We all start off the year with some sort of resolution, but the trick is to make it attainable and easy to achieve. Here are some that most of us can manage, even if we only have a very small garden or outside space:
Grow your own veg, fruit & herbs – we all know that produce we grow ourselves is going to be much healthier for us than that you find in the supermarket, which has often been picked well before it’s ripened and may have been languishing in a truck somewhere on its long journey to get to us. Some veg and fruit, and definitely herbs, can be grown in a very small space and even on the tiniest balcony. Try tomatoes and peppers in pots, or cut and come again lettuce varieties for a supply of salad all summer long. Grow them from seed and they’ll be so much cheaper than buying them from the shops, or buy starter plants if you don’t have the time to take care of the seedlings. You can also grow more unusual produce which you can’t easily find in the supermarket or which can be more expensive to buy. Fruit can be grown in small gardens too – apples, pears, plums and cherries don’t need to take up much room if grown in espalier or fan-trained form as they can be trained flat against a fence or wall. Fresh herbs can so easily be grown in pots near to the kitchen and contain high levels of valuable vitamins and minerals, which can be lost when bought already cut at the supermarket. So, start planning your planting for a more productive and healthy 2016!
Involve your children in the garden – many schools in Britain already include gardening in their syllabus, but why not get the kids more involved at home too? Not only will it be a big help to you, but it will also get them away from their computer games and promote a life-long interest in a very worthwhile outdoor activity and the natural world in general. For small children, (and for me too actually!), nothing beats the wonder of the newly germinated seedling and watching life come forth from a pretty unprepossessing, dried up looking seed, especially when that seedling can grow into a towering sunflower in a few short months! As the children get older, they can have their own projects – their own little veg patch, for example, where they can be proud of the effort they have put in to grow their own produce which they can then eat, or share out with friends and family. Gardening is great for building self-confidence and a sense of achievement, as well as being damn good exercise!
Attract pollinating insects to your plot – there has been much in the news lately about the loss of some of our important pollinating insects, and particularly bees. Without the essential work these insects do, it is likely that humans would not survive. Bees, for example, pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world, and if the pollination does not take place, those plants would die out, as eventually would all the animals which feed on those plants, and so on up the food chain. Unfortunately, due to the use of chemicals and to loss of habitat, many insects are struggling to survive, so we must do our very best to provide safe habitats, even in our own small gardens. This can be done by planting trees, shrubs and perennials which attract insects – Lavender, Hebes and Ceanothus are particularly good for bees, for example, whilst Buddleia is excellent for butterflies. Open formed flowers such as daisy types are good for pollinators too as the pollen is easy to access, whereas in double flowers it might prove more difficult. Try to plant with a long flowering season in mind too, so that there’s a food source available at the beginning of the season as well as at the end. Most importantly, don’t use any pesticides when plants are in flower!
Look after your patio/deck – you can spend a lot on your new patio or deck, so it makes sense to look after it in order to extend its life. Safety is also a consideration – as many have found out to their cost, a slippery deck can be pretty lethal! Decks or paving, particularly in a shaded position, do attract moss and slime, so it’s very important to jet wash at least once, or preferably, twice a year. Some stone is more likely to get slippery than others, particularly that with a smoother surface, so be more careful with this. Natural wood decking is more susceptible too. Composite decking is much better in this respect, so might be good choice if thinking of replacing your deck in future, but, in the meantime, be very careful when the weather is wet and keep the surfaces as clean as possible. Keeping the decking or stone clean will also, of course, improve the look of your outside space, but you can extend its longevity even more by treating them too. Sealing a new stone patio will help it resist stains and enhance its colour, and oiling your deck yearly will not only help it keep its colour, but also help prevent rot. Just make sure that both are completely clean before you add any treatment. A clean once or twice a year and a treatment does not take much time, but will give you significant benefits both in terms of appearance and cost of replacement.
Enjoy your garden – having worked so hard in your outside space, don’t forget to sometimes just sit back and just enjoy it! We have such busy lives nowadays and we all need to make that quiet time to take in the sights and sounds of nature. Even if you live in a noisy, inner city area you can still create your own little oasis by adding a small water feature to disguise the sound of traffic and scented plants that can take you out of that busy environment to anywhere in the world (weather permitting!) Gardens and outside spaces can be wonderful places to come home to, where you can relax and re-charge your batteries, ready to take on the world!
Happy gardening in 2016!