Millennial? You’ve probably gotten into all things botanical. 88% more likely to keep plants in their bedrooms than people age 65 or over (according to research published this year), hashtagging snaps of succulents with #PlantsOfInstagram in their thousands and using air purifying plants to cleanse their urban flats of pollutants, this is the green-fingered generation.
And, while flowers, herbs and plants work as an instant interior design boost, tending to a jungle of them outside of your four walls expands their benefits, as you can provide food and shelter to visiting animals. “There was a style of gardening in the nineties and early noughties when everyone wanted a perfect garden,” says Hollie Newton, author of How To Grow: A Guide For Gardeners Who Can’t Garden Yet” (Orion, RRP £20).
“And not only was it time ineffective, it was also bad for nature.” This is because strict rows of uniform peonies are not biodiverse - i.e. there’s not an abundance of different types of plant growing together. A medley of wild flowers, ferns and weeds, however, means loads of benefits for birds and pollinators. “If you want to have welcoming area for wildlife, from butterflies to frogs and centipedes, really what you’re looking for is a slightly disheveled look and you’ll have a thriving habitat for them,” says Hollie.
This isn’t just some romantic, Disney-fied ambition to be a friend to hedgehogs and hydrangeas. “When you look at how numbers of butterflies, bees and other insects are falling dramatically, around the world, it’s easy to think you can’t help,” says Hollie. (A 2017 study indicated that there has been a 75% decrease in flying insects in protected areas). “But it’s amazing how much your own, personal eco system can boost those numbers. Plant a lavender bed and you’ll be amazed at how many bees and butterflies you support.”
Where to start?
Even if all you’ve got is a little square of space, you can grow stuff in containers with soil. Hollie recommends getting a wild flower seed mix from a plant shop, or planting a little crab apple tree. “Native ornamental grasses are having a moment, and combined with a range of perennials and evergreens, can create a great variety of heights and coverage,” Hollie says. Ideal for insects to hang out in.
What suits our climate?
There’s no hard and fast rule, as some areas of the country are warmer than others, and your garden may be filled with light, or shady. But Hollie says that climbing ivy will stand up to a lack of rays, as will tree ferns, although those are “an investment,” - circa £150. Alpine strawberries are good for covering a lot of ground which is helpful to insects, and obviously produce fruit for little creatures to enjoy. Fruit bushes grow well in this country, “and, as well as you loving the blackberries and gooseberries they produce, they’ll feed birds for ages,” says Hollie. The main thing is to plant and grow a big criss cross of various plants and flowers, and largely leave them to do their thing, grow to varying heights and mix in with one another, rather than trying to keep it all neat.
How to divvy it up?
If you are lucky enough to have a proper sized garden, you can create zones that serve different purposes. “I think it’s the perfect modern garden to have an area of lawn, an area that’s about more intensive cultivation and a biodiverse area with wild planting, which can look after itself and that you deliberately let go wild,” Hollie advises.
As well as helping out wildlife and creating a garden that requires minimal time spent pruning and weeding, you’ll also get meditative benefits that come from tending to greenery. “I started gardening when I was doing an 80 hour a week monster job in London,” Hollie says. “Coming home to a little bit of nature, picking strawberries and having a drink outside: you lose yourself for a bit. It’s really healthy.”
And really, some extra ways to de-stress are exactly what most of us need.