Issue 92 is out now
Melissa Corkhill

By Melissa Corkhill

12th April 2014

There’s no doubt about it, the Brits are a nation of garden lovers. We now even have a national week dedicated to our beloved pastime – National Gardening Week http://www.nationalgardeningweek.org.uk/ – which runs annually from 14th to 20th April. Whether you have acres of land or simply a few flower pots on a windowsill, gardening is accessible to all. This time of year is filled with excitement as little seedlings begin to appear and we start to celebrate the arrival of spring. Some cultures mark this time of year as the beginning of a new year and it is easy to see why. After the dark months of winter, the earth is waking up and life springs anew.

Melissa Corkhill

By Melissa Corkhill

12th April 2014

Melissa Corkhill

By Melissa Corkhill

12th April 2014

National Gardening Week is a good excuse to get out there and engage with the beautiful world around you. Launched just three years ago by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), it has grown to become the biggest celebration of gardening. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the UK’s largest volunteering project, RHS Britain in Bloom, so the theme for National Gardening Week is communities. Gardening and green spaces bring people together, whether they’re seasoned horticulturalists or complete novices, and that’s what RHS hopes to highlight this year. There are plenty of events taking place up and down the country, from guided walks to garden parties. If you have an idea for an event in your locality, you can register it on the National Gardening Week website. You’ll also find advice here on what kind of event to organise and how to publicise it. One way the RHS hope people will get involved is by tidying up a local green space by organising a litter pick or weeding session. Other ideas include a fundraising event to raise money for a community garden or project, or family activities in your local park.

If you’re celebrating National Garden Week at home, here are some fun ideas and projects you can get stuck into as a family:

1. Plant a green roof
Also known as living roofs, green roofs are taking hold in countries like Germany and Switzerland where they’re seen as a great way of increasing biodiversity where there is limited ground space such as in cities. London and Sheffield have both seen an increase in green roofs as local authorities wise up to their many benefits. A green roof is basically a roof, first protected by a waterproof membrane, covered in vegetation. They improve air quality, provide homes for insects and animals, absorb storm water and create natural insulation. Green roofs vary in their complexity but if you’re making one at home, you could start with the shed or garage roof to get an idea of what works. Check the structure to make sure it can take the extra weight before beginning. Advice on how to go about creating your green roof can be found on the National Gardening Week website.

2. Get gutter planting
Green fingered enthusiasts with little time on their hands will be delighted with the concept of gutter planting – I know I was! This is a sure-fire way of making gardening easier and fun into the bargain. Get hold of a length of old plastic guttering (check out your local tip if you can’t find any at home) and fill it with seed compost. Next, plant your seeds, spaced evenly as per the pack instructions, along the guttering. Gutter planting is a great way to plant lettuces and this is a fast and easy crop for children to enjoy, plus it creates wonderful salads to feast on throughout the year. Water the gutter and place it in a greenhouse or on a windowsill. Within a week you should be able to see little seedlings and depending on the variety, they should be ready to sow out within three to five weeks. The fun bit is digging a shallow trench in your garden and sliding your seedlings out of the guttering into their new home. Voila! A perfect row of lettuces! Gutter planting is a great method for successive sowing of salads throughout the spring and summer months as you work your way through those tasty leaves.

3. Enjoy edible flowers
It’s amazing just how many flowers are actually edible. Of course, you need to exercise caution as some are certainly not good for human consumption, but if you want to add a colourful splash to salads, jazz up a spring birthday cake, or have a go at crystallising pretty flowers, there are plenty to choose from. Favourites include nasturtiums – these make a peppery and vivid addition to salads; roses, which can be crystallised or the petals simply scattered on a cake; marigolds which add zest to salads and soups; courgette flowers which are incredibly tasty fried; and lavender which is often used to flavour meat. Other ways to enjoy edible flowers is to try making oils, wines, vinegars and cordials with them. This is a fantastic way to harness the taste of spring and summer flowers to enjoy throughout the autumn and winter.

4. Make a log shelter
If you’re keen to encourage more wildlife into your garden, one of the first steps is creating a safe environment for them to live. Children will be entranced by the myriad of little creatures found in rotting wood, from beetles to centipedes. These creepy crawlies provide nourishment for birds, toads, frogs and hedgehogs. A log pile is also a great hibernation spot and offers frost-free comfort in winter and a cool, dark retreat in summer. To create a log shelter, you simply need to get hold of some old rotting logs, preferably native. If you don’t have any in your own garden, you could ask neighbours or a local tree surgeon if they have any they could throw your way. Position your logs in a shady, sheltered area of your garden and leave to decay. You might like to keep a record of visitors to the area and get hold of an insect identification book for children. You can find out more about building a wildlife log shelter here.

5. Plant a herb spiral
Herb spirals are not only attractive, they are an incredibly space-efficient way of growing herbs on permaculture principles. By positioning the herbs strategically in the spiral, you can use the force of gravity to water the plants thus saving on water usage. Different moisture zones are naturally created so herbs that prefer drier soils, such as rosemary and thyme, are positioned at the top, while plants such as mint and watercress live at the bottom. Spirals are found throughout nature, and a herb spiral echoes this beautiful and effective design in your own garden. Position your herb spiral just outside the back door and you’ll not only have a decorative addition to your garden but a tasty resource for all your cooking too. A herb spiral is a slightly larger project and might be something to focus on throughout National Gardening Week. In the days running up to your project, take time to plan it with your family, draw your design, and source materials and plants so that when it comes to making it, you’re ready to go. To find out more about herb spirals and how to make yours, visit The Micro Gardener.

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