And on the 14th week of lockdown, we were granted a heatwave. Temperatures are set to hit 34 degrees in some parts of the country this week, with the hottest June day for over 40 years due to be recorded on Thursday – meaning anyone blessed with a bit of green space is probably setting up camp in it for the foreseeable. But if the past three months have taught us anything, it’s that for your garden to truly serve as a functioning outdoor office, kitchen, bar, leisure centre and even cinema, you need the right kit – and you probably don’t have it. Here, then, are some clever last-minute purchases that could help you move a little more seamlessly from the working day to lunchtime workouts, al fresco dinners and balmy movie nights. Office-proof your garden For those with no immediate requirement to return to the office, setting up a desk your garden has never been so appealing. But squinting to see your screen and struggling to get a reasonable WiFi connection isn’t conducive to actually getting much work done. First, enter the laptop hood: essentially a computer tent, often used by photographers who are accustomed to working outdoors whatever the weather. The iCap ( £89, Amazon.co.uk) comes with all sorts of bells and whistles you’ll never need – “frost resistant film”, anyone? – but will do the all-important job of allowing you to actually see what you’re typing. Second, try a WiFi extender to increase your router’s range (visit telegraph.co.uk/recommended for our pick of the best from £20 to £300).
Twelve weeks of lockdown living and the driest spring and early summer on record so far have encouraged even the most reluctant of us to pull on our bathers and jump into a hot tub, it seems, as British suppliers are reporting the kind of sales boost that most business managers can only dream of. According to the British and Irish Spa and Hot Tub Association, its members have seen a 480 per cent surge in sales during the period – Jacuzzi UK saw a year-on-year rise of 300 per cent in May alone – and the home spa market is now worth more than £350 million. “With our freedom to roam and going on holiday curtailed we’ve all had to find new ways to disconnect from our homes and from the stresses of life,” says Julie Young, UK Retail Sales Manager for Hot Spring World. “Our personal wellbeing has become a priority and 20 to 30 minutes spent relaxing in a hot tub helps you discover peace of mind, a little world of your own, in the privacy of your own garden.”
In Autumn De Wilde’s film adaptation, Emma (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) favours blousy arrangements at Hartfield. In the opening greenhouse scene, cascading stems of sweet peas, jasmine and clematis hang softly. Hinting at the romance and humour yet to play out, Emma – ever the wild card – picks stems for a tussie-mussie (a posy of hand-tied plucked stems, popular at the time) decisively. “Ensuring flowers are appropriate to the period is key: they tell their own quiet tales, illuminating the scenes,” says Gypsy Rose Flowers floral artist Tamsin Scott, the stylist responsible for creating the botanical backdrops in the film – out this week on DVD – alongside set decorator Stella Fox. Fashion photographer Tim Walker has described Tamsin Scott as the Constance Spry to his Cecil Beaton (Spry the florist created the flowers for not only Beaton’s photographs, but also for the nuptials of the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson, the Queen’s coronation, Grace Kelly’s wedding, and for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers routines). As well as telling the tale of Emma Woodhouse through blooms, in keeping with Georgian and Regency-era tastes, Scott is also responsible for the floral design in James Watkins’ Edwardian-era The Woman in Black and Pathé’s Oscar-winning Judy, starring Renée Zellweger (set in the Sixties) on the big screen.
