Top tips for Instagram-ready gardens

Person taking photo of garden with smartphone

Get your garden grid-ready with these top tips
Image: leungchopan

Instagram gardening is huge these days. This social media app is a great virtual place to make friends with like-minded growers, swap advice and grow an online audience as you grow your own.

But if you’re not sure how to get started, or would love some ideas for improving how you Insta-garden, we’ve got some amazing tips to share with you.

We asked some of our favourite instagram-loving gardeners for their best advice on growing and capturing Instagram-ready gardens, and here’s what they said:

Dave @greedy_gardens

Dave from greedy gardens standing in his allotment

Dave shares allotment growing with his two green-fingered sons
Image: @greedy_gardens

“My home garden is for the chickens and kids, with flowers around the borders so it will never be award winning. I’ve had my allotment for 5 years now, I’ve learned to grow things that we all like, although I always end up with too many courgettes!” says Dave of @greedy_gardens.

Dave’s priorities are growing things he and his family love, plus keeping his two sons busy on the plot – with a mud kitchen for the youngest and a ‘Minecraft’ related veg patch for the oldest.

With regard to what ‘works’ on Instagram, Dave feels that’s a bit of a mystery: “In the past I have posted what I thought were great photos of flowers only to get very few ‘likes’, then I’d post a muddy carrot and would get loads of likes.” 

His advice is to concentrate on the social side of social media:

I would never consider myself an expert gardener or instagrammer but I would say try and be enthusiastic and interesting. Interact with the gardening community; I think that’s more important and fun than trying to create an amazing photo.

August @augusts_garden

August with her children in the garden

August enjoys teaching her girls about the joy of gardening
Image: @marklordphoto

Seeing my girls faces light up when the seeds they have sown poke through the soil, and then even better when they get to eat their creations, is something I desperately want to share with other families and this is quite simply what motivates me to share photos and posts on Instagram.

August of @augusts_garden loves to grow unusual shapes and rainbow colours to get her girls enthusiastic about growing – and eating – good food. And as market gardener at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, August certainly knows her onions. She loves bright colours, so her Instagram feed is a treasure trove of fruit, flowers and delicious veg:

“I find so much beauty in nature which Is why I find it difficult to stick to a scheme resulting in a garden bursting with colourful vegetables and flowers. If you look at my page I strongly recommend sunglasses!”

Her main advice for Instagram gardening is to follow your heart:

“I think you have to stick to what you love and trust in yourself even if it’s not what everyone else is posting. It’s not just a picture you post, the words also make an impact. If you love what you grow it’s hard for it not to come across in your posts.”

Amy @amyskitchengarden

Amy standing on her balcony with a box of potatoes

Amy grows amazing produce on her tiny Brighton balcony
Image: @amyskitchengarden

Amy of @amyskitchengarden describes herself as a ‘rookie veggie grower’. She rediscovered her childhood love of gardening last year and started with potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and aubergines. Now she’s getting great results from her Brighton balcony garden (although she openly shares the not-so-great ones too).

“I try not to think too much about my Instagram channel when I’m planning my garden,” says Amy. “I always choose interesting seeds that catch my eye, rather than thinking what will do well on social media… I have to admit, I did buy some rainbow sweetcorn last month because of it’s beautiful colourful kernels too!”

She advises using lots of flowers and bright colours to jazz up your feed. But her main concern is looking after the environment and spreading awareness:

I try to use upcycled materials in my gardening, the most eye catching of which are my big recycled beer keg containers! I’m always keen to do my bit for the environment as sustainability and minimising waste are super important, so whilst my garden isn’t the most ‘Instagrammable’ I think people really enjoy seeing how they can take these tips into their own garden.

Lucy @shegrowsveg

Lucy standing in garden with a pink striped top

Lucy has created a beautiful Instagrammable edible garden
Image: @shegrowsveg

Lucy of @shegrowsveg takes her Instagram presence seriously:

I completely ripped out, redesigned and replanted my garden to showcase what you could do with fully edible planting. I wanted to take the opportunity to show that choosing edible plants did not mean compromising on beauty or design or mean that the entire garden looks like an allotment.

Her grid is full of lush, large veg and vibrant colour. And she loves to showcase specialist and unique fruit and veg that looks great in her photos and inspires her audience.

But, despite her commitment to Instagram gardening, Lucy’s main piece of advice is to follow your heart rather than the likes:

“Don’t make it all about Instagram, remember this is your garden and it should still be a place that makes you happy. People enjoy following accounts that are genuine as opposed to content simply created for a good photo. If you are loving your garden, other people will love it too!”

Will @solegardener

Summers day at South Wood Farm with a topiary garden

Stunning topiary at South Wood Farm, taken by head gardener Will
Image: @solegardener

The garden that Will shares on Instagram is grander than your ordinary backyard or allotment. He’s head gardener at South Wood Farm in Devon, and his Instagram account @solegardener is packed with stunning images of the grounds.

With such an excellent backdrop, it’s not surprising that Will has become an expert in getting the best out of garden photography. He has some advice on composition:

I find wide angle shots of plants or borders with a subject matter or focal point in such as a house/gate/bench always seem to be a lot more popular than just a plant portrait for example.

And his top tip for a successful instagram feed is incredibly simple:

“It sounds obvious but I’m always very aware of the lighting and weather when I’m taking pictures of the garden. Plants never look happy on a grey overcast day (much like the gardener!)”

