Gardening made easy

Easy Gardening day at Sheffield Botanical Gardens: Peter Kohn talking about seedling compost to Frances Soar
Easy Gardening day at Sheffield Botanical Gardens: Peter Kohn talking about seedling compost to Frances Soar

AS the nation’s new generation of gardeners watch their banned hose pipe float away and wonder whether their summer garden is likely to be a desert or a swamp, it’s perhaps a good time for the city’s botanical experts to lend a hand.

“We wanted to try out an ‘easy gardening’ day to encourage people to do a bit of gardening, or do a bit more, and to help them learn a few techniques,” said Jane Quibell, chairman of the Friends of the Botanical Gardens, Sheffield.

Easy Gardening day at Sheffield Botanical Gardens: Liz Godfrey showing Odette Martins how to put  a hole in a can or wellington to use as a planter

Easy Gardening day at Sheffield Botanical Gardens: Liz Godfrey showing Odette Martins how to put a hole in a can or wellington to use as a planter

“Children are often being taught about gardening at school now, but there’s still a bit of a generation gap, with younger adults who don’t know much about gardening at all and older ones who do, who are often very happy to pass on their knowledge.”

And that’s where volunteers and keen amateurs like the members of FOBS come in.

The trial Easy Gardening day at the gardens had the theme of ‘cheap and easy’, with demonstrations and advice including sowing seeds, taking cuttings, sharpening tools, weed identification, green roofs and making free containers out of house bricks, tin cans and old wellingtons.

“A lot of people are armchair gardeners or have little time and people from garden centres tell us that a lot of customers come one weekend, buy everything and think that’s it for the year and next week they’ll go to Meadowhall.”

That’s not how FOBS members do things but Jane understands how hard it can be for younger people to find time to devote to their gardens. Talking to a friendly veteran, like a FOBS member, can help.

Saturday was also a prelude to the famous FOBS spring plant sale this Sunday, where members will bring in their lovingly-tended plants for sale to the public: high quality at slightly cheaper than normal prices, Jane said.

The £3,000 or so FOBS hope to raise will go towards ‘added value’ planting and other causes, including the increasingly urgent replacement of the ‘new demonstration centre’ which is around 25 years old, but will probably need rebuilding in the next five years.

The Easy Gardening day was declared a success, with 50 to 60 visitors, and FOBS will be holding more.

“People like to come to an event like this, because they can see how to do things and ask questions,” said Jane, adding that she is often frustrated by TV gardening programme presenters who often appear to have little regard to tight budgets or offer advice that may well not apply north of the home counties.

Her own advice to novices in the current financial and meteorological climate is to plant what you like, but maybe take advice from Sheffield’s many keen amateurs first before sweeping round the garden centre. It may also be wise to keep young plants inside if possible until the weather improves.

Botanical Gardens curator Ian Turner has worked in Kew, Devon and Hampshire in the past, but said he can’t think of any other city where you can stand and see green spaces from virtually everywhere, and he believes that the Botanical Gardens will continue to thrive, despite the financial climate.

“The Botanical Gardens are within walking distance from both the city centre and the Peak District, they’re of regional and national importance and with the team and support we have I think we’ll be able to keep the standards up,” he said. “But the more people who come and visit, the better it is for everyone.”

His own view of the weather situation is relaxed. “There is no such thing as an average year in Britain,” he said, as the clouds gathered. “If you don’t have challenges in gardening, you don’t learn.”