Spring brings a hectic round of planting and sowing, but summer is a gentler season. The gardening doesn’t stop, though; this is the time to keep the show on the road. Experienced gardeners have a few tricks up their sleeves, managing plants so that they flower when needed and tweaking borders like a hairdresser with a longhandled comb. They eradicate the shabby – and are not afraid to cheat and bed in a new addition or two from the garden centre, either. As well as tips on how to squeeze flower power out of your borders, I have this advice: don’t attempt the year-long border – it’s fraught with difficulty. You’ll end up with a fading peony going dormant in August, spoiling an aster gearing up for September glory. Create borders that concentrate on one season and make careful additions. For example, a spring woodland border will shine again in September if Hydrangea paniculata is woven through. And I favour H. ‘Limelight’ for its neater panicles that eventually age to green jade and rose quartz. Summer borders linger on until November with the aid of penstemons, Gaura lindheimeri and annual cosmos. Autumn borders, set to blaze from August on, can be livened up in April-May with a blend of Triumph and late tulips. Don’t concentrate wholly on flower. Echinacea buds look like fairy coronets long before the daisies appear. The silvery parchment scales on the buds of Catananche caerulea (Cupid’s dart), are works of art for weeks before the flowers unfurl. Japanese anemone buds hang like grey seed pearls strung on garlands. And foliage, well, that’s the most important long-term benefit of all. Just snip away the odd shabby leaf. Delaying tactics for long flowering The Chelsea chop
Have you slept in much lately? If you were up before 5am today, and will be out in the garden till nearly 10pm tonight, then you will witness either end of the longest day of 2020. Welcome to this year’s Summer Solstice, a moment I always find the most thought-provoking time of the year in the garden. There’s something delightfully pagan about the solstices and equinoxes that puncture our calendar. I’m firmly of the astronomical camp when it comes to the start of the seasons; while others will merrily usher in spring, summer, autumn and winter on the first of March, June, September and December accordingly, as is meteorologically correct, it never feels like the weather has caught up yet. I enjoy the slight slipperiness of the dates, the notion that we can pinpoint the moment when the Earth has tilted on its axis once again. What does this mean from a gardening perspective? Well, I always use the solstices (both in summer, and the winter one a few days before Christmas) as an opportunity to take stock. From here on in, the days that have been gradually lengthening over the past six months will begin to shrink. I can’t help but think of the autumn and winter ahead, and what I would like and expect from the garden over that time. When the beds are as abundant, billowing and demanding as they are now, it can be difficult to imagine them bare and in need of mulching. So, rather than making any grand design decisions, ask yourself instead if your garden is offering you what you want and need.
La Roche is exactly how you picture a little village in South West France. Roofs of terracotta, bleached walls. Sleepy and shuttered against the blaring sun. A cat picking its way from the village hall to the cemetery. If you are coming down the stone track from the forest we are the first house. If ascending from the village, the last house. Either way, we live in what our neighbours call “La maison tout seul”, or sometimes “La maison bleue”, the latter nomenclature in honour of our particular wooden shutters, as brilliantly azure as the Charente sky. The house was built fin de siècle by La Roche’s priest, Father Jacques, and provided him with a fine outlook over his flock in the trickle of medieval lanes below. By the same positioning, I have an eyrie over my neighbours’ gardens. Or more precisely, over their potagers. To describe a potager as simply a Gallic kitchen garden is to lose sophistication in translation. The potager is, indeed, intended to supply the soup pot the year round but, since its origins in the palaces of the Renaissance, it is ornamental too. Function and style in a single entity, which, if you think about it, is very French indeed. Every house in the village down the hill has a potager, even the two new bungalows. “Grow your own” is a philosophy and a praxis alive and well in deep France. And, Mon Dieu, self-sufficiency has been vital during Covid-19. The plague has hit La Roche hard. Here fraternité is more than an official word on the wall outside the Mairie. We only live in La Roche for part of the year, but have become wholly adopted, in the words of village elder, Jean-Luc, as “part of the furniture”. In La Roche on meeting your neighbours you automatically, sincerely, ask “Ca va?” Then parse Stade Rochelais’s latest performance (rugby in SW France is a fundamentalist religion), or matters epicurean. We talk all the time. Normally. Confinement has killed company and conversation on the rue. Masks and social distancing have sadly turned us inwards. True, Rocheans are not as paranoid as the people of the cities, who seem intent on mass enactment of Sartre’s existentialist drama Huis Clos (No Exit). You know, his play with the line: “Hell is other people.” But, strange days, indeed. Rocheans have survived coronavirus spiritually and gastronomically courtesy of the potager. We are not alone. The regional newspaper, Sud Ouest, recently declared “Potagers – les stars du confinement.”