Vera @growntocook

Vera standing in an allotment holding a pumpkin

Vera keeps a tidy plot on @growntocook
Image: @growntocook

For Vera of @growntocook Insta success starts with a tidy garden: “A well-organised garden with neat beds is generally easier to photograph than a jungle-like planting which can be very delightful in real life, but is not easy to capture well in photos.”

Vera’s kitchen garden comprises 15 rectangular beds which are very practical for the no-dig gardening she practises, while also looking great on camera:

“The photos that get the most likes on my feed are usually aerial shots of our kitchen garden, but the ones that generate most engagement are often those where I share more in-depth information about specific plants.”

Ultimately, says Vera, it’s your humanness that’s going to help you grow an audience:

… don’t be afraid to share your failures. If you don’t want to make them a part of your grid, share them in stories. We all have failures and ultimately, perfection is boring! Concentrate on what you love about gardening in the first place and then share that love with your audience.

Lucy @allotment.postie

Lucy standing on a garden fork in an allotment

Keeping an Instagram account motivates Lucy to visit her allotment on greyer days
Image: @allotment.postie

For Lucy of @allotment.postie, Instagramming is a great motivator to get down the allotment, even when the weather’s rubbish.

She told us that her most popular posts tend to feature pumpkins:

I think because they’re very exciting and satisfying to grow! Flowers are always a crowd pleaser also, and I’ve noticed if you have a personal project people like to follow along.

But as well as growing a following on Instagram, Lucy really values the community and support of other growers. She recommends engaging with other Insta gardeners, asking questions and spreading appreciation.

“The biggest mistake is to not share mistakes. Everyone knows life isn’t what social media shows, but by sharing your mistakes… you can get advice on how to fix it or move on. It may seem embarrassing to share mistakes but everyone has them, even the big names that seem to have it all figured out.”

Shannon @diaryofaladygardener

Shannon wearing bright pink gardening gloves on an allotment

Shannon wears bright accessories in her winter pictures
Image: @diaryofaladygardener

Shannon of @diaryofaladygardener doesn’t let Instagram sway her planting decisions too much.

This year my focus is on things that we’ll actually eat at home rather than what looks best (although I’m still hoping it’ll all look lovely too). That said, I’ve got my eye on an awful lot of dahlias for this year because I got such flower envy from everyone else’s feed in 2019!

When it comes to photography, Shannon takes a lot of photos. For every one photo she posts, she’s probably taken about 30-40. Her advice? Introduce a dash of colour wherever you can: “that’s why my gloves are bright pink and my wheelbarrow has splashes of yellow – the extra colour can really bring a photo to life, especially during the winter months.”

And Shannon also recommends showing yourself in your feed:

“I personally love to follow the people who have really authentic feeds and have themselves in the photos – you can really see how happy growing makes them and the love that’s gone into growing those plants, fruits and veggies!”

Dave and Joy @our_tiny_garden

Dave and Joy holding their baby on the allotment in the winter

Dave and Joy have recently grown from a tiny garden into a large allotment
Image: @our_tiny_garden

Dave and Joy of @our_tiny_garden grow fruit and veg in their small back garden and have just taken on a new allotment. Their Instagram feed is full of colour and beautiful close ups.

We’re growing some coloured corn this year because it looks amazing, and Chioggia beetroot too. Fundamentally though, we grow for taste. And we’re just lucky that tomato plants and tomatoes are super photogenic, and yellow courgettes are delicious too!

We asked the couple for their photography tips and they shared this with us:

“A good camera helps a lot, but it doesn’t need to be an expensive DSLR. All of our photos are taken with a mobile phone camera… Our major tip would be to use natural light. Sunshine if possible, as it lifts the colours and the feel of the photo massively.” 

And when it comes to those stunning close ups, take note of this advice: “Don’t use a digital zoom – Take a larger area photo and zoom in afterwards. This prevents the image from pixelating as much.”

Claire of @sowing_at_the_stoop

Portrait of a thriving garden with green leaves and canes in an allotment

Claire’s passion for growing is clearly evident
Image: @sowing_at_the_stoop

“Having an Instagram page was my way of making me keep up my home allotment and to make sure I spent some time out there every day,” says Claire of @sowing_at_the_stoop.

“It’s turned into much more that .. I’ve ‘met’ some truly great people always on hand with advice or ideas as well as being involved with the Thompson and Morgan trials last year … which I loved!”

When it comes to photography, Claire says:

I think a more natural setting works best with social media… the colourful images seem to be popular or some garden hacks that I share… Summer watering or propagation… that type of thing does well too.

Like many of our Instagrammers, Claire urges you to do what you enjoy: “Do what you love and garden in a way that suits you.. don’t go for the ‘likes’. If you enjoy what you do, that will shine through onto your IG page.”

Rachel @thegoodlifeainteasy

Rachel holding a kale haul and standing in front of a shed

Rachel celebrating her kale haul
Image: @thegoodlifeainteasy

Rachel of @thegoodlifeainteasy (but it’s worth it) colourfully documents her efforts to live as sustainably as possible on her Instagram account. She’s got an organic allotment and some lovely ex-battery hens to help her in her mission.

Despite her large Instagram following and an engaged audience, she doesn’t garden for the Gram:

To be honest, I don’t really think of Instagram when I plan my garden. I just do what I love and what I’ll enjoy, and then share that. So if anything I think my tip would be to be authentic and just share what you love and your passion will come through.

