Planting the seeds of positivity under lockdown

Mother nature wasn’t sent the memo about the Coronavirus lockdown. While the pause button was pressed on normal life as we know it, the arrival of spring, new life and warm weather continued, undeterred. Now, with time on our hands and the desire to create good from a bad situation, many of us are getting out in our gardens and growing for victory. We chatted to Doxford Hall’s Head Gardener, Essie, to find out how we can transform our own gardens, balconies or even windowsills during this time.

If you’ve neglected your garden for the last few months and it’s beginning to resemble a jungle, what’s the best place to start to make the biggest impact?

Cutting the grass will transform your garden very quickly, followed by some intensive weeding of nettles, brambles and stragglers.

What should we be sowing outdoors now?

I’d recommend getting some vegetables in the ground – it’s incredibly rewarding to see the cycle from seed to fork and it’ll save you some pennies too. Now is the perfect time to sow broad beans, French beans, peas, spring onions and potatoes.

Many garden centres will be closed and a trip to buy garden supplies is not ‘essential’. If you haven’t stocked up on compost and seeds how can you still make the most of the time you have available during lockdown?

I’m fortunate to have bedding plants, plugs and seeds that I’ve been busy sowing in the greenhouse. However, even if you’re stuck at home with no ‘supplies’ you can grow perfectly healthy vegetables from food scraps that you already have in the kitchen. Celery, various herbs, garlic, ginger, peppers, spring onions, even potatoes, can be grown from seeds with a bit of know-how. Reserve the base of lettuces, spring onions and celery, pop them in water and give them plenty of sunlight and they’ll start to sprout. Sow the seeds of peppers or tomatoes directly into some soil and they’ll grow. Chop potatoes into 2-inch pieces, leave them to dry for a couple of days and sow directly in the ground and you’ll be eating your home-grown potatoes by mid-summer.

Given that Doxford Hall is sadly closed for business at the moment, what’s your main priority on the estate now?

It’s sad that our guests can’t see our glorious gardens this spring – it’s one of my favourite times in the garden. The priority now is to continue weeding, cut the grass and stay on top of general garden maintenance so that they grounds are in good condition ready for our guests to enjoy when we reopen.

Most of us won’t be blessed with a garden quite as expansive as the Doxford Hall grounds. What are the best plants to grow in a small space, for example on a windowsill or balcony?

Marigolds and petunias are easy to grow and can give a real pop of colour to a windowsill. Alternatively, there are lots of kitchen herbs that can be successfully grown in pots, ready to use in recipes.

From where do you seek your inspiration for the Doxford Hall gardens?

I’ve always just relied on my own imagination and gone with what seems right to the eye.

What piece of kit could you not do without?

We have ten acres of gardens at Doxford – a mix of lawned areas, expansive flower beds of colour, the world’s largest yew tree maze and some woodland. Having a decent ride-on lawnmower is a must!

How do you go about encouraging wildlife in the garden?

We plant lots of flowers to encourage butterflies and bees and have plenty of wood stock for our resident hedgehogs. There are bird boxes dotted around the gardens and we take pride in looking after our native red squirrels as best we can with squirrel nesting boxes, and wildlife corridors to allow them to thrive. North Northumberland is a prime playground for red squirrels and we’d like to keep it that way!

What’s the best piece of gardening advice you’ve been given that you can share with us?

Enjoy your gardens! Simple as that.