Michael Heseltine is known for many things. That leadership challenge. Being nicknamed “Tarzan”, on account of his resemblance to the actor Johnny Weissmuller, who played the jungle-loving character. And let’s not forget the mace grab in the House of Commons. But it is Thenford, his 70-acre garden in Northamptonshire, that he’d rather be known for. “Who remembers any politicians?” he asks. “But you do remember Westonbirt.” Thenford is a miniature Westonbirt, snuggled in the crease where Northamptonshire meets Oxfordshire, six miles from Banbury. The Heseltines bought what was then a 400-acre estate in 1976, having searched high and low. They upped sticks to this lovely county – once described by Charles Spencer as so anonymous that mention “you live in Northamptonshire and people look automatically confused” – after Lord Heseltine (who was made a life peer in 2001) had his Tavistock constituency in Devon abolished under his feet. When he was selected for Henley in 1974, the couple relocated. “We advertised in Country Life, and flew around in helicopters,” explains Lord Heseltine, as if this is a completely ordinary course of action. “If we saw a promising-looking place with a good wall, we would drive in and say we were looking for Mr Wilkinson. One day someone said, ‘Just a minute, I’ll get him.’ So we fled.” Eventually, they found Thenford. Built in the 1760s for the Wodhull family, for 30 years it had been owned by the Summers family. When in 1976 Sir Spencer Summers, Conservative MP for Aylesbury, died, it was put up for sale. It was a house, not a garden, that they were initially looking for. After all, “houses of the sort we were looking for had gardens”, says Lord Heseltine. But they were “obsessed” with Thenford, “and just assumed there would be a garden”. This was not to be. Where the garden ought to have stood was “freedom valley. If anyone wanted the natural state of things, this was it”. The walled garden was, as Lady Heseltine writes in the book the couple published in 2016, “the only trace”.
In 2016, Juliet Sargeant became the first black designer to create a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Her Modern Slavery Garden won gold. Sargeant said at the time: “I don’t come across any other black garden designers when I’m out and about. But that doesn’t mean black people aren’t interested in gardening and design. I think they do not culturally feel part of the horticultural scene.” Now, after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the US and subsequent Black Lives Matter anti-racism demonstrations in the US and UK, many industries are under the spotlight due to a perceived lack of diversity, from food to fashion. Gardening is among them, too. Flo Headlam, who became the first black Gardeners’ World presenter in 2017, says: “It is the moment to be talking about diversity in all walks of life and industries.” The RHS is keen to crack the diversity issue and in August a £45,000 a year diversity and inclusion manager will start work to create equality initiatives. An RHS spokesperson says: “We are under no illusions and realise there is much more for the RHS and the industry to do.”
How much will you be missing Glastonbury this year? It probably depends on whether you’ve ever been, and what the weather was like when you were there. This was set to be my sixth visit, and that, combined with Taylor Swift – an artist who reduces me to a giddy teenager – rounding off the Sunday night, blinked like a beacon in the summer that will never come to pass. In my own outdoor space, there’s no way to conjure that mix of flare and cigarette smoke in the air, the sense of communality of 135,000 strangers singing together. But there is one, much lesser-known part of Glastonbury that I can recreate: its permaculture garden. While the rest of the festival gets taken down and packed away and the stragglers make their way to the car park, Glastonbury’s permaculture garden remains. Founded in 1989, the garden sits between the hedonism of Shangri-La and the energy of the Green Fields, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nook off the old railway line that spans the festival site. Once inside the woodland grove, the mania of the rest of the festival quietens. Instead, peonies sit in milk bottles on wooden tables, bees flock to wildflowers and friendly, blissed-out souls gather around the campfire of the outdoor kitchen. Smoke and sunshine collide in the air. It offers a restorative hit for the hung-over.
Every week, Telegraph gardening expert Helen Yemm gives tips and advice on all your gardening problems whether at home or on the allotment. If you have a question, see below for how to contact her. There is something undeniably glorious about the fresh, earthy smell of a wet garden. But watering our gardens is not about that, it is all about drenching needy plant roots efficiently to enable their uninterrupted growth, while wasting as little as possible of that most precious resource – water. Ultimately, it’s about not splashing it about. When should I water the garden? Early morning is best, however, a lot of us choose to water in the evening, when we may have more time. Avoid the middle of the day – although if a plant is visibly wilting, don’t wait, just give its roots a gentle soak. Take your time and try to be methodical, especially if you grow lots in pots. How? Watering cans: Aim the can low, drenching the soil. Especially if you are watering seedlings, use a can with a flat, fine rose, turned over so that the gentle water jets are directed downwards and therefore splash and disturb less. Hoses, when the water butts run dry: The best way to water with a hose is via a lance (either fixed or telescopic), with an adjustable rose “head” that can be fixed at about 90 degrees to the pole, enabling you to reach between plants and slowly drench the soil around each (see hozelock.com – see also their compact Pico hose, useful for small spaces). Pegged-down porous seeping hoses (that can be set on a timer) deliver water exactly where it is needed very slowly, and are useful for deep borders and for the establishment