Karen @welliesandwaffles

Karen kneeling in the garden whilst doing cabbage watch

Karen on ‘cabbage watch’ in her kitchen garden
Image: @welliesandwaffles

“I think my most liked photo is actually of some chard roots which were bright pink,” writes Karen of @welliesandwaffles. Colourful images are key to engaging Karen’s audience, but they’re not the only things that count:

I also find that a good description works very well… alongside the photo. Otherwise it’s like having cheese without the crackers!

She continues: “Showing a wide variety of plants, detailed descriptions and adding tips always adds to the post. It takes time and effort to get a garden to look great so show this and take people along on the journey. The gardening community loves a ‘before and after’ photo.”

Jane @plot_life_

Allotmenteer Jane taking a selfie whilst overlooking her thriving allotment

Allotmenteer Jane enjoying her allotment
Image: @plot_life_

“For me, the best images come from something that you’re passionate about. The growing community on Instagram are a wonderful bunch: the best posts are made with an enthusiasm that often transcends the image on a grid,” says Jane of @plot_life_.

When it comes to plants that make the best images, Jane has been experimenting lately, and with some success:

Last year, I experimented with vertical growing: the aesthetics of crops at various heights across the plot was very pleasing to the eye and is something I’ll probably build on this year.

But, ultimately, says Jane, don’t worry too much about what’s going to ‘work’ on Instagram or not:

“Grow what you love: be driven by your personal taste, not by what others are growing or what you feel you ‘should’ be cultivating. You will spend far longer in your garden than the person scrolling through your feed, so make sure you love it!”

@inatinygarden

Inatinygardener holding a bunch of rainbow carrots

Rainbow carrots are a feast for the eyes and the table
Image: @inatinygarden

“I started my Instagram account to encourage people to grow their own, showing it’s possible even in a small space with limited time,” says @inatinygarden.

And for this Instagrammer, it’s the pollinators who govern all her decisions.

I grow a variety of plants in order to have flowers all year round for multiple pollinators… So my advice is, don’t grow for what will get the most likes on Instagram, grow for the pollinators, Mother Earth and last but not least for your own enjoyment!

We’d like to thank all of our wonderful Instagram gardeners for their generous advice. And we hope you’ve found some inspiration to help you start – or grow – your own Insta accounts.

Top tips for healthy houseplants

Collection of houseplants from Chanel de Koch (TheJoyOfPlants)

Add some greenery to your home with houseplants
Image: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

Have you always thought how nice it would be to liven up your home with a selection of stunning houseplants? If you don’t know which plants to choose or how to keep them alive, we’ve got just the information you need to turn your home into an indoor oasis. We asked some of our favourite houseplant bloggers to address some of your frequently asked questions. Here’s what they said…

Why grow houseplants?

Four large fern plants in an airy living room

Houseplants have many physical and mental health benefits
Image: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

Colourful flowers, lush foliage, beautiful shapes and textures – these are just a few of the characteristics that make houseplants so aesthetically pleasing – it’s no wonder we love them so much. But bringing plants indoors is about more than adding interest to your decor. Plants are good for your health too.

Over at The Joy of Plants, Chanel de Kock writes:

Bringing nature into your home has a major positive impact on your mental and physical health. Plants lower blood pressure, improve productivity, ensure a better mood and improve performance at school and work.

And the benefits don’t stop there. Houseplants like aloe vera increase the oxygen content of the air in your home, and spider plants are just one of a number of plants that filter poisonous chemicals like formaldehyde from the air. As Chanel goes on to say: “And when it comes to plants, the bigger they are, the greater the positive effect they have. Simply put, plants make us feel good.”

Which easy-care plants should I choose?

Pink orchids from Gardening at 58

Simon coaxed this orchid to produce the most flowers he’s ever seen on a single spike
Image: Gardening at 58

Jane Perrone is a journalist, blogger and the host of houseplant podcast On The Ledge. She says: “It’s tempting to impulse-buy, but do your research first – finding out where a plant’s native home is and how it lives will give you an idea of the conditions it will enjoy in your home. At the same time, go with your heart. You’ll take far better care of plants that you feel passionately about.”

Think about where in your home you’re going to be growing your plant. The environment changes from room to room, offering different light levels and humidity. Boris Dadvisard of Invincible Happy Houseplants says even your bathroom is suitable for growing plants provided you choose the right ones – he recommends ferns, bamboos from warm, moist tropical climates, ivy and pothos vines which he says are:

Perfect for creating a lush atmosphere in the bathroom, placed around the sink, around the bathtub or hanging from a shelf.

Looking for plants for the kitchen? Boris recommends orchids which love the warm environment and don’t need too much watering: “Once a week, fill your kitchen sink with a few inches of cold water and set your orchids in to have a drink for about 30 minutes. Voila!”

Are you notoriously forgetful when it comes to watering your houseplants? Simon at YouTube chanel Gardening at 58 has the perfect easy-care pot plant solution: “Opuntia cactus which originates from a desert climate will do best on a sunny windowsill and will happily tolerate both low and high temperatures.”

Best plants for low light conditions?

Green 'Aspidistra elatior' from Thompson & Morgan

The elegant Aspidistra copes well with low light and little water
Image: Aspidistra elatior from Thompson & Morgan

Perhaps you live in a traditional cottage, or your house faces the wrong direction to benefit from the available sunlight; here in the UK we have more than our fair share of grey days, but you can still grow plants to brighten up your home.

