How to garden when you literally have no clue

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  • Gardening for beginners - your handy guide. Green fingers at the ready!

    Words by Clare Thorp

    Gardening for beginners could be the life skill you’re missing. In an increasingly uncertain world, more women under 35 are going back to nature and finding solace in the great outdoors.

    As with baking before it, gardening is having a moment, thanks to a much younger, cooler crowd embracing it. ‘There’s a childlike joy to getting covered in mud and digging up a wonky carrot that you grew all by yourself,’ says Hollie Newton, 34, who’s one of a third of British adults who now grow their own food. ‘It gives me a sense of calm, and a far longer-lasting buzz than the quick-fix high of an Instagram like.’

    The turbulent events of the past year, we’re all turning to nature to help us feel better about the world, again. Planet Earth II beat X Factor in the TV ratings, with more young viewers tuning in to Attenborough than Cowell. Meanwhile, The National Trust say 22% of their new members are now childfree 18-40 year olds, up three per cent in the last three years. The latest wellness trend from Japan is “forest bathing” — meaning to surround yourself with trees.

    Newton is convinced that pottering in the small garden of her basement flat, tending to her courgettes and tomatoes, has helped lift her from her ‘near-obliterating depression.’ So much so that she’s written a book on gardening for beginners, How To Grow (Orion Spring, £20) — the first of several titles out this year aimed at urban, millennial gardeners.

    Billie Gianfrancesco, a 27-year-old PR manager from London, is another convert. ‘I find it difficult to relax because I have such a hyperactive mind and I’m constantly distracted by social media and the news,’ she explains. ‘Gardening helps to slow my mind down. I’m on the second floor, with no garden, but I’ve grown strawberries, mint, basil, lavender and rosemary on my little balcony. A green oasis is instantly soothing.’

    And there is considerable evidence that exposure to nature can significantly boost wellbeing. ‘Nature allows us to disengage from the stress of daily life and replenish our mental and psychological “batteries”; says Dr Stephanie Wilkie, an environmental psychologist from the University of Sunderland. ‘It lets us focus our attention on the complex and rich visual and auditory stimuli around us and provides us with a sense of respite.’

    Just ask Hillary Clinton, who dealt with the pain and humiliation of an election defeat in the US by hiking in the forest (there’s even a Twitter account, @HRCintheWild, dedicated to her outdoor pursuits). And to prove nature is officially trending, the Pantone Color Institute has declared ‘greenery’ its shade of 2017. ‘It’s the colour of hope and connection to the natural world,’ says executive director Leatrice Eiseman.

    Gardening for beginners

    Where the heck to start? Hollie Newton’s tips on gardening for beginners…You don’t need a big garden. In fact, you don’t need a garden at all. A bright and sunny windowsill is perfect for a potted herb garden. A tiny balcony makes for trailing tomato heaven and a front door step calls out for a potted bay tree with edible violas planted at its base.

    You don’t have to tackle the entire garden at once. Pick one or two plants at a time and build from there as your confidence grows. A big pot of easy-to-grow courgettes; or headily scented quick-growing jasmine to cover an ugly wall is a good start. Strawberries in a trendy wooden wine box is also the stuff of Instagram dreams.

    Use seedlings. You have enough to learn when starting out without the added stress of growing every single thing from seed. Bar a few scattered wild flower or rocket seeds, choose the pre-grown young plants you find in multi-celled boxes and small plastic pots lined up in rows at the garden centre, ready for you to take home and plant. From little gem lettuce to posh beetroot varieties, these will set you off to a flying start.

    Water. Not too much, not too little. Though each vegetable, fruit or plant will have its own particular quirks, one thing is true of all plants… they like a drink. As a simple guide, pop a finger into the soil at the base of your plant. If it’s moist (not soggy, not dry) you’ve reached watering perfection. Water your plants early in the morning, or from late afternoon onwards when the air is coolest, so that you don’t lose water to evaporation.

    And finally: raised beds. Once your gardening obsession takes hold, there will be no stopping your desire to grow as much fruit and veg as possible. Whether in a small space or bigger garden, a raised bed is an excellent option. Easy to reach and maintain, an efficient use of space, and lovely to look at too.

    How To Grow: A guide for gardeners who can’t garden yet by Hollie Newton is published by Orion Spring in hardback at £20, out now 

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