of new shrubs and hedges (kits are available from harrodhorticultural.com). How much? A hurried swish will merely dampen the soil surface and encourage vulnerable surface rooting. Most likely to suffer are plants in containers in “soft” composts, especially those that are peat-based, as they are really hard to re-wet once dry. Get to know your plants, as they have different needs: Tomatoes need at least a daily drench in high season, while fussy succulents (like echeverias) hate permanently wet feet and will let you know as much by dying. It pays to do a test (by simply sticking a finger in the soil) with your ground-based plants as well as your pots, and adjust your watering regime accordingly. Plants likely to suffer most from lack of water are newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials: make a circular gully around individual young trees and large shrubs about 30-45cm from their main stem and fill it with water several times to ensure that roots are kept supplied. It should now go without saying that we should routinely apply moisture-retaining mulches (that can be scraped away before watering and then replaced). Other watering issues – briefly Watering with recycled soapy dishwater or bathwater is fine, but softened water or dishwasher water are not. In the short term, tap water is better than no water for lime-hating rhododendrons and camellias; in the longer term, treating these plants with Sequestrene (chelated iron) will help sort out resulting mineral deficiency problems. And finally, please, however much you want to… never water your lawn. Grass recovers. Tip for spring and summer flower borders
Every week, Telegraph gardening expert Helen Yemm gives tips and advice on all your gardening problems whether at home or on the allotment. If you have a question, see below for how to contact her. There is something undeniably glorious about the fresh, earthy smell of a wet garden. But watering our gardens is not about that, it is all about drenching needy plant roots efficiently to enable their uninterrupted growth, while wasting as little as possible of that most precious resource – water. Ultimately, it’s about not splashing it about. When is the best time to water plants? Early morning is best, however, a lot of us choose to water in the evening, when we may have more time. Avoid the middle of the day – although if a plant is visibly wilting, don’t wait, just give its roots a gentle soak. Take your time and try to be methodical, especially if you grow lots in pots. How? Watering cans: Aim the can low, drenching the soil. Especially if you are watering seedlings, use a can with a flat, fine rose, turned over so that the gentle water jets are directed downwards and therefore splash and disturb less. Hoses, when the water butts run dry: The best way to water with a hose is via a lance (either fixed or telescopic), with an adjustable rose “head” that can be fixed at about 90 degrees to the pole, enabling you to reach between plants and slowly drench the soil around each (see hozelock.com – see also their compact Pico hose, useful for small spaces). Pegged-down porous seeping hoses (that can be set on a timer) deliver water exactly where it is needed very slowly, and are useful for deep borders and for the establishment of new shrubs and hedges (kits are available from harrodhorticultural.com). How much? A hurried swish will merely dampen the soil surface and encourage vulnerable surface rooting. Most likely to suffer are plants in containers in “soft” composts, especially those that are peat-based, as they are really hard to re-wet once dry. Get to know your plants, as they have different needs: Tomatoes need at least a daily drench in high season, while fussy succulents (like echeverias) hate permanently wet feet and will let you know as much by dying. It pays to do a test (by simply sticking a finger in the soil) with your ground-based plants as well as your pots, and adjust your watering regime accordingly. Plants likely to suffer most from lack of water are newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials: make a circular gully around individual young trees and large shrubs about 30-45cm from their main stem and fill it with water several times to ensure that roots are kept supplied. It should now go without saying that we should routinely apply moisture-retaining mulches (that can be scraped away before watering and then replaced). Other watering issues – briefly Watering with recycled soapy dishwater or bathwater is fine, but softened water or dishwasher water are not. In the short term, tap water is better than no water for lime-hating rhododendrons and camellias; in the longer term, treating these plants with Sequestrene (chelated iron) will help sort out resulting mineral deficiency problems. And finally, please, however much you want to… never water your lawn. Grass recovers. Tip for spring and summer flower borders
Rock gardens – including miniature ones that fit into our crowded lives – are finding a place in our hearts once more, and why wouldn’t they? True alpine plants, the bold and brave summer bloomers, have famously bright flowers – all the better for attracting scarce pollinating insects at high altitudes in the brief summer after the last snow melts and the next lot arrives. They also take up little space. Many are incredibly easy to grow, while others attract the connoisseurs prepared to mollycoddle the trickiest species that hail from the high peaks and screes. Happily, these cheery small plants also bring the generations together in unified admiration of their multitude of forms. “Our alpines are a huge hit now with visitors in the social media and camera-phone generation,” says Tom Freeth, curator of the Rock and Alpine Living Collections at Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens. “Favourites are rosette-forming things, such as saxifrages or sempervivum or Aloe polyphylla. Anything that grows in a repeating, arithmetic, fractal form makes a very lovely Instagram square – for example, we’ve got some magnificent Aloe polyphylla on the rock garden, they’re hugely popular.’
