The Casual Gardener: Lockdown leads to gardening growth

The region's largest housing association has been riding the new wave of green-fingered enthusiasm

Greenfingered Charlie Bowman (7) & Sophie Green (7) from Belfast. Picture by Matt Mackey/PressEye

GARDENING is among a number of outdoor activities that have enjoyed a renaissance over the past six months as the world has learned to live with the impact of the coronavirus.

People with extra time on their hands have turned to gardening as a relaxing, family-friendly hobby that helps ease concerns about food security.

Northern Ireland's largest housing association, Radius Housing, has been riding this wave of green-fingered enthusiasm with its Sow & Grow programme.

“A visit to any of our housing developments or sheltered schemes would show that gardening has certainly increased, with many more plants and flowers in bloom,” says Radius Housing communities officer Melanie Rintoul, who organised the programme.

“Feedback from our residents and staff is that people of all ages – from young children to seniors – have been more interested in their homes and gardens because they have had to spend a lot more time in them. Gardening is also an easy hobby, where it is not difficult to reap good results.”

The Sow & Grow programme was devised specifically in response to lockdown, as many of Radius's other initiatives had to be postponed.

“With people spending much more time in their homes we saw an opportunity to encourage them to get active through sowing and growing seeds, and to develop a love of gardening through watching seeds develop into plants,” says Melanie.

The programme was designed for those both with and without a garden, so even tenants with just a handful of plant pots could get involved.

“We provided growing kits to schools, groups and sheltered schemes, consisting of posts, canes and soil cores, as well as seeds – the perfect starter pack for growing,” Melanie says.

“Instead of having to head to the garden centre, our starter pack included a handy guide to making seeding pots from toilet roll tubes.”

More than 60 community groups, local schools, and 70 Radius sheltered housing schemes got involved in sowing and growing sunflowers, wildflowers and cress seeds, helping raise the spirits of people of all ages living under the Covid restrictions.

The range of plants reflects different growing experiences. Cress grows in a few days and can be added to salads or as a garnish to meals, while sunflowers take a little longer but are also relatively easy to grow.

“The wildflowers have added a splash of colour to many gardens – they are a mixture of poppies, cornflowers, corn marigold and corn chamomile,” says Melanie.

“Many people are now sowing wildflowers as an alternative to a lawn, and you can see the banks of roadways being planted with them. Again, these are a simple, yet effective way of brightening up a garden or small patch of land.”

Melanie cites the therapeutic benefits of gardening and how it “provides interaction with nature which stimulates the mind as much as it relaxes it”. She says many of Radius's tenants who suffer from anxiety or depression have found gardening and caring for plants to be incredibly beneficial.

Radius is now holding a sunflower growing competition, with prizes for the tallest and best blooms.

“So many people, particularly young people have been enthusiastic about the sunflowers, and watching them grow until they are towering over them,” says Melanie.

“We are currently taking entries for the sunflower competition and this will be judged the middle of September, and hopefully the storms of the last few weeks haven't caused too much damage.”

The Sow & Grow initiative, which is funded through T:buc and the Housing for All shared housing programme, has proved so popular that it is likely to run again next year – lockdown or no lockdown.

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