1. Don’t be too tidy. Leave those architectural seed-heads until the last minute. Gone are the days when gardeners had to tidy up for winter, cutting everything back to the bare ground. Now we have learnt to appreciate plants in all stages of growth from juvenility to senescence. Whether it is blackened pom-pom headed heleniums or frost on dainty sprays of bronze fennel crowns, don’t hurry to throw them on the compost heap. Instead, appreciate the changes in their colour and shape, how far they have come in the growing year and what that has to tell us about our own journey through life.
2. Ditch the peat once and for all. This is a subject I’m going to come back to as I firmly believe 2021 is the year we need to stop using peat. Many of us probably think we have already done so by buying peat free compost, but this precious resource, built up by our planet over millions of years, is still widely used in the horticultural industry. As consumers we can put pressure on nurseries and growers to stop using it by ensuring we buy only plants grown in peat-free material.
3. Choose plants that nourish insect life. Many plants are labelled as bee-friendly, but that’s not always the case. The best rule of thumb is to choose plants with single, open flowers, where the pollen and nectar in the middle of the flower are easily accessible. These often tend to be older, native cultivars (although plants don’t have to be native to be insect-friendly), think hawthorn, honeysuckle and crab-apples, rather than overbred cultivars.
4. Grow unusual and heritage varieties. There is a great pleasure in growing something that you can’t buy in a supermarket, whether it is an exotic or old-fashioned herb or a purple carrot. Stockists with an interesting selection of flower and kitchen garden seeds include Higgledy Garden, Real Seeds and Chiltern Seeds.
5. Leave an area of your lawn to grow long. No longer do we have to keep up with the Joneses and keep our lawns immaculate. In recent years there has been a campaign for No Mow May, to leave the mower in the shed and let the grass grow during this crucial month when plant and insect life is waking up and reproducing. At all times of year it can look very effective to mow some areas of lawn and paths, while leaving other sections unmown.
6. Re-use existing materials. Before you place that order for expensive imported stone, consider whether you could reuse your existing slabs as crazy paving (surely due a comeback) with wild thyme growing between the cracks. Broken pots can be used for drainage in the bottom of other pots, or to house succulents as part of a larger display. Or use broken bits and pieces you find around the garden to make impromptu sculptures.
7. Make your own compost. You can make your own compost bin from old builders’ palettes or buy them relatively cheaply online, or if you have enough space simply dedicate a corner of the garden to the compost heap. It makes it so much easier to tidy up if you can empty trugs and buckets of weeds and pruning material onto your own heap. Don’t forget to mix green waste with brown woody waste or torn up cardboard. Then once or twice a year you will need to turn the heap, a job as good as any workout. The compost is ready when it is brown, crumbly and odourless. If there are persistent weeds, sieve them out before spreading it on your flower and vegetable beds, with the added benefit that you will retain the mychorrizal fungi from your own soil.
8. Go pot crazy. You can’t have too many plant pots as long as you remember to water them in dry patches. I’m a huge fan of gardens created on town and city pavements simply using a collection of pots. It doesn’t have to be a fancy terracotta affair. A cheerful plastic trug will do the job.
9. Bring the greenery in. Pick a selection of flowers and greenery from your own garden to make artistic displays in jugs and jam jars and let your imagination run wild. You don’t have to have legions of perfect blooms, some interesting contrasts of foliage will do and if you are plucking out weeds, then think about throwing them into the mix.
10. Leave self-sown seedlings. It is difficult to know in early Spring which seedlings to leave and which are weeds. I try to leave them until I have a good idea of what they might be – ask friends or consult books or online reference sites until you get better at identifying seedlings. In time this will become second nature.
11. Lose yourself in the garden. Once you have let the wild in, then it is time to lie back in the long grass, listen to the hum of a bumble bee, spot pictures in the clouds above, smell the sweet scent of summer. It may feel like a long way off in the depths of the northern winter, but it will be here before we know it!