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Dublin: 5°C Friday 21 January 2022
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Opinion: The lazy guide to fair-weather gardening

Whether you’re a fair-weather gardener (or just a lazy one) there is a myriad of plants that can be viewed, sampled and enjoyed.

Fiann Ó Nualláin

ALL THIS GOOD weather lately has the nation flocking to garden centres and DIY stores for barbecues and lounger chairs, but wouldn’t it be great to have the garden looking well – particularly to have some culinary herbs to hand for the alfresco evening meal or some edible flowers for ice cubes and garnishes at your next dinner party?

So you like the idea but couldn’t really be bothered to put the effort in – well what effort? Gardening is easy. Lawn comes in rolls, paving comes in kit form, and all shrubs and trees need is a hole the same size as the pot they came in. The guy in the garden centre will even show you which ones you can’t kill.

Growing your own food is a big trend lately. Say you have toyed with the notion of getting some edibles on the go but feel you have left it too late – you’re only right bang in the middle of growing season – but it’s never too late to get some easy edibles started and even quickly harvested. While some need a bit of minding, I will select here some that even the laziest fair-weather gardener will get a harvest from with minimal effort.

Herbs

Mediterranean herbs – that’s everything on your spice rack – like it dry and baking hot so get a live pot from your supermarket if the garden centre is not on your route. Select easy-to-grow thyme, oregano, sage, garlic, mint, rosemary, but also consider basil, coriander, turmeric and the exotic spices (the recent good weather is great for these).

Fruit

The last Sunday of July is Domhnach na bhFraocháin, Fraughan Sunday, a day of foraging for bilberries. But you can get blueberries in containers, miniature apples – even in sizes to fruit on a balcony, strawberries (especially day neutral varieties) are a winner and all the cane fruits can go in now too – red and white and black currants, raspberries and gooseberries. Great for smoothies and juices and an antioxidant surge.

Veg

Lettuce can be problematic in heat, many varieties have poor germination when temperatures get to 20+ but if you have a shady corner then expect a nice sandwich in a few weeks. It’s OK to neglect scallions and onions a little, all they really need is a window box that catches rain.

Now is traditionally the time to sow beetroot (early and maincrop), carrots, chicory, fennel and Florence fennel, peas, spinach, beans and French beans – all of which are easy to grow in pots. If you have the ground they may produce more crops as their roots can find the water table beneath your soil, whereas pot plants rely on you.

If you already have some plants in, why not just turn some soil over beside them and plant a potager – a traditional French garden with a mix of cut flowers, pretty plants and edibles? It’s just for a season and next year you can plant rotations if the bug bites!

For now add any of the above and cabbages, black kale, purple sprouting broccoli and any Asian greens already in growing plant form in your local garden centre. Plus perennial veg that comes back every year; globe artichokes, oca, seakale, lovage, and asparagus or rhubarb if you can get a division from a gardening buddy – or better still from a plant swap via your local GIY group. You can always check out GIY International for all sorts of tips and tutorials on how to maximise your space and your yields.

Other options

Nasturtiums almost germinate the minute they leave the seed packet and their foliage is a peppery addition to salads with delicious flowers too. Pot marigolds can make a salad or cheesecake a little prettier (and deliver vitamin A and healthy phytonutrients).

Borage is a beautiful flower, cucumber-like in flavour and great to bejewel rice or couscous.

Camomile for the cup of calming tea, in case you’re starting to think this might be work. All mentioned are not tricky at all. Plant in, water when dry, harvest when hungry.

Seasons

Growing now will have you eating in season and that is the best health change you can make in your life – whether you want to shed a few pounds before your holidays, beat cancer or just perk up your energy levels.

We have evolved to select what edible plants are good for us and plants have evolved to boost their goodness so we keep dispersing their seed. We have had, throughout human history, a symbiotic nature with our food – a healthy relationship – that almost got lost with the invention of canning and refrigeration but which is coming back to a window box or backyard near you.

Tomatoes are about now because they help us produce melanin in our skin which protects us from the sun. Broccoli and kales are around in winter when we need a vitamin K boost against low light levels and moody evenings. Higher quercetin levels in seasonal apples lowers our stress levels and seasonal strawberries can pep up your libido. To find out more about seasonal foods I recommend Best In Season.

So enjoy the fair weather and whether you are a fair-weather gardener or just a lazy one there is a myriad of plants that can be viewed, sampled and enjoyed from that lounger, not to mention delicious on the barbecue.

Fiann Ó Nualláin is an advocate of gardening for health with a background in horticulture, nutrition, naturopathy and ethnobotany. His new book, The Holistic Gardener, published by Mercier Press, is available to buy now. 

Opinion: Want to grow your own food, but don’t have outside space?

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Fiann Ó Nualláin

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