No outdoor space? Why you don’t need a garden to garden | gardening tips
Oe are a nation of gardeners, but according to the Office for National Statistics, one in eight UK households does not have a garden. If you live in one of those 3.3 million homes without a garden, but feel the need to get your hands dirty, there’s good news: you don’t need a garden to garden.
From planters to parks, community gardens to vegetable gardens and street plantings, anyone can, with a little ingenuity, discover the wonders of cultivation. It can be a rewarding and selfless form of gardening – giving back to your local community and improving the neighborhood for yourself, wildlife and others.
Gardening is a state of mind; it’s about appreciating and understanding nature, watching the seasons change, while helping and enjoying wildlife. By viewing gardening as an act of connecting with nature, beyond just buying seed packets or mowing a lawn, you will soon discover that the whole world is a garden in which to play, share and enjoy.
Plant under street trees
Across the country, people are breathing life into the ground under street trees – and many councils are actively encouraging it. To plant under a street tree near you, first speak to your council’s street tree team to find out if this is possible in your area. You want to make sure that maintenance crews don’t remove plants as unwanted weeds.
It’s best to plant local wildflowers in these spaces or grow existing self-seeded wild plants, which the bugs will love. They are generally hardy, easy-to-grow plants that can tolerate drought and trampling, and many will flower for months.
Start this spring by adding a layer of peat-free compost, between 2cm and 3cm deep, to the soil around the tree, keeping it slightly away from the trunk. Fork it gently to break up the soil, which is often compacted. Do this carefully so as not to damage the roots of the tree. Sow drought resistant wildflower seeds (trees suck up a lot of water) such as yarrow (yarrow), Echium vulgaris (bugloss), Daucus carota (wild carrot), Knautia arvensis (field scab), Leucanthemum vulgare (white daisy), or Hypochaeris radicata (cat’s ear). Water with a fine spray watering can and let nature do the rest. Try natural landscape or Wild flowers for seeds, or harvest without flowers when nearby plants set seed later in the year.
the Brittany in bloom The competition sees groups of volunteers compete to grow the most colorful street plants. Talk to your local group or start one yourself.
Fill the planters – inside and outside your home
Planters are miracle containers, allowing anyone to grow all kinds of plants without any outdoor space. Find the longest, widest and deepest that will fit your window sill (the best ones usually come from garden centers, or try ver.co.uk). Use metal brackets screwed to the wall if you don’t have ledges. Wet compost is heavy, so secure the supports if your property is on the first floor or higher.
Plant window boxes with small perennials, which come back every year. In full sun, try hardy succulents such as Hylotelephium Bertram Anderson, Sempervivum arachnoideum (cobweb houseleek) and Aloe aristata (aloe lace), underplanting in autumn with spring flowering bulbocodium narcissus Arctic bells. Or opt for alpine plants that won’t overgrow the space, like Armeria maritima Splendid and Saxifraga White star. In the shade nothing beats a fern, especially spread out polypody cambricum (Welsh polypody), associated with flowering Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower).
A large planter is also perfect for indoor plant displays, doubling your growing area. Choose one with a tray to collect water, and try mixing succulents and cacti, using 50% compost, 50% horticultural gravel. Rebutia “Apricot ice cream” and Pachyphytum oviferum (Moonstones) are beautiful.
Dazzle with door pots
A nice gesture for your local community is to plant a pot or two near your front door. Plants for window boxes will work well, although a large pot 40-60cm wide allows for taller plants or small shrubs. For the sun, try Salvia rosmarinus (Rosemary), hebe Wiri Joy and Salvia officinalis (sage); and for the shade, Hydrangea paniculata Small lime or Mahonia Sweet caress. A handful of pots can provide as much planting space as a small patio. Add a wigwam of canes for honeysuckle and sweet peas. Apple trees, in bloom now, can grow in large pots if dwarfed on M27 rootstock.
Join a community garden
Most areas have a community garden of some sort, so find out who runs your nearest garden and offer to lend your services. Some will have small raised vegetable gardens for market gardeners; others, such as the charity network amazingedible.org.uk, raising a shared crop. Community gardens are especially popular with volunteers who are familiar with sunflower dandelion seedlings. You can even start a community garden yourself if you spot an abandoned space – find the owners and ask permission.
Spend time in public parks
Although gardening involves a lot of work, there is just as much fun in observing plants. Consider public parks yours as much as anyone else’s – shared gardens with plants you can enjoy all year round. See how things grow; feel and touch them; find out which plants attract wildlife. Parks are often maintained in part by volunteers, which offers additional levels of involvement, although they generally require some gardening experience.
Help a neighbor
If you don’t have a garden, look to a neighbor’s. Many older or less able gardeners will be delighted if you volunteer to tend their neglected front garden. And the joy of helping out with a front yard is that you can walk past and enjoy it without buying your own.
In the sun, try Yarrow Terracotta, Digitalis ferruginea gigantea and grass Jarava ichu; for partial shade, Astrantia Shaggy, Brunner Mr Morse and Dryopteris cycadina (shaggy shield fern). You could start a trend and improve the look of your entire street.
Take a housing estate
If you’re serious about growing, a housing estate is the obvious answer, providing ample space to grow an abundance of fruits, herbs and vegetables. The challenge these days is that they are popular, often with long waiting lists, as the government has reduced their numbers to make way for property development. List your name at your local housing estate, but be prepared to wait a year or two. Although it’s best to garden nearby, don’t be afraid to travel if plots are available elsewhere. I commuted 40 minutes to my London lot for five years and don’t regret a minute of it given the freedom of space it gave me.
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