Chanel at The Joy of Plants says: “Most tropical plants do well in darker spaces – if you think of a forest floor, usually the plants that grow there have limited light due to the forest canopy blocking out sunlight, and usually the darker the leaves, the better they can cope with less light.” 

Simon at Gardening at 58 agrees. He says perfect houseplants for low light include:

His top picks for houseplants for cooler rooms like unheated porches and conservatories include “sub-tropical plants, cacti and most succulents such as: Crassula ovata, Opuntia, Clivia miniata, Cycas revoluta, Aloe vera, Agave and Hedera helix.”

Subtropical houseplants are often more versatile and forgiving than we give them credit for but you should still do your best to protect them from extremes of light and temperature. House plants can’t thrive in darkness unless you invest in plant lamps, and they don’t like to be scorched or frozen to death. As a rule of thumb, if you can live with the conditions, your houseplants probably can too.

How to care for houseplants

Person watering a houseplant

Keep an eye on your houseplants so you’ll notice if they start to show signs of stress
Image: zaleskyphoto

The native environment from which your houseplants originate is the main determining factor in how you should care for them, but as a rule of thumb, Simon says:

Most houseplants found in the shops have been chosen because they grow naturally in temperature and light levels found in our houses, which tend to be at the subtropical range of temperatures.

Weekly watering is generally enough to keep this range of plants happy – but plants which occupy extreme climates in the wild do require more specialised care. For example, overwatering can prove fatal to cacti and underwatering is devastating to damp-loving ferns. Always check the instructions before buying houseplants so that you know what you’re letting yourself in for.

As well as water, plants need food which comes from the soil. Alexandra at Flat With Plants recommends: “During spring and summer feed your [foliage] houseplants every two weeks with a high nitrogen or magnesium food plant. Most plant fertilisers will be safe to use and provide the extra nitrogen. In autumn reduce feeding to monthly and take a break in winter.”

Also remember to take good care of the soil your plants grow in. Simon says that repotting is probably the most overlooked aspect of houseplants: “When you buy your plant it will most likely already have outgrown its pot.” Simon recommends using soil additives like perlite and bark based orchid compost to help maintain the soil’s structure for longer, but every once in a while you’ll need to repot your plants to keep them thriving.

How to care for houseplants when you’re away from home

Houseplant irrigation system from Invincible House Plants

Find an irrigation system to look after your plants while you’re on holiday
Image: Invincible House Plants

While you’re away from home, Boris Dadvisard of Invincible House Plants suggests gathering all your plants in the centre of a room, close to a bucket of water, so they can share humidity. Here are more of Boris’ clever self-watering tips to keep indoor plants healthy while you travel:

  • Lay pebbles in a saucer underneath the pot and soak them with water to store some humidity. The plant can access this extra water while you’re away.
  • The garden twine technique (as illustrated above). Soak a portion of garden twine in water. Stick one end in the soil and place the other end in a bucket filled with water. That’s your water reservoir. Make sure to place the reservoir above the level of your plants, so that the water can run down easily by capillarity.
  • Get some self-watering pots that have a water reservoir built in.

We hope you now feel confident to choose and look after a wide range of houseplants. Remember, if you do have some disasters, don’t worry – as Alexandra at Flat With Plants says:

For any plants you lose, you get the chance to buy another one, and if you’ve succeeded so far why not buy more plants and build yourself an indoor jungle.

Perfect gardens: tips for growing veg

freshly-harvested-carrots-veg-growing-top-tips

Growing your own fresh fruit and veg is hugely rewarding
Image: Wollertz

Decided to try to grow your own? Growing veg in your garden takes less effort than you might think and is a cost-effective way to enjoy delicious herbs, fruit and vegetables. 

To help you take your first steps, some of our favourite gardening bloggers have kindly shared their top tips, perfected over many years of trial and error. Here are our handy hints…

Where’s the best place to grow vegetables?

raised-veg-beds-veg-tips-article

Raised beds will solve the problem of poor soil
Image: Derek Harris Photography

Where are you thinking of growing your veg? An old flower bed, new raised beds, containers or maybe a window box? Wherever you decide to plant your produce, the location should satisfy three basic criteria: good soil, some sunshine, and stable growing conditions.

The best soil is a rich loam – it’s fertile and holds moisture without becoming waterlogged. If that doesn’t sound like the soil in your back garden, don’t despair – adding plenty of organic material helps to improve poor soils, and if your soil is prone to waterlogging – build raised beds.

South-facing plots make good veg gardens because they get the best of the sunshine throughout the day. But just because your garden lacks the perfect orientation doesn’t mean it can’t be productive – some veg, like salad leaves and brassicas, prefer slightly shadier conditions. Avoid planting fruit and veg in areas that suffer from extreme conditions – choose somewhere sheltered away from cold winds and pelting rain.

How to choose vegetables for a small garden

Swiss-chard-closeup-veg-growing-tips

Showy veg like chard look pretty in flower beds
Image: Kelly’s Kitchen Garden

You don’t need a big garden to grow lots of tasty veg, but if you’re short on space, it’s important to plant smartly. Mark Willis of the perennially informative blog Mark’s Veg Plot uses a scientific planting scheme he learned from garden writer Joy Larkcom – the Value for Space Rating. VSR takes into account things like crop yield per square metre, growing time, availability of the crop and its quality relative to supermarket purchases. So what’s the best thing to grow if space is at a premium? Mark says:

The best examples of VSR are in the herb department. Herbs don’t take up much space, and they are usually expensive to buy (and never available when you want them).

