“Spoonie” Gardening in Late Winter/Early Spring


Many “Spoonies” acknowledge the benefits that fresh air, relaxation and being around nature can bring, but how many of us think that gardening is not for us, not with our conditions? However, this negative view is so wrong. Gardening as a Spoonie, requires re-evaluation of priorities and sometimes alot of sideways thinking, but it is very possible and can be so beneficial. And this time of year, as the winter starts to draw for a close, is the perfect time to decide to make this year the year you enjoy gardening as a Spoonie!

Even if you have a large garden, it is likely that illness or disability may mean that you cannot enjoy all of it, all of the time. My advice for Spoonie gardeners is to concentrate your efforts where you can easily get the most enjoyment out of them. Having a patio or deck near the door, spilling over with beautiful plants, is likely to give you more pleasure than a garden with beds all over the place. There is nothing wrong with working on a small area and leaving the rest to grass or nature!
Raising the plants off the ground will mean that they are easier to tend to and also easier to enjoy. Raised beds are ideal, but unless you have plenty of space, some money and a helpful practical garden-partner they are not a realistic idea for most Spoonies. Pots, however, can bring many of the advantages of a raised bed with much less effort and they have the added advantage that they can be moved around so you can adjust your displays to show the best of the season without having to frequently replant. It is important to always consider the following when buying pots however:
1. Is the pot large enough for the plant you want to go in it – you don’t want to be breaking that pot next year because the plant is busting out of it!
2. Is the pot going to be too labor intensive – small pots require more frequent watering in summer and are more likely to freeze in winter.
3. Are you going to be able to cope with its weight when it is fully planted up? Having a willing helper can help with the last issue, but thinking ahead can allow you to make your pots more Spoonie friendly. You can buy pot movers that are basically trays on casters, that the pot sits on, making moving it far easier. You can also buy pot “feet” that raise the pot off the ground, making it less susceptible to flooding in wet weather and freezing in cold weather. It is easiest to put them in place under large pots before they are filled and then you may not have to move the pot at all.
Hanging baskets are a form of pot gardening that can make a huge impact. These days there are many gadgets to make using them easier, from controls to allow you to lower the basket easily, to special watering systems. Planning will also make them easier to use. Adding water retaining granules to the soil reduces watering as does making a reservoir in the bottom of the basket, so that not all the water will drain away, easily done by buying basket liners with no drainage and then only poking holes in them above a certain level in the basket. Slow release fertilizers can also be added to the soil and a sensible choice of plants will make a world of difference.
A sensible choice of plants is one of the best ways to save effort in the garden that there is. It makes sense that if you live, for example, in a hot dry area, then lush water-hungry planting is going to be a lot more work than choosing plants that thrive in those conditions. It is well worth investing in a book that either suggests plants for different places or that concentrates on the type of area you live in (eg. Desert gardening.) However, a huge amount of information is available on the Internet and there are some great plant finders, that allow you to describe the planting location and then suggests suitable plants. The BBC has one at http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/plants/plant_finder/.
Other labor saving tips are:
· If you can, sort out a watering system as soon as your pots and plants are in place – drip hose systems are very effective and can save a huge amount of time and effort, but if you live in an area affected by hosepipe bans, then check with your water supplier what their policies are. Otherwise, try and ensure that plants or pots that will need the most water attention are as close as possible to a source of water.
· Make sure there is somewhere you can sit down in your planting area, even if it’s just a folding chair that can stay outside all spring. Having somewhere you can easily rest will make attending to the plants alot easier and it will also mean you get more enjoyment from them.
· Instead of using heavy “crocks” in the bottom of pots to aid drainage, use broken up bits of polystyrene instead – it will make a huge difference to the overall weight of the planted pot!
· For watering seedlings, get a spray bottle. With one of these you can easily water seeds and seedlings without risk of flooding them if the hand that holds the watering can or jug shakes, jerks or slips.
· Always water the roots of a plant not the leaves, and if you have some water-hungry plants in a bed or trough, then sink a pipe (or use either a pot with the bottom cut off or a plastic bottle with no cap and the bottom cut out) into the soil so the water goes straight to the roots.
