sundaylife

| 16.8°C Belfast

My garden is a space where I can go and be calm... I get stuck in and forget there's a crisis going on outside

Green fingers movement a boost for your health and wellbeing alike

Six weeks into the Covid-19 lockdown and families have started digging for victory by growing their own food.

Gardens, allotments and even window boxes across Northern Ireland are being newly cultivated as people look for ways to entertain themselves, get fresh air and provide for their families.

Gardening has long been credited with boosting wellbeing. As well as providing gentle physical exercise outdoors, studies suggest it can lower stress and anxiety, and boost mental health.

Close

Bill Love from North Belfast of Stupid Priced Plants talks about the joys of gardening during the COVID crisis.  Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

Bill Love from North Belfast of Stupid Priced Plants talks about the joys of gardening during the COVID crisis. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

Bill Love from North Belfast of Stupid Priced Plants talks about the joys of gardening during the COVID crisis. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

Bill Love, from north Belfast, took up gardening six years ago after turning 40 and deciding he wanted a new hobby. Now he grows a huge variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers in his garden and does video tutorials on Facebook to help other gardeners.

He and his son, Bill Jnr, (19) also run Stupid Priced Plants - taking deliveries from plant wholesalers and delivering them all over the east of the province.

"It's the advice I give that makes Stupid Priced Plants unique," he says. "I show people how to look after their plants and what they should be doing. I'm always answering questions or messages - it's a real labour of love. I think anyone can learn to garden but it takes a few of years of trial and error; it's a learning curve and I'm there to help people.

"In an average month we do about 250 deliveries, but since lockdown that's gone up to around 700. I like to say we're delivering happiness. So many people are out there getting to know their gardens, which is lovely."

Bill's own garden makes use of every corner, with raised beds, pots, frames and even a "medicine garden" with herbs beneficial for his blood pressure. He says working outdoors has been invaluable during the pandemic.

"My back garden is my space where I can go and be calm," he says. "I get stuck in and forget there's a crisis going on outside the garden.

"Four months ago we went into 2020 and it felt very futuristic, but now it feels like we've gone back in time. People first turned to allotments during the world wars when we were urged to dig for victory.

"Gardening is fantastic for your wellbeing. I never put gloves on, I like to feel the soil. There's research suggesting that there are chemicals in soil that can act as antidepressants. Gardening is also a hobby that involves all the senses."

Close

Alexandra Godfrey with her sons Nevin Godfrey (9) and Oliver Adams (2) from south Belfast talks about the joys of gardening during the COVID crisis.  Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

Alexandra Godfrey with her sons Nevin Godfrey (9) and Oliver Adams (2) from south Belfast talks about the joys of gardening during the COVID crisis. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

Alexandra Godfrey with her sons Nevin Godfrey (9) and Oliver Adams (2) from south Belfast talks about the joys of gardening during the COVID crisis. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

Mum-of-two Alexandra Godfrey (30) transformed her entire Shaw's Bridge garden in just a week when lockdown started, building frames and raised beds to feed her family and keep her sons, Nevin (9) and Oliver (2), entertained.

"My grandparents used to live in this house and my grandda Joe Adams was really green-fingered," she explains. "We moved in in August and it's the first time I've had a green space. It was completely overgrown so I was starting from scratch.

"We ordered plants, compost and manure, and my dad dropped round some timber. I literally spent a week digging and building the beds and frames.

"Our neighbours have loved watching it take shape over the fence. I'm hoping I've inherited my granda's green fingers because I'm just teaching myself as I go along.

"Nevin helped me dig the beds and Oliver has been loving it. He's had his hands in the manure and he loved stamping down the layers of compost and soil. He did stamp on a couple of lettuces, too."

The therapeutic benefits of gardening are often harnessed by schools and day centres. Now home-schooling parents are also finding it useful.

"Having a reason to be outside, and take the kids outside, has been great," she says. "It's an anxious time; it's very hard to explain the pandemic to children - why they can't go to school or see their friends.

"We've been spending time outdoors even on colder days, just wrapping up in coats. I often find myself popping out to look at my vegetables and check on their progress. It's really soothing."

Close

Anna Marie Rafferty from Forkhill talks about the joys of gardening during the COVID crisis.  Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

Anna Marie Rafferty from Forkhill talks about the joys of gardening during the COVID crisis. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

Anna Marie Rafferty from Forkhill talks about the joys of gardening during the COVID crisis. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

Another gardener who says she's reaped the health benefits of cultivating her plot is Anna Marie Rafferty, from Forkhill.

The 53-year-old's garden was overgrown and unloved when she moved into her house four years ago. Now she has beds growing a range of fruit and vegetables, including turnips, broccoli, leeks, potatoes, gooseberries, spring onions and raspberries. She also has a flower bed to keep her home supplied with fresh blooms.

"I've grown everything from seed," she explains. "I did it on a budget - my raised beds were just made with wooden borders from Home Bargains. I just pot luck and got stuck in.

"It's such a wonderful feeling when you see the green shoots. I'll never forget my first strawberry last year - I was so excited."

Anna Marie says she went through a period of depression due to personal circumstances and found gardening really cathartic. She's now thankful for the opportunity to get out and grow during lockdown.

"There's something about being out in the garden that grounds you," she explains. "It's the feel of the soil between your fingers. When you're angry or emotional, you can literally dig through all your hurt.

"You might start by just going for a potter and pulling a few weeds. Then before you know it you're totally absorbed. I like to listen to the birds and leave my phone in the house; I let myself switch off and get away from everything.

"I'd advise anyone struggling with lockdown to just get some grow bags, start off with something simple, and get growing."

Veg growers in rush to fill lockdown larders

Close

William and Leanne Donnan have been running their Flavour First veg box delivery service from their farm in Donaghadee for 12 years. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

William and Leanne Donnan have been running their Flavour First veg box delivery service from their farm in Donaghadee for 12 years. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

William and Leanne Donnan have been running their Flavour First veg box delivery service from their farm in Donaghadee for 12 years. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

NORTHERN Ireland's commercial produce growers are also working hard to keep larders stocked during the pandemic.

William and Leanne Donnan have been running their Flavour First veg box delivery service from their farm in Donaghadee for 12 years. Much of their produce is grown in their own fields and polytunnels, but they also collaborate with a network of other growers across the province, and further afield, to keep their boxes interesting.

William says that within days of the lockdown being announced they saw visits to their website soar.

"We have about 400 regular customers who get deliveries from us every fortnight," he explained. "We had such a massive increase in inquiries after lockdown that we've actually had to suspend new registrations for now so that we can carry on feeding our existing customers."

Close

William and Leanne Donnan have been running their Flavour First veg box delivery service from their farm in Donaghadee for 12 years. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

William and Leanne Donnan have been running their Flavour First veg box delivery service from their farm in Donaghadee for 12 years. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

William and Leanne Donnan have been running their Flavour First veg box delivery service from their farm in Donaghadee for 12 years. Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life 21-04-2020

The pandemic has come at a bad time for growers as it coincides with what's known as The Hungry Gap - a time of year when winter crops are coming to an end but spring crops aren't ready for harvesting.

"We've streamlined our service, so instead of offering a variety of different boxes, we're just sending out one selection that we can pack quickly," said William. "We've also modified this year's crop plan and sewn lots of quick-cropping leafy greens - things that will mature so we can get them out to people quickly.

"We're very aware that some of our customers are self-isolating and depending on us."

William's tip for home gardeners looking to grow their own vegetables is to choose quick-growing greens that can be harvested quickly.

"Things like radishes, baby lettuces and pea shoots are great, especially if you're gardening with kids," he says.

Belfast Telegraph