Gardening is a great pursuit for people of all ages because you can make it just what you want it to be. It includes so many different activities that you can tailor-make your involvement and enjoy the bits that really take your fancy. Gardening can be a challenge, but also gives you loads of fun and satisfaction.
I spoke to Rosemary Ward from the Royal Horticultural Society to find out more about how gardening can be beneficial to everyone.
Here’s some reasons to get into gardening that show you can be active outdoors and achieve something worthwhile at the same time. And don’t worry if you haven’t got a garden, we’ve got a few ideas for getting round that too.
Reasons to get into gardening
Impress your mum by growing her bouquet for Mothers’ Day. Daffodils are easy; just plant the bulbs in autumn, and they’ll flower the next spring. Choose two or three varieties to cope with changes in the date and the vagaries of the weather.
Challenge your friends and see who can grow the tallest sunflower, the longest runner bean or the biggest pumpkin. You can grow all these from seed; try your local supermarket for the cheapest packets. Start the seeds on a sunny windowsill in April or May, then plant them out in a sunny position, keep them watered and give them some liquid fertiliser now and again.
Picture by Johnny Boylan
Improve the neighbourhood with colourful flowers. Brighten up your street with bedding plants in tubs and window-boxes; fuchsias are good for shade, and geraniums for hot, sunny spots. Just buy, or scrounge, one plant and you can take cuttings to produce lots more. If you get really inspired, you could get involved in Britain in Bloom (www.rhs.org.uk/britaininbloom)
Win prizes by competing at horticultural shows. The real money is in giant vegetables, such as leeks and onions, where prizes can run to hundreds of pounds. Start with your local show where the competition is less fierce and you may end up with a nice trophy. Local libraries should know what’s on in your area.
Help save the planet by growing your own fruit and veg, and cutting out some energy-guzzling, greenhouse-gas-generating food miles. You can save yourself a lot of money too, especially if you grow more expensive crops such as baby spinach, mangetout peas, fancy salad leaves or gourmet potatoes. For more on growing your own vegetables go to rhs.org.uk/vegetables
Do your bit for wildlife. Grow plants such as holly, cotoneaster, crab apple and berberis to provide berries for birds. Buddleia produces large, scented flowers that are a magnet for butterflies, and bumblebees love lavender. Ivy provides nectar-rich flowers, berries and shelter for birds to nest in. For more on wildlife gardening go to www.wildaboutgardens.org.uk
Get fit: gardening doesn’t have to involve a lot of effort, but if you want to build your strength and stamina, a bout of digging is a good way to do it; and you’ll have something to show for your efforts, not just aching muscles.
Spice up your diet with home-grown herbs. Top off a pizza with thyme or marjoram, grow mint or lemon verbena for a refreshing tea, and get authentic with fresh coriander on your take-away curry. Most herbs are easy to grow and generally do well in pots and window-boxes. You can even try them indoors on a sunny windowsill.
Chill out: it’s a proven fact that gardeners live longer than non-gardeners, and lots of people find being close to plants is a great way to de-stress. If you haven’t got a garden yet, visiting someone else’s can have the same effect. If you join the Royal Horticultural Society you can get into 140 of the best gardens in the country free. Membership is less than half price for under 25s, and you get all the same benefits as older members. Go to www.rhs.org.uk/membership to find out more.
Add a little romance: many plants have fascinating histories, intriguing folklore or gruesome medicinal uses associated with them, and growing them brings these stories to life. For something more practical, you could grow roses, pinks or lavender and strew the deliciously scented petals in your bath
Astonish your friends and family by growing weird vegetables you’ll never see in the supermarket. How about orange cauliflower, black tomatoes, red broad beans, blue potatoes or yellow raspberries? Then there’s beans with yin/yang markings, spotty lettuce and stripey radishes. Or you could try salsify, that’s supposed to taste of oysters, or ruby chard with stems so red and shiny they look as though they’ve been varnished.
Gardening without a garden
Even if you haven’t got a patch of earth to call your own, there are lots of ways to enjoy gardening.
If you’ve got any outdoor space at all, even if it’s just a balcony, flat roof or tiny yard, you can garden in containers. This doesn’t mean laying out for expensive pots or tubs, but using your imagination and looking at what you might recycle to grow plants in.
If you’re still at school, join the gardening club; or persuade your teachers to start one. You can get lots of help and ideas by going to the RHS School Gardening website.
Visit your local allotments to watch and learn and maybe help out a bit. If you get the bug, you may be able to rent your own allotment, or share one with a friend or member of the family.
See if any of your neighbours have gardens they are not using, or struggling to manage. In return for helping them out you can pick their brains, get lots of experience, and maybe a share in the produce.
Find out about local community gardens. These exist all over the country and often rely on volunteer labour. They’re also a great way to make friends to. Find out more at Farm Garden
Stately homes, public gardens, National Trust properties, local parks and many other gardens welcome volunteers to help out and most are really keen to encourage young people to join in.