· Mulch! A mulch can be anything that covers the bare soil, from compost through modern membranes, to attractive stones.. They reduce evaporation from the soil, which means less watering and they also reduce the amount of weeds. Mulches of compost will also feed the soil in a bed. For best results, a mulch should be about 2”/5cm thick – but make sure that if you do this you use a pipe system (as described above,) so that when you water, you aren’t just watering the mulch and not the plant.
Another factor that puts Spoonies off gardening is that many of us have financial difficulties resulting from our illnesses, but if you start now and think outside the box a little, then even the poorest of us can get some joy from plants.
Packets of seeds can be picked up for pennies or cents and often contain far more than we could use in one year. Why not see if a friend or neighbor of yours would like to swap half-used packets of seeds, so you can have more variety for no extra money? Or at the very least, if you look after them, most seeds will last until next year when you won’t have to buy any! Seeds should be kept in their original packets to avoid confusion and then placed in a container in a dry, relatively cool place. As seeds breathe, albeit very slowly, you should not store them for long periods in sealed plastic containers. A paper bag in a dry cupboard is an ideal storage place. This is the perfect time of year for thinking about what seeds to plant and planting what you can. If you start seeds off inside the warmth – where it is also easier for you to look after them no matter what the weather – then you can get a head start on the growing season and when the weather is warm you will have strong, thriving plants that would cost far, far more to buy ready grown.
If you do not want to grow plants from seed, but would like to enjoy some of the cost reductions of growing your plants yourself, then consider buying plug plants now or in the next couple of months. These are tiny plants in trays that are bought in relative bulk quite cheaply, usually from mail-order or Internet nurseries. They do involve a little less hassle than growing from seeds, but the prices are low because they too are far from ready to be planted in the ground. If you look at a nursery catalog and website and the prices seem too good to be true, they may well be – always check carefully exactly how large the plants will be because otherwise you may have a shock when tiny seedlings drop into your mailbox!
Bulbs may seem far more expensive per plant than seeds, and they are, but in terms of ease and impact, they can’t be beaten in my opinion. You can often get very good value with multi-packets from garden centers or hardware/DIY stores and again, swapping with a friend or neighbors is a great way to get more variety for less money. This time of year is the time to start thinking about planting summer bulbs, which can be used to provide a wonderful display of flowers from late spring all the way through to fall. My favorites have got to be Oriental Lilies, which have amazing scents and come in a wide range of colours. They are also extremely dramatic with almost no care needed whatsoever and you can carry on planting them from now until late summer for a long display right up until the weather changes again. Other summer-flowering bulbs, such as begonias, eucomis, achimenes and gloriosa can be started off inside if you don’t have a heated greenhouse and from March (April in cold regions) Dahlias and Gladioli can be planted outside.
Another way to save money on plants at this time of year is to buy bare-rooted plants. These are removed from the ground when they are hibernating from the winter, having had their excess branches and roots removed. You can buy them on line or from mail-order companies for far less than a potted plant will be this summer and they will be able to get a head start in whatever you plant them in. Although they may seem quite dead when they arrive, I promise that by this summer you will have some lovely shrubs that can flower or fruit in their first year. Roses, fruit trees and fruit bushes are easily available in this form.
If you already have some perennial plants in your garden, then you may well be able to get more plants from them. In mild areas, you can start to divide clumps of perennials in February (wait until the weather starts to show the promise of spring.) This is simply done by digging up the plant clump and then cutting off healthy young outer portions of the clump with a spade. The plant can then be replanted and the cut off portions planted elsewhere as new plants.
Pots are often a relatively big expense, but this can be limited. Garden centers and hardware/DIY stores often have sales of pots at this time of year to make way for the new arrivals in spring. Having a look on eBay or other local selling/swapping sites can also be worth it. And making sure you have a good look around is also worth it – it may be that one garden center only sells designer pots with designer price tags, or that while a striking design catches your eye, an inexpensive terracotta pot will do just as good a job at a much reduced price. Also remember that while a large pot may seem expensive, it will make much more of an impact than many small pots, so it is often worth investing in one or a few large pots because of the end difference. Small pots can then be grouped around a few large pots very effectively for incredible impact.
Seed trays are usually very inexpensive and can often be found at dollar stores or even your local supermarket. Basic tools are often available all over the place cheaply or again, look on eBay and similar sites! It is amazing what bargains you can find.
© 2008 by Lindsey Middlemiss, butyoudontlooksick.com