If you have ever felt a little bit calmer after looking out at trees so green (and red roses, too) – there is a reason for that. For years, studies have found that gardening is a great distraction for worried minds.
We’re not trying to be dramatic, but a global pandemic that brings economies to a grinding halt sure has a way of ramping up cortisol levels. There’s never been a better time to get your hands dirty – who knows when you might need to grow your own food out in the wild because the zombie apocalypse arrived and we all had to head for the hills.
Okay, back to reality.
If you still think “old and retired” when you hear the word gardening think again. Aren’t we all being forced into early retirement because of the worldwide economic downturn? Ouch.
Morbid realities aside, eco-conscious hipsters are increasingly gravitating towards the concept of growing stuff. From food to flowers and herbs of varying varieties (yes, we do mean weed). Simulation video games are even dedicating entire expansion packs to this sort of thing, remember how popular Farmville used to be?
You don’t need the space to grow harvestable crops for the neighbourhood to dig in, though. Plants are hardier than you think, there’s a reason it’s one of the oldest and most sophisticated life forms on the planet.
We get that investing several hours of your life in what might turn out to be a potential disappointed might not be that appealing. There are plants that don’t require much maintenance and hold the potential to grow into a side hustle.
Good to grow for a side hustle
You haven’t lived if you haven’t raked the soft sand of a mini zen garden. For a spin on the mini-meditation classic, try a succulent garden. They’re more resilient than most plants, but like any good song on karaoke night, they’re not immune to being murdered.
Good light, the right soil, seasonal watering, keeping them clean and pinching bugs are some of the main care factors for these prickly pals.
Potted and pruned, they’ve got sell appeal.
It’s also a great way to upcycle old furniture. An old measuring cup, broken desk drawer or even a serving tray – all of these make ideal receptacles for your fortune sellers.
Just make sure the container you choose has good drainage. And if you’re going to sell them as your side hustle, make sure there’s something to catch the dripping from that drainage.
Good to grow if you’re tight on space
Even when you have nothing more than a dimly lit corner, you can wake up and smell the roses. Or rather, the Impatiens.
We mention these aptly named flowers specifically because they don't like a fuss. Shade-loving (hey, it works for Vera Wang), they lust only after indirect sunlight. In warmer climates, they need a nap in winter, but that’s part of their appeal. They're a popular choice of bedding plants in North America, but will survive in various containers - from hanging baskets to window boxes. It can take some time for these to bloom (that’s where the name comes from), but like that first facial after lockdown, the wait will be worth it.
If you’ve got a bit more space to spare, go for a Peace Lily. They are far less cumbersome to care for than they look and despite originating in tropical climates, they’ve evolved to woo over millennial city slickers. Grown indoors, they thrive in pots – as long as the temperature doesn’t dip below four degrees centigrade. They prefer indirect, bright light rather than full-on sun. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy and give them a haircut if any yellow leaves appear.
Good to grow herbs
We’re just going to get this one out of the way first.
Nurture your inner Nancy Botwin and grow some weed. Indoor options are complex if you're a first-time grower, but these plants can be forgiving outdoors. But, be warned, just because it says weed in the name doesn't mean it'll grow like a weed. They are one of the more complicated herbs to grow. Fussy and particular, they must be French – with the whole male and female bud thing to consider.
As for the rest, mint is a beast that event he harshest climates struggle to slay. Chives are compact enough to squeeze into almost any container. On sunnier shores, basil will flourish. Rosemary, sage and tarragon will persist through some moderate neglect, but they want plenty of sun in return. If you have a south-facing window for this trio to live indoors, though, you'll get a natural air freshener as an extra reward for your efforts.
If you’ve got the money, we’ve got the thyme. Okay, you don’t even need the money. Thyme prefers the sun, but it is stubborn enough to persist even on an east or west-facing window sill.
Good to grow for eating
Tomatoes and chillies both grow well in containers. Chillies are especially generous and can spice up your life long after the leaves have all fallen elsewhere. Radishes require a bit of moderate tending but are worth the effort.
Avoid carrots if you haven’t been gifted with saintly patience. They require more landscaping and thinning out than an arched eyebrow – and those just aren’t fashionable anymore.
Lettuce, spinach and rocket can all survive in cooler conditions and are reasonably hassle-free. If you’ve never done it, there are very few things as rewarding as harvesting your salad from your backyard. These green-leafed lovelies are perfect for growing in containers and lettuce will keep going the more you pick it.
If you’re really industrious, you can get two growing seasons out of them by sowing in early spring and late fall.
And hey, a top shot of your freshly harvested veggies will look pretty damn good on your pre-loved wooden table, right?
Never fret about growing too much either. If you can’t eat it, share it (with good hygiene practice, of course).