For those of us without gardens, 'bringing the outside in' is not only tempting but essential over lockdown. If booming indoor plants sales over the past few months are anything to go by, the sector has risen in popularity as a result of increased isolation, social media-led design trends and, as many experts suggest, a new-found millennial desire to have something to nurture and care for. Google searches for ‘house plants’ increased by an astonishing 84 per cent between February and April this year, rising from 360,080 to 663,980 monthly searches, while Flower Card, an online card business specialising in floral design, reports that several houseplants have reached more than 200,000 tags on social media, namely the Swiss cheese plant and Chinese money plant. "I'm not surprised that houseplants are popular throughout this time," says Ian Drummond, creative director at Indoor Garden Design. "I grew up in a flat and was given a houseplant as a child, it gave me so much joy and I was obsessed from the moment it landed on my shelf." The award-winning interior landscape designer and RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medal-winner wrote a book on the subject, At Home with Plants, which takes a look at houseplants and the practicalities of looking after them. And looking after them, it seems, is more difficult than first thought; searches for 'how not to kill my houseplant', 'why is my houseplant dying', and 'houseplant dying' have also increased by more than 100 per cent on search engines. Sturdy and resilient though plants may be, they can be tricky to look after (and keep healthy) if you lack proper information on watering, light exposure and temperatures. That's why we've rounded up the most popular houseplants in the UK. Take a look at our tips and tricks to ensure they flourish, lockdown or not. At Home with Plants by Ian Drummond and Kara O'Reilly (£20, Octopus Publishing) is available from books.telegraph. uk. Chlorophytum (Spider Plant)
One of the most welcome aspects of gardening’s return to vogue is its mental health benefits. For those who grow things, gardening’s ability to make one feel, well, better, is long-established. An afternoon pottering about with plants is calming in a no-fuss-please sort of way. As the writer Olivia Laing puts it, ‘I’ve never found an activity as soothing or as wholly absorbing. It’s like being immersed in a deep, silent pool.’ Over the past year or so, though, I have frequently been asked about how gardening helps my mental health. It’s a question I often struggle to answer, because to me the two are so entwined: to garden is to take a breath, to recalibrate. Like many things that feel good, I didn’t so much get hooked on the act of gardening as the way it made me feel. While I’m an innate worrier and restless soul, I’m fortunate never to have been diagnosed with any clinical mental ill health. Still, I retreat to the balcony in the same way one might to a pillow to scream into in times of frustration. When I’m feeling buoyant, a few hours spent pruning and potting only exacerbates that goodness; when I’m crabby and tired, doing something as straightforward and gentle as watering – ideally with a very fine rose on a not-too-heavy can – unleashes the same release as a good shoulder rub. This might give the impression that my gardening is mostly dilly-dallying around with posies and floral aprons. It’s not. To work the ground is to encounter the unexpected, and with it as much bad as good: vine weevil invasions, rotted roots, forgotten-about seedlings. Even when it’s not your fault – a February wind plays a merry dance with the cold frame, and all of the greens within – it’s easy to tell yourself it is. And when the one thing that’s meant to help winds you up, what then? Well, like most things in life, we push through.
