To celebrate National Gardening Week, we chat to radio host and podcast presenter, Ellen Mary, to get her expert tips on keeping your outdoor space in top condition.
As host of a horticultural radio show on Future Radio and presenter of The Plant Based Podcast, plus regularly appearing on TV to discuss about gardening, it's fair to say Ellen Mary is as green-fingered as they come. Plus, with a new book, The Joy of Gardening, being released next month, she is dominating the world of gardening. So, in honour of National Gardening Week, we spoke to her to get her best tips and tricks for making the most of your outdoor space.
What are three must-do tasks to get your garden/outdoor space spring-summer ready?
Cleaning up might not seem the most exciting of gardening tasks but it’s so satisfying to get the garden sorted ready for spring and is a great place to start. Remove old, dead and diseased material both on the ground and from your plants. If you still have any fallen leaves, scoop them up into a bag and store to make leaf mulch to use around your plants in a year or two. If you patio needs a clean, get scrubbing and clean up around pots, brush down tables and chairs and plump up the cushions. When everything has been cleaned up, you can see what needs to be done in the beds, pots and containers to bring your garden alive. Don’t forget to celebrate your hard work afterwards!
When everything has been cleared, it’s a great time to get your soil prepared. To have a beautiful garden, thriving plants and an abundance of pollinators - it all starts in the soil. Feeding the soil will make sure it is healthy, fertile and has good structure. You can feed your garden soil, by applying some well rotted organic matter such as garden compost or leaf mould into your beds. Let the worms and weather take the nutrients down into the soil for the roots of your plants to absorb.
Spring is the time when everything kicks off in the garden and as the weather warms up, days are lighter for longer and the birds are singing, you know it is time to sow some seeds. Thinking ahead to what you would like to harvest or bloom in the garden throughout summer is the best way to start. There’s so much to sow during spring from homegrown food such as tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber to stunning annual flowers such as Zinnia, Cosmos and Sunflowers.
What tips would you give to someone with a smaller/urban garden space, to make the most out of it?
In a smaller space we often only think of pots and hanging baskets but the vertical space can be used in many ways to double up on possibilities. From green walls, to herb hangers the options are vast, so look up as well as down!
Mirrors can also be used to give the illusion of a bigger space and can look beautiful along a wall with your furniture in front and plants in the background.
If you have a small space don’t fill it with furniture that’s too big. Think about how you will use the space and consider furniture that can be packed away or moved when not in use so you can see all of your plants and garden even when you are not sitting outside.
What outdoor plants would you recommend for beginners?
Herbs are always a go to for beginners. Not only are many so easy to grow, but it saves money at the supermarket and you can start using them in cooking and making your own toiletries which can also help empower you to garden even more. Most will need well drained soil, grow in a pot and attract pollinators so they are win-win. Try Chives, Hot and Spicy Oregano, Chocolate Mint and Society Garlic.
Bedding plants have been out of favour for some years, but I am sure they are back with a bang now there are so many more exquisite varieties. They are easy, only grow for the one or two seasons and then can be replaced for autumn and winter. You will be surprised to see a vast array of Begonias unlike some you may know and scented Geraniums are also wonderful. Plus, why not grow French Marigolds to not only deter pests but also to sprinkle the petals on your salads for some colourful, edible goodness.
Wildflowers can just about be sown anywhere, even in a pot. If you have a lawn, dedicate an area of it for wildflowers to grow and you will notice an abundance of garden insects which in turn means more wildlife such as birds and bats. Wildflowers are a great way to increase biodiversity in any size garden and will look so gorgeous. Try a mix of Forget-me-nots, Oxeye Daisy, Red Campion and Cornflower are beautiful.
What’s your number one tip for first-time gardeners or for those who are unsure where to begin with their outdoor space?
Research before you get started but mostly - get stuck in and experiment. There is a huge amount of resources online, in books and via community gardens, volunteering, friends and family but experimenting is the best way to find out what works - and especially what doesn’t!
What’s your favourite thing about getting outside into the garden?
Nothing beats getting outside in the fresh air where daily life seems to disappear as I absorb myself in nature. When I am outside in the garden I know I am nurturing a little patch that not only leaves me with so much satisfaction from pretty flowers and nutritious food for a plant based diet, but I know I am also helping local wildlife and the wider environment. It really gives a sense of responsibility while I know it is benefiting my mental and physical health.
Any sources of inspiration you have that you think others would find helpful when revamping their outdoor space?
Pinterest is my go to for lots of garden inspiration but generally on social media there is such a great gardening community who are always happy to share and educate. Gardeners like to talk about gardening so ask questions of anyone you know who loves to garden. Other inspiration for me comes from books, where I can fit my feet up after a day in the garden and the many gardening podcasts now available as well.
For more from Ellen Mary, visit her website here: ellenmarygardening.co.uk