Managing forced garden neglect during lockdown

How to 'shut down' your garden during lockdown

These are unprecedented times we are all facing. There are a lot of people who have taken refuge in their garden and are able to give it more attention than ever before. However for our key workers who are flat out keeping us all safe and those vulnerable people who perhaps have lost their regular gardeners the worry that our gardens will go to rack and ruin is very real.

If you’re worried about not being able to spend enough time in the garden, we’re here to reassure you and help you prioritise.

Firstly don’t panic, nature always finds a way, you may end up with long grass and weed filled borders, eaten veg and overgrown shrubs but think of the positives, the beneficial insects your garden will now house, the variety of birds, the new shapes of your shrubs allowed to grow bigger and bolder than before, the flowers you’d forgotten and the weeds that are actually providing much needed nectar to bees and butterflies. And if you’re an organic grower, you should find your growing area is more resilient than most; your soil will be in good condition to retain the moisture it holds and the beneficial insects who will help pollinate you plants and keep pests at bay will have everything they need to provide a helping hand. 

If you are able to get out but for far less time than before, here are our top tasks to prioritise:

  • Remove any perennial weedsby hand.
  • Plant quick-growing crops such as cut-and-come-again salad leaves. Ideally, plant in pots so they are easier to manage if they start to bolt.
  • In the vegetable patch, sow things that can stay in the ground for longer, such as parsnips and garlic. Not only will these provide valuable food in the future, but growing veg that you want to eat will leave less open soil for the weeds to come through.  Even sowing flowers where you normally have veg will help cover bare soil.
  • Cover any large areas of bare soil with a weed suppressant, such as cardboard.

In terms of flowers and ornamentals, covering as much soil as you can to keep out the weeds remains the number one job. You can sow annuals directly, water and leave them to their own devices.

Just remember, in these challenging times all you are aiming for is damage limitation.

At Ryton when we realised it would be our last day in the gardens for some time we planted out as much as possible after weeding the area, this included carrots, beetroot, lettuce, garlic and onions. We watered them and walked away. Anything that was just too small we composted.

We then moved any pots outside in the hope that any rain would keep them going, and placed them on the soil to retain some extra moisture. I’m afraid anything tender was left in the glasshouse to fend for itself. The tomatoes, chillis and cucumbers came with us to try to keep them growing at home.

The Heritage Seed Library team also planted as much as possible within their grow-out area. They set up their irrigation system and covered remaining beds with mypex (a weed surppressing fabric), then took home anything they could to salvage.

Time will tell how things have fared.

Above all stay safe and stay positive, our gardens will continue to be a constant source of pleasure with or without the weeds.