Or turn your tomatoes into a giant pot of soup to freeze and keep for winter when you need a taste of sunshine. Any leftovers can be blitzed into a tomato paste and kept in the freezer to use when needed. Preserve any leftover chillies, make a chilli jam or pickle jalapenos for a tasty pizza topping. Make pesto from your basil bush. And if it’s too much for you, share that, too.
If you’re not sure where to start, here’s something simple to keep it seasonal. If you’re ready to level up to a fully stocked veggie garden yet, herb gardens are the perfect gateway to greater things. Don’t worry about growing things from seed if you’re a newbie, seedlings are perfectly acceptable – no judgies.
V is for Victory Garden
Back during World War I, the National War Garden Commission encouraged Americans to grow their own fruit and veggies. It was an odd mix of propaganda (there were posters and instruction pamphlets) and humans not being completely awful.
It should be surprising to absolutely nobody, then, that these “Victory Gardens” are becoming a thing again.
The phrase "community gardening" is flying high on the most searched terms in recent weeks and the Ontario Seed Company called the demand for seeds "unprecedented" - almost as many orders for seeds in March 2020 as the whole of spring in 2019.
Slowly, these gardens have been re-opening, but the community will have come together by staying apart. For once it its life, though, social media is good for something. If you're joining a community garden in your area, check in to see if they have a Facebook group or other online network where you can forage for tips to get growing.
Eco loving for upcycling and garden furniture delights
Other than selling your second-hand furniture online, there is no better place to get rid of stuff you no longer need than getting creative with it in the garden.
Even if you’re not looking for a side hustle of cactus gardens potted into old drawers, there’s furniture upcycle potential everywhere. Even old clothes and décor can get a second chance to live its best life – and the more knackered it is, the better.
Whether you’re repurposing an old car tire as a planter or turning it into an ornamental frog – everything you think is junk deserves a second chance. Except maybe that one ex.
There’s no better place to drop all pretence either. Sure, Karen’s white patio furniture might look wonderful for the first day or two – but she’s going to be spending a fortune on bleach or cover those lovely chairs in plastic. As anyone who has ever spent an afternoon sitting on plastic chairs will tell you, no amount of speaking to the manager will make that experience comfortable.
Outside spaces are meant to look and feel lived in. That doesn’t mean abandoning maintenance, but a farmhouse chic look doesn’t warrant an investment of brainpower or money. It’s supposed to relieving not adding to your stress, remember?
Don’t forget the birds and the bees
When not being kamikaze murders who put people into anaphylactic shock, bees are essential to the ecosystem. They pollinate plants - and not just the ones in your garden (and Karen's, too). Bees are vital for helping everything from apples to pears, coffee and vanilla grow through their little pollinating paws. According to Friends of the Earth, over 90% of the major global crops are visited by bees.
Despite their helpfulness to our very existing, humans haven’t shown much gratitude to these buzzing balls. Destruction of bee habitats across the world as a result of everything from pesticides to climate change, has led to a decline in bee populations. It’s a big deal – and not just if you want honey.
It's another good reason to start gardening. Make sure to plant flowers with single flowers that are easily accessible to bees. Or pretend you're a bee hotel baron and build a bee hotel. Despite their reputation for having a dominatrix queen that sits around eating, there are some bees who live the loner life. For these critters, bee hotels offer a safe place for them to lay their eggs. Just don’t allow any bees called Karen to check-in.
The best bee-friendly parts for every season
Summer: lavender, agastache, Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’, scabious, comfrey, foxgloves, cardoon, echinops.
Autumn: sedums, single-flowered dahlias, Verbena bonariensis, Japanese anemones, autumn asters, Actaea simplex.
Winter: snowdrops, winter aconites, ivy, crocuses, winter honeysuckle, hellebores, mahonia, Clematis cirrhosa.
Spring: flowering cherry, crab apple, hawthorn, bugle, daffodils, pulmonaria, sea thrift, alliums, grape hyacinth.
Ditto for birds, bugs and grubs. A little birdhouse constructed out of your second-hand furniture can become a safe nest or offer shelter from the usually hostile urban landscape. Feathery friends also help pollination – usually through their poop. But if you kill the bugs that are lurking in your garden, you might be killing one of their food sources.
Geckos, lizards and spiders, meanwhile, will repay you sparing their lives by gobbling up mosquitoes and other irksome critters.
Aside from planting smartly, reducing chemical use in the garden is another simple way to boost the biodiversity of your garden. Insecticides might be an easy solution, but they often kill without any discrimination, meaning an innocent insect could end up as collateral. Can you live knowing that you basically committed genocide on a whole generation of butterflies, for example? Yeah, we didn’t think so.
Remember what we were saying about growing weed? Just like this ancient plant is considered less than savoury by some people, while it is vital for others, weeds that grow in your garden can be important too. Where possible, skip the weed killer and give it all a bit of elbow grease. Better still, if you can live with things like dandelions, leave them be. Their fluffy petals can be a food source for pollinators.
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