Richard, producer of ever-popular The Veg Grower Podcast, adopts a similarly scientific approach. Under his scoring system, top marks go to asparagus, tomatoes and garlic, which is great because he likes all three!

In a small garden, Caro Shrives at The Urban Veg Patch goes for small plants that work hard. She says: “Plants that keep on cropping are a good choice; compact courgette plants look good, have vibrant flowers and provide a decent amount of small courgettes without overwhelm.”

If you’re really short of square footage, Youtube presenter Kelly, of Kelly’s Kitchen Garden, suggests vertical growing: “Growing crops like beans, cucumbers and some types of squash up trellis, supports and cane wigwams can save a lot of space.”

And if you have no garden at all? Kelly says that as long as you have a balcony or somewhere to stand a few pots, you can still grow fresh produce in containers or window boxes: “I’ve had fantastic success growing lettuce in containers. By picking individual leaves to increase yield, I harvested 5.5lbs (2.5kg) from a container measuring no more than two square feet.”

Grow what you like to eat

Tomato-Tumbling-Tom-Red-Thompson-Morgan-veg-growing-tips

These tumbling tomatoes are perfect for patio containers or hanging baskets
Image: Tomato ‘Tumbling Tom Red’ from Thompson & Morgan

If you’re lucky enough to have room to grow whatever you like, how do you narrow down the choice? We asked our favourite bloggers that very question – the consensus – though growing expensive or rare veg is a fun and tasty sideline – concentrate on growing what you enjoy eating.

There’s little point cultivating exotic veg if you won’t eat it reckons Pete Polanyk of Weeds up to me Knees. Pete, whose blog offers a wealth of encouragement for beginner gardeners recommends bog standard spuds, tomatoes, runner beans, peas, carrots, beetroots, onions, garlic and herbs. Simple fare maybe, but “they’re a lot more tasty, fresh from the garden.”

Jackie Gulland of Reclaiming Paradise agrees, saying that you’ll be surprised by the flavour of freshly picked produce from your own garden. Although she has an allotment, she explains why she still grows some of her favourites at home:

The garden [is ideal] for picking herbs to throw in your cooking or a handful of soft fruit for your breakfast and for keeping on top of beans and peas which can grow too fast to eat sometimes. It’s great to go out after work and see what there is that you can have for an evening meal, rather than planning further in advance.

Whether you go for the VSR method or simply plant what you think you’ll enjoy, it’s important to feed your soil and rotate your crops. Avoid planting the same thing in the same place each year to help keep your ground fertile and free of pests.

Start small

Small-garden-patch-veg-growing-tips

Just a small patch of soil and a few pots are enough to get started
Image: Joanne Dale

A well-planted plot of about 12’ x 10’ is the ideal size to supply most of a family of four’s summer and autumn veg needs (with a little left over for freezing). If you start small, you won’t get overwhelmed with veg you can’t eat.

If you’re just testing the water to see if you like growing veg, why not follow Pete’s lead? He planted tomatoes in his flower beds next to his dahlias, pointing out that there’s nothing wrong with a bit of gardening anarchy.

Other options for the first-timer might include planting a few containers. Richards a great fan of growing new potatoes this way:

They’re easy to look after and, if grown in pots, can be moved around if needed. They don’t take much care – plenty of water and food as they are hungry and thirsty plants, and that’s about it. The flavour of homegrown new potatoes far exceeds anything you can buy too.

You might also consider building a raised bed which doesn’t need to take up much space and can easily produce a significant quantity of your favourite veg. Use good quality seeds and plug plants, avoid planting your veg too close together, water well and reap the rewards.

Growing alone? Caro does too. She says: ”It’s tempting to give up when things don’t work out. Joining a local horticultural society, visiting kitchen gardens and attending courses and talks gave me more confidence. Growing food should be fun!”

5 top tips from our brilliant bloggers

Garden-peas-radish-veg-growing-tips

Kelly recommends cost-effective crops like fresh peas and vibrant radish
Image: Kelly’s Kitchen Garden

  1. “The most cost-effective crops are the ones that are expensive to buy [in a shop] and don’t keep well – such as Purple Sprouting Broccoli and salads…[but] my favourites are still tomatoes and chillies.”  Mark – Mark’s Veg Plot
  2. “Growing your own is a good way to try unusual veg, especially if you have children. I grow yellow beans, oca, spaghetti squash, sweet red gooseberries – none of which is available in the shops – and physalis (Cape Gooseberries) that taste much nicer freshly picked.”  Caro Shrives – The Urban Veg Patch
  3. We have rosemary, thyme and bay in the garden that we planted years ago. They’re easy to grow, you just bung them in and voila, you’ve got fresh herbs when you need them.” Pete Polanyk – Weeds up to me knees
  4. I try and practise successional (staggered) sowing with salad leaves. This gives our household plenty of delicious salad leaves all year round saving us having to buy those expensive bags from the supermarket.” Richard – The Veg Grower Podcast
  5. “Things like peas, radishes, salad/spring onions and deliciously sweet turnips are on my budget list – great for the beginner gardener and take up very little space.” KellyKelly’s Kitchen Garden

If you’re thinking about growing your own vegetables we hope our gardening bloggers and YouTubers have provided the inspiration and advice you need to get started. As Kelly says: “Just give it a go and have fun!”

