Grow your own
In this sea of depression and despondency, there is one area of growth at the moment and that is, well, growth. Growing your own has not been so popular since our grannies dug up their lawns during the second World War to plant potatoes and cabbages, or certainly not since the Good Life TV series in the early 70s when hippy friends moved to the country to be self-sufficient or took an allotment by the railway embankment.
In the same week not long ago I received a packet of salad seeds with a new gardening catalogue, an e-mail from Alice Water’s office in Berkeley, California describing Maria Shriver’s decision to plant an edible garden in the grounds of the California First Family’s official residence and the local evening free sheet devoted a page to growing your own.
And I’m afraid I no longer have the excuse that I do not have a garden. My neighbour who sat next to me on the bus the other day said how she couldn’t wait to have some fresh salad greens.
No, she didn’t have a garden, she told me, she grows rocket on her window sill. And she is not alone; over eight million people are growing food plants in gardens and allotments in Britain.
The drawers from an unwanted chest, galvanised buckets and Belfast stone sinks, orange boxes, wooden wine cases, an old bathtub, large food cans, a car tyre and a dustbin are just some of the containers suggested by urban gardeners. They, as well as the more usual hanging baskets, plant pots and window boxes will all holdcompost for whatever you want to plant.
Peat-free growing compost (ideally organic), a jug (you don’t need a watering can), implements for digging and scooping the compost (you don’t need trowels and dibbers – I use old stainless steel kitchen spoons, knives and forks), sticks or canes to support what needs support, string, scissors and labels if you are planning to grow several different things. These are all you need to get started.
You might consider growing some of the following: mint in several varieties, other herbs, rocket, cutting salad, new potatoes (which do particularly well in dustbins), chillies (very decorative when the fruit ripens), small tomatoes (even from hanging baskets), garlic, borage (for your summer Pimm’s), strawberries, runner beans and two that your children will enjoy – sunflowers, because you see results so fast, and they look so mad when fully grown, and mustard and cress – which will take two weeks, tops, and will grow in cardboard-shoe-box lids, as well as on damp flannel in a saucer, which is how I was taught to do it in primary school.
This idyllic rus in urbi movement takes things even further, especially in more northerly climates. In Germany and Iceland for example, you might see the broad, gently-sloping roofs carpeted with grasses or a miniature wild flower meadow. It provides perfect insulationand a more uniform run-offfor the rain.
In Paris, the Musée du Quai Branly is covered with greenery from roof to street level, using 15,000 plants and 150 varieties. The same designer, Patrick Blanc, credited with being the inventor of the ‘green wall’, has created a similar vertical garden for a Madrid museum, planting even more plant varieties on the entire wall of a historic building, in a design reminiscent of Monet’s garden at Giverny.
You might think this irrelevant to a Mediterranean property, but whatever will grow in your horizontal garden will grow in a vertical garden, apart from plants with a very longroot system.
Imagine a city property with the balcony walls covered in creeping herbs and scented flowers, but also miniature tomato plants, strawberries and chilli peppers. As well as the intrinsic beauty of living plants, they provide real benefits to our environment, helping to purify and filter the air; another bonus forthe city dweller.
Lakeland, famous for its kitchen, homeware, storage and Christmas catalogues, recently introduced a garden catalogue and, as you would expect, it is one of the best you will find. As is, of course, its website.
Portable greenhouses for the tiny garden or terrace, very stylish woven willow vegetable planters, stands for plants on the patio, mini growing beds, ideal for growing vegetables in a small space or where the soil is too poor for seedlings to survive, a selection of Thompson and Morgan seeds, tubers and small trees for growing edibles such as plums, strawberries, chillies, blueberries, potatoes, including my favourite, Charlotte, and tomatoes – a wonderful one called Tasty Tumbler to be grown from a hanging basket, from which there are plenty to choose, as well as balcony pots, self-watering troughs, ‘flower towers’, and a variety ofingenious watering systems.
There are many ideas here to help you plan a garden on your balcony, patio or roof-top, but even a plant pot or two will provide you with lovely home-grown fruit, herbs or vegetables.
One useful website for information about getting started growing food is www.seedtoplate.co.uk. Although it is UK-based there are sound ideas and recommendations for acquiring more space, such as offering to take over a neighbour’s garden in return for some of the produce, and even taking over municipal space which has been neglected.
And the internet has a vast amount of information about vertical gardens, living walls and green walls; simply type in any of these key phrases. Finally, www.lakeland.co.uk is the place to seek inspiration for the kit you need.