trip to the wonderful Chelsea Physic Garden to be inspired.

3. Grow your own

For many of us, growing salad and veg is something we’ve been experimenting with for a while. But with people generally becoming health and environmentally conscious, more non-gardeners are being inspired to create their own veg patches and herb gardens. If you’re daunted by the idea of growing from seed, young plants are available online and from supermarkets and gardencentres, giving you a head start and confidence for your first edibles.

4. Indoor gardening

It may be an oxymoron, but it’s a reality if you live in a city without a patio or garden. Why should those with less space miss out? Houseplants are becoming more popular than ever (the cacti and succulent craze continues), and so are salad, herbs and veg that can be grown in the kitchen or on the windowsill. The benefits of clean air plants are not lost on urban homes and offices, boosting a rise in indoor gardening. Check out Patch, the online plant shop helping you choose the best plant for your home or office.

5. Organics

We’re becoming more aware of the direct impact we’re having on the world around us, and are consequently taking steps to minimise the damage. Rather than reaching for chemicals and mass produced supermarket produce, there’s a movement towards natural gardening ranges and organic options, with concern around soil quality and appetite for the health benefits of organic food.

Houseplants: Winter care

With weather this cold, no one really wants to go outside at this time of year, but we can still get our green fix from houseplants. The garden might be looking a little neglected, but there’s no excuse for not giving indoor plants the care they need over the cold season. Although they’re living inside, these plants need certain conditions over winter to help them thrive and continue looking healthy and happy.

So, how should we look after houseplants in the winter?

1) Food and water
Even though they’re not outside, house plants still live in line with the seasons, which means many will enter into a period of dormancy over winter. This means they require less water and no additional feeding, helping them to rest and survive what would be a tough winter outside. If they’re not given this break, plants will continue to grow but become weaker and more spindly. A gentle sprinkling of water every few weeks will be sufficient, and cacti should not be watered at all until the Spring.

2) Temperature and heating
Given that our homes create artificial conditions, house plant owners should keep an eye on the temperatures their plants are living in. If the heating is on full and plants are next to a radiator, they will dry and quickly and leaves will be damaged by the artificial heat. Equally, plants left in a draft or by an open door will suffer from the constantly changing temperatures. The ideal conditions for plants is in consistent temperatures of 12-18oc, away from direct heat or cold.

3) Light and leaves
You’re not the only one struggling with the short daylight hours during winter. Plants rely on light to survive, and often do not get enough if tucked away in the home. To maximise the amount of light your plants get, place them on a wide windowsill or in a conservatory, where they can soak up light for as much of the day as possible. It’s also a good idea to clean your windows and gently wipe the leaves to remove any dust, helping their chances of absorbing the sun light.

The Sustainable Food Story

Last weekend I was lucky enough to join a supper club with The Sustainable Food Story, held at Borough Market’s Cookhouse. This team of scientists, chefs, farmers and foodies connect people to the origins of food through supper clubs around the country. The majority of the menu is made from home-grown, foraged or locally sourced food, with particular attention to reducing waste and making use of every bit of the plant or biproduct.

Run by excited and inspiring founders Abi and Sadhbh, who collectively have knowledge of meat science and sustainable development, the supper club explored how grains can be part of a healthy, delicious and environmentally conscious way of eating. Dishes included:

– Rye levain crispbread with salvaged bean dip

– Root-to-fruit beetroot with goat’s curd and sprouted grains

– Carrot, sage, einkorn and gouda croquette on a bed of leafy greens

– Spelt and rye homemade sourdough

– Botanical panna cotta with heritage grainola and foraged fruit compotes

– Wild cocktail with London distilled gin

Alongside the mind-blowing flavours, Abi and Sadhbh structured the evening with a series of anecdotes and explanations behind their mission and interests between each course, talking about their previous careers and lessons through their sustainability journey. The other diners had links to boutique food start-ups, farming, gardens and environmental causes, making for interesting conversation across the sprouted grains and animal-blood macaroons.

What did I learn from the evening?

  1. The need for cooking and eating more mindfully, considering where ingredients come from and the environmental impact
  2. The shocking extent of food waste, and how less popular cuts or parts of plants can be used to create delicious dishes
  3. The possibilities of ‘growing your own’, fuelling my existing interest in home-grown produce

Following an evening with Abi and Sadhbh, I’m making an effort to make more sustainable choices, and use the inspiration to make tasty and colourful meals from the unexpected. I’ll also be re-vamping my growing list, incorporating more unusual veg with many elements (roots, flowers, leaves) which I can use every part of and encourage others to do so.

Read more about The Sustainable Food Story on the websiteFacebook or Instagram: @thesustainablefoodstory, and look out for supper clubs near you!

Incredible shots of the evening by Ben Peter Catchpole.

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