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GARDENING TOP TIPS & PRODUCT PICKS

Poppy Okotcha is a horticulturist and regenerative grower, on a mission to inspire people to engage with the natural world. She teaches people how to grow and forage their own food, and advocates for those who are under-represented in the world of horticulture and environmentalism.

“For me, gardening began as a self-care practice. It grounded me, and it also brought me a tangible connection to my food, where it comes from and just how much effort and resource goes into it. I garden based on permaculture, which, in a nutshell, is about living comfortably and sustainably on the planet, the three main tenets being ‘earth care, people care and fair share’. Permaculture gives guidance on how to bring that level of sustainability to all areas of life, mimicking nature to reduce waste and creating systems that tick over without lots of human input.”

GETTING STARTED WITH YOUR GARDEN

Watch and learn

First, just observe your space. How much sun do you get? Is it windy or wet? What’s your orientation? This will help you select your plants. If your plants will be in the shade, pop in shade friendlies like mint, lemon balm or chard. Full sun? Go for veg like tomatoes and courgettes.

Catch and store renewables

Consider having a water butt or creating a container pond – these are super-easy ways of gathering rainwater to use in your garden.

Maintain your soil

Another practice that can be brought into your garden is keeping the soil covered. Think of that woodland: the soil is always covered by either living plants or dead/dying ones. Mimicking this will conserve water, reduce weeding, protect your soil from the weather, preserve its structure and support the life within it. You can mulch (cover the soil) with manure, straw, homemade compost, garden clippings or even fabric or cardboard. Or grow a living mulch – try alpine strawberries, clover or salad leaves, which sprawl out over the soil.

Find a planter

Go as big as you can! A bigger planter means more space for roots and more water-storing capacity, which equals a happy, hydrated plant. You can use almost anything as a container, just make sure it has drainage holes. Guided by the principle of ‘produce no waste’, opt for second-hand containers: I’m a fan of old apple crates lined with coffee sacks, old bashed-up wash basins… old baths work wonderfully too.

Fill your container

In permaculture we try to mimic the local cycling of nutrients we see in nature, so make a compost heap or, in limited space, try a worm farm. The worms eat decaying organic matter (kitchen scraps and garden waste) and create worm castings. These are harvested every three months, and the womery naturally produces liquid plant feed every few days – both are like plant rocket fuel!

WHAT TO PLANT

Diversity is key

Having a range of crops maintains the overall health of the plants by keeping pests and disease at bay. A diverse diet is also one of the keys to human health! Many useful plants can be grown together in a small space, either as a cluster of pots or all in one. They can be arranged in layers, as companion plants or both.

Companion planting

This involves growing plants that get along well in close proximity. The plants develop mutually supportive relationships, such as increasing fruit yield by encouraging pollinators, deterring pests with their smell or even acting as a sacrificial crop! Try growing tomatoes with their companions (see box above).

Perennial herbs

You can also increase diversity with Mediterranean perennial herbs. They make beautiful, low-maintenance container plants, offering multiple yields. They are medicinal, tasty pollinator plants, and some – like rosemary, sage, lavender and thyme – are evergreen, so will give interest through winter. As well as cooking with them, I pick the leaves in the summer and dry them for winter teas – thyme, sage and rosemary with honey is super-cosy and calming. Thyme is high in a phenol called carvacrol, which has a positive effect on mood… everyone needs more thyme in their lives! (Pun intended.) 

Multi-layered planting

In nature we see plants occupying all spaces: shrubs grow below trees, vines climb up trees, groundcover occupies the soil surface. We also see diversity through time: one plant comes into leaf, blooms, fruits and dies back as another takes its place. In a multi-layered planter we try to replicate that. The groundcover level requires a crop that grows quickly before it’s shaded out by the canopy. Try mustard greens, loose-leaf lettuce and Asian salad seed mix. For the canopy layer, try peas, broad beans, mange tout and fava beans, which grow three- or four-foot tall.

What seeds can you start sowing now? Indoors: tomatoes, courgettes, squash and Outdoors: kale, summer beetroot, spinach

What should I plant with my tomatoes? The perfect planting partners for tomatoes are basil, borage, garlic and nasturtium.

TOP PRODUCT PICKS FOR GARDENING

It’s National Gardening Week (26th April to 2nd May) and we’re celebrating by choosing our best product picks for gardeners of every level. And don’t forget, you can find all these products and more on Ocado.com. Happy planting!

MicroGreens Basil, Coriander and Rocket Growing Kit, £4.99

The ultimate in small-space growing, this kit doesn’t even need soil. A reusable tray comes with three packets of seeds for year-round micro-leaves on your window sill.

Burgon & Ball RHS Hand Trowel, £9.99

Endorsed by the Royal Horticultural Society, this sturdy trowel is crafted from polished, rust-resistant stainless steel, so it’ll stay in tip-top condition for years to come.

Johnsons Seeds – Jekka’s Herbs – Coriander, £2.40

Used in cooking across the globe,a handful of coriander leaves can bring dishes to life. Never be without this hardy variety.

Burgon & Ball Indoor Watering Can Charcoal, £12.99

Sleek and stylish, with a slender spout for precision watering.

 Burgon & Ball Oak Leaf Gloves Moss, £14.99

Patterned ladies’ gardening gloves with a padded palm, adjustable wrist strap and leather trim. They’re machine washable, too.

Johnsons Seeds – Jekka’s Herbs – Basil Sweet, £2.40

Johnsons has teamed up with the UK’s go-to herb expert Jekka McVicar on a range of seeds, including this ever-popular basil variety – sow indoors now.

Mr Fothergill’s Seeds – Sunflower – Giant Single, £1.35

Quick and easy, they’re great for growing with the kids and are bee and insect friendly. When the blooms fade, leave the flower heads to feed birds in winter.

Gro-Sure All Purpose Plant Food 1.5L £4.99

Enriched with seaweed and packed with essential nutrients for healthy flower, leaf and root growth.

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