Top tips for allotments

Man sitting in a deck chair

Make this year on the allotment your best yet
Image: sirtravelalot

Winter is the perfect time to plan your allotment. And with a little help, you can grow more than ever before. We asked our favourite bloggers for their top tips. Whether you’re an allotment newbie or a seasoned plotter, here’s plenty of golden advice…

How to plan your plot

Carefully organised vegetable plot with plants in beds

What’s the best way to plan your allotment?
Image: T.W. van Urk

Planning an allotment from scratch can seem like a daunting task. Some people use computer programmes to map their beds and plan a rotation schedule while others figure it out as they go along. Here’s how our experts plan their growing space…

“I tend to spend time over the festive period, auditing the seedbox,” says Punam of Horticultural ‘obbit. “I take a look at the seeds that were used… This gives me a good idea of what I have enjoyed sowing, what didn’t quite make it to the kitchen worktop and what I might want to re-visit.”

Other gardeners start with good old-fashioned pen and paper. Liz of Holding on 4 says: “In the past I’ve used online planners, but find the easiest way to plan is with paper, pencil and an eraser.” Alan of Alan’s Allotment agrees that mapping his beds on paper helps him organise his thoughts: “I have a drawing of both of my plots and I use those to plan and rotate my beds.”

Stephanie Hafferty of No Dig Home has a great way of organising her crops. She splits her produce into those that require frequent attention and those that need less time and effort:

I grow food in my allotment, front garden and back garden polytunnel…I mostly grow veg which needs more heat, attention or regular picking at home (herbs, salad, soft fruit, aubergines, tomatoes etc), and plants like sweetcorn, courgettes, potatoes, squash and celeriac at the allotment. A key part of my planning is making sure I’m growing year round, thinking about successional growing to make the most of the space.

Adam of Carrot Tops Allotment takes a much more relaxed approach: Generally, I don’t tend to plan too far ahead. Mainly because life and the weather can often lay waste to the best laid plans…I tend to plan, on average 5M2 at a time, mainly to avoid disappointment.”

How to make your allotment more productive

Closeup of a wheelbarrow being pushed through a garden

What does your space allow you to grow?
Image: ajlatan

Making your allotment more productive means maximising succession planting, rotating crops to get the most from the soil, and using every spare inch of space.

Liz from Holding on 4 plans her summer crops around hard-working vegetable beds that are still full of winter brassicas, root veg and herbs: “So, at the start of the year I plan what will go into the empty beds and also what can go in later, after I have harvested the winter crops.”

Should you worry about crop rotation in your allotment? Not according to Liz:

I don’t worry too much about crop rotation because, with successional planting and interplanting, most beds produce two, three or four crops per year. For planting seedlings and sowing seeds later in the year I just put them in wherever there is a space. I simply try to avoid planting the same family of plants that were in the space immediately beforehand.

At the other end of the spectrum, Sue of Green Lane Allotments takes a high-tech approach to the question of rotation:

“In some parts of the plot we operate a three year rotation and in other parts a four year rotation. Using an application called GrowVeg we have set up a plan of our allotment. Plans are stored each year and the application flags up if any crop is being grown in the same place too soon etc. We also keep notes on when each crop is sown so we have a ready made sowing guide for subsequent years.”

How to decide what to grow at your allotment

Wooden veg box being held full of fresh vegetables

Grow the veg you love to eat
Image: SpeedKingz

Every one of our bloggers recommends planting the things that you most love to eat. But other considerations play a part, like how much water different crops need. It’s also good to concentrate on the things that are expensive to buy, or those that rapidly lose flavour while sitting on a supermarket shelf. Some crops, like lettuce or spinach, taste infinitely better when picked and eaten on the same day. Here’s how our bloggers choose what to grow…

Historically, Adam of Carrot Tops Allotment grew the expected potatoes, carrots, sprouts, runner beans…etc. “However,” he told us, “this year I’m going to be growing things I like to eat. Raspberries were a good start in that, but I’m also going to be growing asparagus, gooseberries and blueberries this year too.”

Michelle of Veg Plotting explains that space is the determining factor, whether she’s growing at home or at her old allotment: “I look for varieties that are productive and can grow in a smaller space. Blight resistance in tomatoes is key, as well as taste, as I can only grow them outdoors.”

Sue of Green Lane Allotments grows a mixture of veg, fruit and flowers on her plot, but she says: “Vegetables and fruit are grown based on what we like to eat. For us there is little point growing things that we don’t enjoy eating.”

John of Allotment Gardening agrees: “I don’t see the point in growing things you don’t like to eat, so that’s my starting point. We decide what we’re likely to want, add a bit to compensate for the inevitable failures and then work out a cropping plan to provide that.”

Allotment growing is the perfect way to provide your whole family with healthy food. Over at Alan’s Allotment, he gets the whole family involved in making the decisions: “When I first got my allotment we had a family meeting to work out what I should grow.”

Some allotmenteers grow extra crops to swap with their neighbours. Others run honesty box schemes or make a little money by selling their surplus. For Liz of Holding on 4, the produce she grows needs to appeal to more than just her own family:

As I grow almost all of the fruit and vegetables for our family and also offer a local veg box scheme (up to 20 families in 2020), I try to choose a wide range to give us plenty of variety throughout the year. Varieties are chosen for their taste and for quality over quantity.

