Growing at home #1: getting started, getting supplies

This blog will be of interest to anyone new to horticulture and using the lockdown to garden. So even if your garden is a window box or a field, Kath Farrell, Botanical Horticulturist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, provides some handy tips and links for getting started by carefully sourcing your supplies.

The secret of getting ahead is getting started, as Mark Twain may have said. No point in thinking about what you should or could have done by this point in the growing season. Use what you have, and with a few extra supplies you will be up and running in no time. Some plants will thrive, and some won’t, and that’s OK. Keep going, keep sowing.  

A regular lockdown query is about where to get gardening supplies online or locally. As you need a few essentials such as compost, seeds, some suitable containers, and plant labels, here are a few suggestions.

  1. Join your local Facebook seed / plant swap group, or local gardening club. Alternatively, start one with your neighbours and swap seeds and seedlings as you go along. It’s likely you will end up with too many of some plants and not enough of others. It makes sense to avoid gluts, especially where growing and storage space are limited.
  2. Support local nurseries where possible. Bear in mind that most of those doing online deliveries have seen a huge increase in orders so delivery time may be a bit longer than usual, but you will be supporting the horticulture industry at what should be its busiest time of year. Gardens Ilustrated magazine recently published a list of plant nurseries operating online, and the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) has launched the Plants Near Me website to help you find your local stockist. Try your local garden centre for click and collect. As a last resort (in terms of product quality, especially with compost), there is always the local pound shop or supermarket. If you get your milk delivered, many dairies also deliver compost, in non-lockdown times at least.
  3. Go peat free in your garden if possible. Avoiding or minimising consumer peat use helps enable the protection and restoration of peat bogs. Moorlands and bogs are carbon sinks and often threatened habitats, and their conservation plays a crucial role in flood mitigation. Read about round-leaved sundewDrosera rotundifolia, a peat bog species that is stored in the Millennium Seed Bank due to its habitats being under threat in the UK. Moors for the Future Partnership has more information on conservation of blanket bogs in the South Pennines. It may seem like a niche issue, but our consumer choices really matter in this area. Ethical Consumer has a review of some leading brands (2015). I’ve had good results with seed sowing this season using Melcourt Sylvagrow, and Carbon Gold biochar is an interesting product to improve growing media (other brands of biochar are available). It’s worth doing your research on this one to get the best growing results.       

By Kath Farrell, Botanical Horticulturist, Arid Unit – Tropical Nursery, RBG Kew.