Gardening can be daunting. Where do you start? And once you start will you end up finding a million other jobs that need doing?
When the sun's shining there really is little better than pottering round the garden. A couple of hours, well spent, can work wonders on your little patch of green – and your mental health, especially if you're self-isolating due to coronavirus. You just need to know where to start and what to do.
We spoke to Huw Richards, gardening expert, YouTuber (check out his organic veg videos) and Dobbies ambassador to get some expert-approved suggestions for quick gardening jobs you can do in an afternoon.
These jobs only require an afternoon (or even a couple of hours) to complete and will add so much more to your current garden.
Build a wildlife pond
Estimated to complete: 4-5 hours
If you fancy some digging and you have a corner in the garden in need of a little attention, then turning it into a wildlife haven is a fantastic option. You can buy pre-formed ponds which will create an instant impact, or for a little less cost you can shape your own pond design and use a pond liner to ensure you keep the water in. Mark out the shape of the pond and get digging, ensuring that you place the soil onto either sheets of cardboard on the ground or straight into a wheelbarrow to reduce mess.
If you are digging your own pond, make sure you have at least one gentle slope in the pond, so it allows wildlife to safely escape. Once you are happy with the shape, insert the pond structure or liner and then use a hosepipe to fill it up. You can then place pebbles on the gentle slope to provide habitat and plant dense foliage on at least one side of the pond to provide a little shade and cover. Ornamental grasses will work well for this. Use aquatic baskets to grow pond plants in the water which will both provide food and shelter for many creatures.
Build your own compost bins
Estimated time to complete: 2 hours
Compost is the most wonderful resource for any garden, and if you don’t have a compost bin then you can easily change that this weekend. Having your own homemade compost is one of the best ways of reducing waste, and as long as you keep the ratio of 2 buckets of brown material (high carbon materials such autumnal leaves, cardboard, shredded paper and straw) for every 1 bucket of green material (e.g. high nitrogen materials like grass clippings and vegetable scraps), you are very unlikely to run into any problems whatsoever.
The easiest compost bins to build are the slot together flat packs. But before you build them, make sure your ground is level and erect them in a location which is either not in any use, or up against a garden boundary to minimise the space they use up. Aim to build 2-3 bins and you will be enjoying your first homemade compost in about a year’s time.
Install a water butt
Estimated time to complete: 1 hour
I now feel that there is no such thing as too much water storage. Based on the drought in the UK last year, water seems more precious than ever before. Did you know that on average, you can collect around 60,000 litres of rainwater from your roof every year?
Why not install a waterbutt to the downpipe on your house to start collecting rainwater and have better water security during future droughts? You can also look at installing something a bit bigger such as an 800-litre wall tank.
Create a container vegetable garden
Estimated time to complete: 3-4 hours
No matter how small your garden patch, you can enjoy the benefits of grow your own.
If you only have a patio or a small garden, or perhaps your main garden is devoted to lawn and ornamentals then growing food in containers is an excellent way of enjoying delicious homegrown produce. You will need some bags of peat-free multipurpose compost and large pots to get started. You can grow anything from potatoes to runner beans in containers, not to mention salads and herbs.
There are many vegetable varieties now which suit container growing, such as the dwarf pea variety ‘Tom Thumb’. My favourite vegetable to grow in containers are potatoes. Plant 3 seed potatoes in a 30litre pot and then once they are ready you simply empty the pot out into a wheelbarrow and pick out the spuds. As your container vegetable garden expands and your confidence grows, you can then look at growing perennial fruits in pots like strawberries and redcurrants.
Build a cold frame
Estimated time to complete: 1-2 hours
A cold frame can be a confusing name, because it actually is more of a warm frame as it acts as a mini greenhouse. However, they are called cold frames because they help protect young seedlings from the cold before they are transplanted outside. But a cold frame can also be used to grow crops, not just as a propagation area.
There are many different cold frame kits to choose from, and they usually just need a screwdriver and drill to be assembled. They like to be situated in a sunny position, so aim to place it along a south facing wall (east facing is second best option). Once you have built it, you can now plant up deep seed trays with salads in late winter so you can enjoy early crops way before any of your neighbours do. I also think cold frames look awesome in a garden!
Estimated time to complete: Ongoing - as much or a little as you like
Now I have tried hard in this list to avoid mundane tasks like weeding. But here are a few quick tips to make weeding more enjoyable and effective.
- Use a hoe to capture weeds when they are young and hoe on a sunny day, so that they shrivel up and die
- Avoid digging soil as much as possible as this brings weed seeds up to the surface and causes a greater weed problem
- Take your headphones and listen to a podcast as you weed
- Once a week have a little walk around your garden and pull out any young weeds you see. The faster you get to new weeds, the easier they are to remove
- Cover bare soil over winter with cardboard, newspaper or landscape fabric to stop any weeds growing before you want to plant in spring
So, there you have a few tasks which you can do while you're at home. The most important thing is to never forget why you have a garden in the first place. A garden is there for you to enjoy and relax, and by dedicating a bit of sweat to improve it, you will be so glad about that for many years to come.
Especially when you sit down on that bench with a glass of your favourite G&T!
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