How to choose between old favourites and new varieties

Notebook covered in seeds, trowels and other gardening equipment

Get out your notebook and start plotting
Image: Maria Evseyeva

While it’s important to concentrate on growing the crops you most like to eat, it’s fun to try new varieties as well. If you start small, you won’t have much to lose if something doesn’t work out. The huge benefit to having an allotment is being able to grow things that you can’t buy in the supermarket.

John of Allotment Gardening says: “The best tip I can offer is to grow your ‘bankers’ – that is, the varieties you can bank on, but to try something new each year.”

Alan told us that he likes to mix it up: “I also like to try growing something new: last year was Kiwano, this year I have two varieties of melon.”

Stephanie of No Dig Home expresses a similar excitement at trying out new varieties every year:

Plants are chosen mostly based on what we like to eat but every year I also try out different varieties to explore new flavours, or for recipes I’m wanting to try out. I grow a lot of different kinds of veg – usually around 20 different aubergines, 12 kinds of basil, 20 different squash, over 30 varieties of tomatoes, several kinds of sweetcorn… it is a real passion.

Michelle of Veg Plotting agrees that this is what it’s all about: “Allotment life is about what works for you and finding the tastes you love. Try some varieties you can’t buy in the shops and be amazed.”

8 top tips to get the most from your allotment

No dig garden from Steph Hafferty

Stephanie Hafferty’s beautiful produce thrives in her no-dig conditions
Image: No Dig Home

When it comes to getting the most from your allotment, the quality of your soil has a huge impact on the size and quality of your produce. Feeding the soil and keeping the weeds down will give your crops the best chance to thrive. Then you need to make sure you sow your seeds correctly. Here’s what our bloggers suggest…

  1. Feed the soil
    “I ask a lot from [my] raised beds each year, so I concentrate on feeding the soil whenever I can. During winter I mulch with well-rotted compost, composted wood chips and used duck bedding and in the spring and summer I add nettle and comfrey tea. I also chop and drop comfrey leaves on the beds in between the growing plants.” – Liz from Holding on 4
  2. Keep on top of weeds
    “We make use of weed control fabric and grow many crops through this. It makes the war on weeds manageable and means that our crops have less competition for space, and moisture etc. We also feel there are added bonuses in that the fabric cuts down on evaporation and being black helps warm the soil.” – Sue of Green Lane Allotments
  3. Try the ‘no-dig’ method
    “For the allotmenteer, no dig gardening means less work, fewer weeds (because annual weed seeds are not exposed by digging), fewer slugs and other pests, and less watering: the compost mulch conserves moisture. It also increases biodiversity, the compost mulch supporting many different wildlife including black beetles, which prey on slugs!” – Stephanie of No Dig Home
  4. Follow the planting instructions on seed packets
    “To ensure best crops… read what it says on the back of seed packets and also look on the suppliers’ websites and take notice of the growing advice.” – Alan of Alan’s Allotment
  5. Pay attention to local conditions
    “We time our seed sowing to coincide with when the conditions are right which is often later than specified on seed packets. Later sown seeds usually catch up whereas seeds sown too early when the ground isn’t right rarely flourish.” – Sue of Green Lane Allotments
  6. Invest in strong and healthy plug plants
    “Don’t be afraid to buy plug plants if you don’t have the time or space to grow from seed.” –  Michelle of Veg Plotting
  7. Add some flowers to the mix
    “We grow flowers for cutting, and to make the plot more attractive to pollinators and other wildlife. They also make the plot more interesting for us.” – Sue from Green Lane Allotments
  8. Look after your back
    “I found converting my allotment to a raised bed, no-dig, peat-free system was very rewarding and saved a lot of time. I’m applying the same principles at home with some raised containers. My back’s loving the lack of bending down!” – Michelle of Veg Plotting

Allotments are about more than gardening

Two people sitting in an allotment

Allotmenteering should be a sociable, enjoyable lifestyle
Image: Monkey Business Images

Having an allotment is about more than just growing things. It’s about connecting with other people in the allotment community, reducing your carbon footprint and making healthy, homegrown ingredients the centre of family mealtimes. Here’s how to make your allotment your “happy place”:

  • Be philosophical

“Be prepared to have failures and don’t let this dishearten you. Even the most experienced gardener will have some failures most years. Each year you will find that some crops do better than others.” – Sue of Green Lane Allotments

  • Keep it simple

“Don’t make it a chore. Going with a particular job in mind and completing that job, in my opinion is the way to go. Once you complete that job, not only is that positive reinforcement for the next visit, but means that anything that comes after is a bonus.” – Adam of Carrot Tops Allotment

  • Invest in some chairs

“I take at least a few minutes every day to sit and observe, to appreciate what’s growing and to listen to and watch the insects, birds and other wildlife. [It] isn’t all about work, it’s also about enjoying the fresh air, the plants and everything that lives in the garden… and the freshest, tastiest fruit and veg we’ve ever had!” – Liz of Holding on 4

We hope you’ve enjoyed this expert guide to getting the most from your allotment. Here’s wishing you a productive, fruitful and joyful year on your plot.

 

Tips for growing flowers in your garden

Floral garden border with different varieties of flowers, colours & shapes

The successful combination of shape, colour, texture and height makes this border sing
Image: Paul Wishart

Flowers bring colour, texture and scent to our gardens and provide a welcome source of food for pollinators. With a little patience you can grow many flowers cost-effectively from seed. Short of time? You can also create an instant flower border in just a few hours using garden-ready plug plants. 

