Andrew Burton on how spending time as a family tending the garden will go a long way to weathering the storm this Spring…

In challenging times, any offering of hope is welcome, and I genuinely think that we become better people through times of challenge, togetherness and reflection. This isn’t because we are forced to, but because we’re reminded that it’s how we used to behave – people have become detached from what we saw as fundamental day by day things, even 40 years ago. 

Now, I’m not blinkered: I know we need a combination of factors to keep ourselves positive and motivated here, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the benefit of gardening and how it can help not only the mindfulness of everyone, but also support local businesses.

Playing in the garden, tending to your plants, growing your own food and spending time together in a labour of love – sounds idyllic doesn’t it? The past decade has seen less interaction, more reliance on instant gratification and an expectation of now, now, now!  I often ask myself how have we got to this, but it’s understandable when you think about it.  There are so many barriers in the way for us all, stemming back to the way the world has been educated.  It’s not just about hands on, manual options, it is now about productive processes, IT and instant rewards… often with people looking for something to criticise and share their views of unfairness, rather than look for and comment on the positives.

From WW2, a time when the nation was collectively reflecting on and reacting to the war, there was the sense that people’s values were simpler, less complex, and purer.  After the horrors of 1939 – 1945, people were just happy to come home from their daily routines and just be.

Having been involved in the garden centre industry for the past 20 years, most recently consulting on them and reviewing customer trends, I’ve seen ups and downs every year. There are changes in the industry ongoing, including customer trends, new processes, new opportunities and seasonal weather… and we are now facing a challenge that no-one has seen before.

What has never changed, is the passion our industry brings, joined with the togetherness working as one.  I’m proud to be part of this industry, largely because as an industry we often work together to find best practice and I wonder why this shouldn’t extend to our customers, the general public.

In the last two recessions, the UK awoke to the idea of gardening being something more than a retired pastime. As we know, homeowners look at their gardens as extensions to the home; an additional room in essence.  After these recessions, the grow-your-own-veg trend came, then dropped off again.  However, with seed sales exploding during the Coronavirus outbreak, it is clear that cultivating and growing is something the British public feel passionate about, and maybe – just maybe – time has been the issue:  Time away from work, time away from the motorway, and time away from emails and the day-to-day challenges our non-stop lives bring.

Gardening is something that you will enjoy, eat and appreciate – it’s the ultimate type of family togetherness.  Cultivating, painting your fences, cleaning your decking… all of these are a great way to get children involved and interested, though as we know, they need to see results quickly. In fact, giving people confidence, whatever their age, is the key to this family event.

Positive thinking is a wonderful thing, but can gardening really be a powerful tool to be part of the way we get through the Coronavirus, together? Anyone who understands it knows that gardening is a rewarding, joyous hobby and that it shouldn’t be a chore, because you are doing it for the love of doing it.

As I type, I feel we need something to lift us out of the gloom, and to put things in to context, using some of the money you’ve saved on not going to the pub, and didn’t need to spend on petrol, can be invested in making a statement in the garden.

If you can support your local garden centre and nursery, so much the better, you’ll help them in their time of need to keep going too.  I appreciate many garden centres are closed, but I am hopeful that they will be open again soon, in line with government advice.

No-one will deny that this is a horrible situation that we are in, and one none of us would ever have wanted to see in any lifetime, but if we can take any positives wherever possible it helps us all, both mentally and physically. 

My Top Tips for gardening when at home:

1:  Do it with the kids and family!  This is time of togetherness and doing something the kids can look back on, and say “I did that with my Mum and Dad” will bring pride and love to you every time you hear it.

2: When you can visit again, seek out your local nursery or garden centre; and then seek out its hidden gems.  Garden centres have so much more choice than non-specialist retailers.  Go and find them!

3:  Buy smaller or container plants and enjoy watching them grow. These are also easier to move if you change your mind about your arrangements.

4: Grow at least some of your plants from seed.  The reward you get when they grow is overwhelming.

5:  When starting out, tackle some of the quick win areas, such as weeding an overgrown bed, spraying the patio clean, or even cleaning the windows looking on to the garden.  It motivates you when you can enjoy seeing the fruits of your labours.

6:  Remember, if you’re buying new tools, get the best you can afford and look after them well as they will last a lifetime. Cheaper tools often work and in my view there’s no better place to buy a good garden tool than from your local garden centre.

7: Be inspired by the TV, the internet or simply admiring other gardens. There is no cost to this (other than your internet connection or TV licence) and there is lot to see to inspire you into creating something wonderful as a family.

8: Most importantly, and this is why it’s the first and last point, do it together as a household if you can.  Don’t pressure the family in doing anything they don’t want to, but involve them in the design, the shopping and/or the graft – just make the most of being together, enjoy the fruits of your labour and love each other for doing it!