Growbag Blog

Three gardening lessons learnt from 2020


Twenty-twenty will go down in history as a year in which we went back to basics and changed habits of a lifetime (although obvs a few remain – Elaine still thinks four squares of Cadbury’s Whole Nut constitutes a healthy breakfast, and Caroline continues to count red wine as one of her five a day). Today we’re looking at three things we learned about how gardening impacts our lives, and why we’d like to hang onto these lessons no matter what happens in 2021.

1. Growing your own veg is worth it!
Last summer we all had a bit more time to grow some back garden veg. If you followed our full ‘DigYourOwna4Corona’ course you should still be reaping the benefits now – our feature picture today shows the range of winter veg Tim brought in from our garden this morning. How much better for your soul, your health and the planet is this, than buying flaccid ‘fine’ beans flown half way round the world guzzling aviation fuel in plastic packaging to put on the shelves of your local coronavirus-ridden supermarket?

Vegetable packets
Why are we importing veg from around the world when it could be coming from your back garden?

Veg growing is a win-win-win so let’s keep on doing it!

We’ll be with you every step of the way with regular tips on what you should be doing when, and are already working on the ‘Growbags’ Veg Growers Notebook’ to be launched at Easter.


2. Gardening promotes a sense of well-being

Ah yes, well it’s absolutely true that, virus or no virus, chocolate has a very short shelf-life in our house……! But on the horticultural front, I think many more people have become aware this year that tending to plants does something good to our minds. 2020 was BIG BOOM-TIME for gardeners – from being widely regarded as a slightly sad middle-class pursuit for the over-the-hill brigade, Lockdown propelled it centre-stage. A garden, a balcony, a window-box – they all became trending hashtags and the must-haves of the year.

Herbs on a windowsill
Everyone started growing things everywhere….!

The enforced regulations and the possible shortage of fresh food encouraged hundreds of thousands of folk to use their neglected patch as more than a place to put the BBQ. Prospects of healthy home-grown veg, herbs and flowers and a warm smug glow to boot. Lovely! But something else happened too, of even more lasting value……….. Four factors conspired :

a. The very wet winter was followed by a truly glorious bright warm spring

b. The lack of traffic- or air-noise and pollution

c. The need for somewhere calm but absorbing, in the face of terribly frightening national and international news

d. The difficulties of spending real time with friends and family

And together they meant that millions of people found out what we gardeners have long known – the process of tending plants ‘helps’ us mentally in mysterious ways.

But why? Is it the combination of patience and nurturing and (often) hard graft that speaks to our souls? There are certainly as many disappointments (slug-ravaged plants, collapsed seedlings, rust-covered hollyhocks etc.) as there are tangible rewards in gardening. Honestly, talk about ‘delayed gratification’ ! Horticulture is the very reverse of bingeing on takeaway deliveries in front of a TV boxset which was the Lockdown ‘instant’ alternative. (and very nice it was too, at times!) So it can’t be that.

It’s what Andrew Marvell called ‘A green thought in a green shade’ back in 1681, and Mary Howitt (1799-1888) referred to in a poem:

Yes! In the poor man’s garden grow

Far more than hearts and flowers,

Kind thoughts, contentment, peace of mind,

And joy for weary hours.

Bang on, Mary, and not just in a poor man’s garden, but in EVERY garden! We feel better out there.

Many more folk have realised the emotional connection that gardening provides…

Chelsea is going to have a new category in 2021 called ‘Sanctuary Gardens’, dozens of articles and books have been published about horticulture as therapy for your mind and soul …………………..Yeah, yeah, I know it won’t have turned us all into amazing gardeners by the end of all this. But if Covid-19 has enabled a lot more of us to realise that we need plant-growing as much, AT LEAST as much, as the plants need us: that has got to be a precious result, hasn’t it?


3. Sharing and buying locally is a Good Thing

It’s all very worthy – living the ‘Good Life’ (and who could deny the eye-popping magnificence of Laura’s parsnip?) and thinking higher thoughts among the peasticks, but personally I found the veg growing quite tricky. Didn’t you?

Laura’s aptly named ‘Gladiator’ parsnip has to turn a girl’s head to be fair….

Between reading the tips and getting outside, I’d often forgotten the recommended planting depth/what leaves to pinch out/what I was actually growing (a great surprise when the raised bed I thought I’d planted with broad beans came through as potatoes). I needed a LOT of help, but, and this third positive is the most important in my book, this year I felt I could ask the silliest questions because none of the stand-offish norms applied. No one made me feel inadequate!

Runner beans
I needed so much help with those blooming veggies

And in 2020 there was a great deal of seed, seedling, produce and expertise sharing. Social media was an absolute boon. I did a lot of swaps through all the new Facebook groups that sprung up. Of course techno-dinosaurs (Elaine and Laura) were still tottering about putting produce on tables outside their local shop but that was great too in its quaint way. I really hope we go on sharing in the same way – it’s the new future!