We asked some of our favourite gardening bloggers to share their simple secrets for growing spectacular flower gardens. Here’s what they told us…

Know your soil

PH soil indicator

Find out if your soil is acid, neutral or alkaline
Image: Sergey Kamshylin

It’s easy to snuggle up on the sofa with some gardening books or search the internet to find images of flowers that you’d love to grow. But the old adage, “right plant, right place” is never more true than when it comes to growing flowers. Before you get carried away choosing specific blooms, Alison Levey, of the Blackberry Garden advises:

It’s always good to know what the soil is like in your garden. There are tests you can buy to see how acidic/alkaline it is, and you can also check if it’s clay by seeing if you can squeeze some into a ball.”

Figuring out your soil type is one part of the equation, but you also need to bear in mind how much sun your flowers will get and how much water they’ll need. Over at Carrots and Calendula, Ciar Byrne blogs about sustainable gardening. She says:

I think it’s important to work out what plants will grow well in your garden without too much assistance…plants shouldn’t need too much extra watering, even in dry patches. This year I’ll be trying some more Mediterranean plants including Lavandula angustifolia and Santolina chamaecyparissus.

The easiest way to find out what will thrive in your garden, suggests Alison Levey, is to see what’s growing in neighbours’ gardens around you. It’s not a foolproof test, but it will give you a good guide.

Choose a colour scheme

Purple and orange floral colour combination

Purple flowers with orange California Poppy is a striking colour combination
Image: Passenger Window

Planting your garden is a bit like decorating your house,” says Carol from The Sunday Gardener, “you plant to your preferred style and colours – what you like to look at.” You can opt for maximum drama or peaceful unity, but in either case, here are some tips:

  • Choose a style:There are so many styles to choose from ranging from the cottage garden, to stylish prairie planting to architectural plants,” says Carol. Figure out what style you’re most drawn to and keep everything consistent.
  • Choose something to repeat: Carol says, “a good rule to bear in mind, whatever your style, is to have a theme and repeat it. This can be one plant, or a small number or recurring colours – but repeat planting and use of colour gives the design structure and avoids it looking bitty.

Select the right flowers

Dahlia ‘Tropical Breeze’ from Thompson & Morgan

This half-hardy perennial will fill beds and borders with colour from May to October
Image: New for 2020, Dahlia ‘Tropical Breeze’ from Thompson & Morgan

Once you’ve identified your soil type and situation, decided on an overall style, and chosen your colours, it’s time to think about specific flowers. A combination of annuals and perennials usually provides the most successful display, starting with the tallest at the back and the smallest at the front. Holly Taylor, T&M’s online manager adds that the best way to use a website for planning is to refine your flower search by soil type, hardiness, amount of sun and colour. That way, you’ll quickly zone in on the flowers that are most likely to flourish in your garden.

For height at the back of your border, don’t overlook the value of climbing plants on a fence, trellis panel or obelisk, says The Sunday Gardener, Carol:

There are so many different types of climber plants to choose from providing a long flowering period. The Clematis group alone has a wide range of flower shapes and flowering times. Another favourite is the highly-scented annual sweet pea, but there are also some less common climbing plants like the annual Cobaea scandens (the aptly named cup and saucer plant). For cooler northern gardens, Tropaeolum speciosum (the Scottish flame thrower) makes a real splash of colour.

Planting shrubs and perennials in your flower border helps to provide year-round structure and can reduce the amount of watering, feeding and dead-heading required throughout the growing season. Gill of Off the Edge Gardening suggests creating your dream border over time and keeping the costs down with clever use of annual seeds:

Whilst waiting for your shrubs and herbaceous perennials to become established in a newly planted border, you may well have a few gaps. The perfect solution is to fill them with annuals! Many are easy to grow from seed and will quickly, and cheaply, provide you with a summer-long carpet of colour. My favourites are cosmos, French marigolds, cornflowers and love-in-the-mist, but there are so many to choose from you can have fun experimenting. Vibrant or subtle, tall or short, simple or outrageous, there’s something out there just perfect for your garden.

Do you prefer annuals so that you can design a completely new display every year? Mike of Flighty’s Plot knows how to get the longest lasting show for your money. It’s simple: “Sow annual seeds in several lots to extend the flowering season.”

Keep your flowers blooming

Deadheading a flower to encourage more blooms

Deadheading faded flowers will encourage more blooms to appear
Image: photowind

Perennial flowers are generally easy to grow and require little attention once they have established. Annual flowers require a little more care – for the best displays you’ll need to feed and water them regularly, as well as remove faded blooms.

Alison of The Blackberry Garden explains:

Deadheading is a key part of my routine in the growing season, it helps encourage more blooms and also helps most plants get more bushy. I don’t use pesticides in the garden so I try to encourage insect-eating wildlife like birds and ladybirds into the garden. I also like to give some of the more hungry plants a regular feed with liquid seaweed as that seems to keep them healthy and happy.

Planting your flowers close together will help reduce weeds and encourage longer stems. And if you’re growing flowers for cutting, add shrubs with interesting foliage to the centre of the beds to provide structure to your flower arrangements as well as the border.

We’d like to thank all of the gardening bloggers who contributed tips to this article. We hope it has given you food for thought and helps you incorporate more flowers into your garden in the coming season.

 

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