If the recent warm spell has left you yearning for a glass of rosé or pint of something cold in your local, well, you’ve still got a wait on your hands. Pubs and bars have been closed since March 20 and aren’t due to reopen until July. But lockdown has not been a time of abstinence: sales of booze rose 31.4 per cent according to the Office for National Statistics, largely thanks to the new army of home workers using a stiff drink as a marker between business and pleasure, as well as frazzled parents dealing with days full of home-schooling, often with jobs on top. Thanks to a run of good weather, and in lieu of a swift half in a beer garden, many of us are creating home bars in our back gardens – away from the mess of our day lives. Searches for “outside bar ideas” have risen over the past few weeks on Google, while John Lewis reports an 87 per cent increase in sales of its outdoor bar products, and Instagram and Pinterest are showing increased posts from people building their own DIY bars; some committed types have even built sheds with fully functioning beer taps, such is their need for a pub-pulled pint. Last week, Mark Ramon Walker posted a video on social media of a bar and disco he built for his family in their garden in Cambridgeshire, with him acting as doorman as his three young children go to Walker’s Club; while Paul Nowak showed off pictures of a full-sized pub he had built from old pallets and scrap wood in his back garden in Handsworth, South Yorkshire. Feeling inspired? The DIY blog Mano Mano has a useful tutorial on how to construct a drop-down wall bar from old pallets that costs £35 and takes around five hours to make. For the same rustic look, but minus the hard work, Rosie Keenan makes drop-down wall bars at her workshop in North Wales. She says her creations, which she sells for £86, have been a surprise and welcome hit since the start of lockdown. “It was a concern as I mainly do wedding items and I had lots of orders cancelled.
Experts have warned that Vespa velutina - the Asian hornet or yellow-legged hornet - an invasive species from Asia, could be a devastating threat to British honey bee colonies. The non-native predatory insect is thought to have been introduced to Europe after unknowingly being transported in cargo from China to France in 2004; since then, the expansion of the species has been relentless. Wildlife in France said: ‘Colonies have spread quickly through neighboring regions. In the initial stages, they follow rivers and other watercourses: in fact, a nest will never be found far from a source of water even if that is only a small pond.’ As of 2019, thousands of nests have been found across Spain including the north, as well as Belgium, Spain and Portugal. “In northern Spain, two Asian hornet nests were found a couple of hundred kilometres apart,” reports BBC chief environment correspondent Justin Rowlatt. “Within four years, there were more than 10,000 nests and each one is capable of devastating a honey bee colony.” In Galicia, northern Spain, it is reported that some bee colonies have had mortality rates of more than 50 per cent since the arrival of the Asian hornet, while the bees that survive the hornet attacks will significantly reduce honey production afterwards. “People tell you that they are seeing a lot fewer insects, and the wasp traps confirm this," explains Carlos Valcuende, member of the Confederation to Defend Bees on the Cantabrian Coast, to Sonia Vizoso of El País. "At first very few Asian hornets were getting caught, and a lot of other species. Now it’s the other way around.” This isn’t just an issue for Europe. The Channel Islands continue to battle against an invasion from Asian hornet colonies. In June 2019, more than 80 queen hornets were spotted in Jersey, while sightings in Guernsey continue to increase. A rising number of nests in Alderney and Sark have also been reported over the past five years. In the UK, sightings of Asian hornets are becoming more common; the latest was confirmed near Christchurch, Dorset on October 1, 2019, and two nests were subsequently destroyed. Public sightings have also been reported in Staffordshire and Hampshire. Since 2018, there have been more than 14 confirmed nest sightings. British beekeepers are determined to learn from what they’ve witnessed in Europe, urging the nation to educate themselves on Asian hornets: particularly, how to spot them and how to report a sighting. “They’re fantastically successful invaders,” Lynne Ingram, master beekeeper, told the BBC. “Honey colonies are like a supermarket for Asian hornets.” Hornets will raid honeybee hives by sitting outside them and capturing workers as they go in and out, dismembering them and feeding the thorax to their young.
Gardens and parks, including those managed by the National Trust, the Royal Horticultural Society and English Heritage, could open as soon as the weekend of June 6 and 7 after the Government issued unexpected advice last Friday, which means attractions can reopen following more than two months of being closed during the coronavirus crisis. George Plumptre, chief executive of the National Garden Scheme (NGS), noted how the announcement last week almost went unnoticed: “A quietly posted update on the Defra website set out an alteration to the government advice and clarified that it is now permissible to open gardens to visitors, in a controlled manner which maintains social distancing and other guidelines.” All fee-paying gardens, such as Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, RHS Wisley, Rosemoor, Hyde Hall and Harlow Carr, and all English Heritage, Historic Houses Association (HHA) and National Trust sites locked their gates in the last week of March when the lockdown was first announced. To reopen, gardens staff have to be unfurloughed and safety measures put in place. Entry will be ticketed to keep numbers manageable and entrances and exits may have to be changed to ensure social distancing. Cafes will remain shut, while toilets will have a one-in, one-out queuing policy and will close for regular cleaning. Outdoor plant retail centres at RHS sites such as Wisley have already reopened. For some organisations, such as the NGS and HHA, the number of open gardens will depend on the willingness of individual property owners to welcome back visitors, with all the new social distancing and safety concerns involved. The new Government guidance, issued on May 22, states that people can “visit gardens and land maintained for public use as an alternative open space to spend time outdoors, although buildings and amenities such as cafes will remain closed and access may be limited to members or those with tickets to ensure social distancing. You should check ahead and follow social distancing guidelines”.
