With the arrival of a global pandemic, people stock-piling toilet rolls, us juggling work and home-schooling the kids, back-ache from working at the kitchen table, the addition of face masks to our wardrobe accessories and video chats galore, 2020 has certainly been a year we won’t forget. But, the world of gardening has also brought many memorable and welcome moments with more of us noticing and reaping benefits from nature on our doorstep and virtually visiting gardens from the comfort of our sofas to name a few.
Here are our top gardening highlights from the past year.
Noticing nature on our doorsteps
At the beginning of the first national lockdown, when the majority of us could only leave the house once a day, and even then we couldn’t go far, author and National Trust nature expert Andy Beer’s book Everyday Nature was published encouraging us to notice, engage with and make the most of nearby nature. But, have we truly learnt to appreciate the natural world more this year? Andy seems to think so and that it provided comfort in an unsettling time.
People found that nature doesn’t stop, he says, noticing the passing of the seasons helped put things in [perspective]. Even when it felt like the world was in turmoil, the cycle of nature and the seasons carried on regardless, and that provided a sense of continuity and certainty.
He hopes that our deepened connection with nature will continue.
‘This feels like a one-way shift. People have realised the benefits of getting outside, being active and being in nature,’ he adds.
Andy has since sold around 10,000 copies of his book. Within it, he shares something to look for in nature for each day of the year. During December, you can notice winter-visiting birds such as the redwing and fieldfare. You are most likely to spot them eating berries on the hedgerows.
You can still get your copy here.
It’s no secret that houseplants have increased in popularity over the past few years, with the houseplant market growing at 15 per cent per annum. And, this year, our obsession with houseplants has continued to rise. According to figures, sales of houseplants at garden centres bloomed in July and were up 81.82% compared with the same month in 2019.
And, while the Chelsea Flower Show didn’t go ahead physically, the RHS were set to launch their new House Plant Studios which would see designers and stylists dressing household rooms with houseplants to reflect the increasing trend and diversity and promote the benefits of indoor plants. Their virtual event instead featured content including how to create a green oasis using indoor plants, plus methods to propagate and multiply your houseplants.
Data proved that low-maintenance cacti had been the most popular houseplants in 2020. Meanwhile, Philodendron earned the title of one of the most Instagrammed houseplants.
Virtual garden tours
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show wasn’t the only thing that went virtual in 2020. Many of us were marvelling at gardens we would normally have to travel miles to see from the safety and comfort of our own homes. As the coronavirus pandemic forced many gardens to shut and the majority of us to stay at home, garden organisations were finding new creative ways to bring nature to us, and we were one of them; we shared a virtual tour of the delightful Kitchen Garden at The Newt in Somerset. We’ve also shared over 100 audio garden tours in which head gardeners divulge the secrets of selected gardens.
The National Garden Scheme offered viewers a privileged glimpse of Alan Titchmarsh’s private garden in Hampshire while the National Trust shared sensational 360-degree views of the world-renowned Sissinghurst Castle Garden.
Perhaps not something we expected to take off at the beginning of the year but with organisations’ abilities to reach wider audiences and reduced pollution from travelling long distances, could virtual garden tours be here to stay?
Huge demand for allotments
Image credit: Phil Gomersall
This year, allotments have been snapped up like hotcakes with demand soaring by up to 500 per cent in several areas including Bristol. Back in August, many people were left on plot waiting lists that spanned more than 18 months. And, with one in eight households in Great Britain having no access to a garden and financial constraints as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, president of the National Allotment Society Phil Gomersall claims this rise in demand shows no signs of stopping.
‘[The situation] is much the same. I’m based in Leeds there is not a vacant plot currently. The demand has slowed down somewhat, but I think it’ll continue for a long time yet,’ he says.
People witnessing first-hand the multitude of benefits that allotments can bring has been a key reason for this increase.
‘[During lockdown, allotments] have been the ideal safe-haven offering all the benefits of fresh air, sunshine, fresh vegetables and more importantly communication with fellow plot-holders for mental wellbeing, albeit at a safe distance,’ adds Phil.
‘It’s no wonder people are clamouring for an allotment plot.’
To cater for demand going forward, Phil hopes more local authorities will adopt a new initiative led by housing developers whereby a number of them are creating small allotment sites to accompany new houses. Perhaps we’ll see more of this in 2021. Watch this space…
Growing your own
People were becoming increasingly concerned with what they were eating even before 2020, but with panic buying and empty supermarket shelves at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, in March, coupled with people struggling to get to the shops as easily and having surplus time on their hands, growing your own jumped in popularity.
Phil believes the realisation of the benefits to our health and wellbeing and the environment is behind this rise.
He says: ‘[You know exactly where the food has come from] and exactly what’s gone into it. Although supermarkets strive to have [fruit and veg] fresh and ready for the customer, it’s still been a good few days [whereas] I can pick a [home-grown] vegetable now and cook it for the evening meal. You can’t get fresher than that.
‘The supermarkets still use a lot of packaging,’ Phil adds, ‘even the Swede is usually wrapped in cling film.’
Plus, there’s the sense of satisfaction that planting a seed and watching it grow can provide, he says.
Phil thinks growing your own will continue to rise. ‘A Company supplies allotment seeds to our members and the demand for vegetable seeds has out-stripped the floral plants significantly.’
Gardening for wellbeing
The mental and physical health benefits that gardening can provide is already highly discussed, but they’re something more of us have sought after and welcomed during 2020. It seems people have turned to gardening and being in nature as a coping mechanism. A recent study highlighted both going for a walk outside and being able to visit a green space was in the top three coping strategies people used to help them overcome stress caused by the pandemic, with all participants surveyed agreeing that access to nature, green spaces and plants (e.g. gardens, parks, allotments, balconies with plants, etc.) has helped them to cope and is crucially important for wellbeing. Whether that’s through growing your own fruit and veg, adding houseplants to your living areas or simply listening to natural sounds outside, it’s evident getting green-fingered is more than just a pastime for the elderly and is a therapeutic tool for resilience.
Closed terrariums and bottle gardens
At the height of their popularity in the ‘60s and ‘70s before going out of fashion for a while, closed terrariums and bottle gardens saw a resurgence this year. Closed terrariums are plastic or glass containers in which plants grow, usually sealed by a lid. Similar to terrariums, bottle gardens adopt the same principle but with an opening at the top. A top benefit of a closed terrarium is that watering becomes redundant due to the moisture from the soil and plant evaporating in the warmer temperature that the sealed container provides, before condensing on the walls of the glass container and being absorbed again by the plants and soil below. They’re easy to look after and make a beautiful decor addition to your living room, so it’s understandable they’ve become a memorable part of 2020 gardening.
The Big Flower Fight on Netflix
Admit it – you also joined the rest of us in binge-watching multiple Netflix series during lockdown. During the height of that binge-watching period, launched in May was The Big Flower Fight, continuing to help us feel better. Described as the gardening version of The Great British Bake Off, viewers had high hopes for the new whimsical show. However, the garden reality show sparked interest and divided opinions and perhaps should’ve been more appropriately likened to ‘the marmite of the gardening world’. Each week, ten flower-sculpting duos competed in a thematic challenge, such as creating a wearable dress made out of plants, to win a Best in Bloom prize. Some adored it such as Twitter user @brightbazaar who said: ‘The Big Flower Fight was SO good. I was INVESTED,’ while some couldn’t relate to the hype such as @beyoncefanacct who declared: ‘I didn’t even finish the big flower fight… I didn’t enjoy it at all.’ Whether you loved it or hated it, you can’t deny it caused a bloomin’ good stir. You can catch up on the first season on Netflix now.