And finally, how grateful were we for our local nurseries when the big online retailers struggled to cope with surging orders? Many small family suppliers quickly upped their online sales service and personally delivered to local gardeners, many of whom were shielding. While I can hardly remember what on earth I’ve planted or where, I won’t be forgetting how vital it is to go on supporting these local heroes.

Finally, Louise has a plant that seems to shine both summer and winter, click on the Great Plants this Month block below to find out what it is.

NB If you’d like to get a bit more gardening chit-chat from the3growbags just enter your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

10 replies on “Three gardening lessons learnt from 2020”

Gardening was a lifeline in lockdown. Taking seeds from supermarket tomato, pepper, orange, strawberry and then really old seeds I found in a box of lettuce leaves and herbs. Old milk and veg cartoons became pots. The joy each day of watching their progress was a wonderful experience. All this in our conservatory and balcony without a garden. This year will be a big change with a different property, greenhouse and garden.

Hello Sue, it sounds like you did a wonderful job improvising with what you had available last summer, well done! But how exciting for you this year with a garden AND a greenhouse – the sky’s the limit ? Realising the joy to be found in growing your own was definitely one of the silver linings of Covid and we are glad that our blog was part of this new journey so many people embarked on. Best wishes and good luck with your new garden Laura

So pleased to read that you will be offering your veggie growing advice again this year. Please help us all know when we can start for 2021 as my remaining crops from last year are now down to my last few Brussels, cabbages, carrots and onions. And of course lots of herbs that seem to be hanging in there through the frosts and snow… Thank you all so much for your wonderful blog. Looking forward to trying new veggies in 2021 and learning a lot more. Happy New Year to you 3G

Hello Joan, thanks for your message and glad to hear that your hard work back in the summer is still reaping rewards now in January. We’ll definitely be reminding folk when they should be getting cracking on the veg front this year and already working on a little booklet that will be a beginners step by step guide to growing your own.
Thanks for your good wishes and sending ours back to you, Laura

Thank you for all your thoughts,advice and tips- it makes me feel less pathetic when you share your failures as well as your successes- we try our best but we arent all tv perfection! I love your very down to earth( sorry!) comments and advice

Hi Angela, Caroline here, and I can very much identify with your frustrations about less then perfect harvests. If you could see the onions I planted last year, I think you’d feel pretty encouraged by even your worst failures in comparison! I shan’t be sharing with Laura and Elaine that’s for sure. Oh well, it’s great so many of us are trying to grow veg though, it still feels the good and right thing to do, doesn’t it? Thank you so much for your comment, we really do appreciate it – wishing you all the very best for a safe and happy 2021. Let’s keep gardening! XX

Do you have any tips on growing quince? I live in Ohio, USA. I have 2 quince trees. They flower in the spring, but fail to produce fruit. Thanks.

Hello Worrell, and firstly how exciting that we have a follower in Ohio USA! Makes us feel very cosmopolitan ?
As for your quince trees, I initially wondered if your climate might not be quite right for them, but I see that quince trees (Cydonia oblonga) are native to Iran and Turkey, which are a similar latitude with similar continental climates to Ohio so I think we can rule this out. Our own quince tree here flowers quite early in the year and the blooms can be caught by a late frost, but fruit trees generally spread their blossoming season over several weeks so that at least some will avoid any frosty nights. The quince is self fertile so doesn’t especially require another tree as a pollinator, but with two trees you should get a very good pollination rate. Ours set quite a lot of little fruit early on this year, but then we went into a drought in midsummer and most of the fruit failed to develop, and the ones that did start to swell dropped off the tree before reaching full size so I wonder if that happened to you as well? Quince trees are prone to a bacteria called fire blight, but I think you would have spotted this as it gives the leaves a scorched appearance at their edges. My last suggestion would be their age, apparently trees need to be about six years old before they start to produce fruit. So maybe you just need to be patient. Quince flowers themselves are very pretty, and it’s almost worth growing the tree for this alone, but the fruit too is very sensuous and I like to pick half a dozen and put them in a large terracotta bowl in the kitchen to ripen, where they loll about giving off a unique sweet fragrance for several weeks. Hope this is remotely helpful and thanks for getting in touch from across the pond! Laura

Dear Sisters,

Thank you for keeping us entertained and educated; it has been a comfort during the last year, to be sure. Like another follower here in the comments, I am from across the pond as well, in Tennessee. It is so fun reading what gardening is like in the UK and I enjoy your descriptions and comments. We have had a snow here and I still have kale and parsley, which I view as an accomplishment. Very best wishes to you three for a better 2021.

Judith, Tennessee – how marvellous! Cold air coming from the north and warm air coming up from the south – isn’t that right? What a spectacular state in which to live, and where gardening must be quite exciting! Yes veg that can make it through a few hard firsts and snowfalls is very heartening isn’t it – should see us through to the first signs of spring which must just round the corner. Thank you so much for joining us at the3growbags, it’s lovely to know our gang extends to the Appalachians (I’ve got that right haven’t I? I wish I’d spent more time in America!) Kindest regards back to you from all of us, Caroline (and the other two) XX

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