In a normal year, the last weekend in May marks the beginning of a seven-week period of intense activity for the National Garden Scheme (NGS), lasting until the second weekend in July, after which the school holidays begin. More than 2,000 gardens – over 50 per cent of the annual total – were due to open during this period in 2020, the great majority on the seven Sundays. Without disastrously bad weather, they would have raised in the region of £2 million. When I first drafted this article we were still in a position of total closure. Last weekend that changed; a quietly posted update on the DEFRA website set out an alteration to the government advice and clarified that it is now permissible to open gardens to visitors in a controlled manner which maintains social distancing and other guidelines. For those gardens owned and managed institutionally, by organisations such as the National Trust, the RHS and the Royal Botanic Garden Kew, the path to reopening is relatively simple; they own the properties so a strategic decision can be taken to reopen. They are limited only by the need to reboot on-the-ground operations at their various properties and by ongoing government restrictions, as well as a moral need to respect the sensibilities of their employees and volunteers. The National Garden Scheme is in a rather different situation because the sensibilities of our garden owners will, quite rightly, dictate the pace at which properties begin to reopen. Our unique quality is the fact that NGS gardens are the private domains of ordinary folk, inviting visitors in to share their delights for purely altruistic and charitable purposes. These openings are not commercial events. The decision to open is entirely voluntary and at the discretion of individual garden owners. Ironically, our model is ideally suited to the challenges of exiting the lockdown; welcoming modest numbers of people to attend a variety of garden venues across a broad number of locations, in order to raise funds for the nursing charities we support. We know from our research that the majority of our supporters visit very locally with a journey of less than 20 miles. This accords with current concerns about journey times and traffic volumes, especially in rural locations. Many of them visit specifically to support a fundraising event for their local community, always a fundamental feature of the National Garden Scheme. We know that not all gardens will be able to open, for a mixture of practical and personal reasons. But for those that can we have a system in place whereby visitors will pre-book and pay for on our website, a ticket for a timed slot in the garden of their choice. Each garden is providing us with details of how many visitors they can safely accommodate at one time, so as to observe social distancing and these details will dictate the availability to visitors.
In the UK, it’s fairly easy to go overboard when the sun comes out. It’s understandable, too - we don’t really get enough of it to take a few good days of rays for granted. Unfortunately, that also means we tend to forget there is such a thing as too much sun. And we get the burn lines to prove it. The best thing for it? Invest in a gorgeous garden umbrella or parasol. Whilst they allow you to enjoy brilliant weather for longer, the best parasols and garden umbrellas also double-up as beautiful focal points in your garden. What is the difference between normal and cantilever parasols? While ‘normal’ parasols and umbrellas can tilt to shade you from the sun, their flexibility tends to be limited. Cantilever parasols allow you to stretch the umbrella away from its stand, over the area of your choice, which means more space to move around underneath as well as control exact angles. As such, the choice of whether or not to opt for a cantilever is largely a matter of preference. Non-cantilever parasols are often sturdier in difficult weather, by design, but you can get great versions of both. It is, however, worth noting that low-quality cantilever parasols will swing like a sail when hit with big gusts of wind, so it’s worth investing in quality. What size garden parasol do I need? Most good parasols are at least 2 metres wide, and 2.4 metres seems to be the industry standard. To cover larger areas, like L-shaped garden furniture, you may want to opt for something a little wider. It’s important to remember that a large parasol will need a more substantial base than a smaller alternative. In this case, big families may prefer to invest in a large cantilever parasol to cover as many people as possible. Whether you’re looking for a patio table umbrella or something more substantial, we searched high and low to help you find the best garden parasol for your outdoor space. Due to problems arising from the Covid-19 lockdown, some of the products tested in this article may be temporarily unavailable for online order. 1. Christow Garden Parasol £54.99, Amazon
As we continue to adapt to life under lockdown, many people are finding it a good opportunity to grow their own vegetables. If you've not done it before and find it rather daunting, the good news is that it's easier than you think. The