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2020 – The Year of the Spade

Her Majesty conjured up a very poetic and profound description of what a shabby year that she and the rest of her family were enduring back in 1992. It’s such a shame that she is now going to have to think of something very special to top ‘Annus Horriblis’ for this year’s Christmas Day speech! No one (apart from our ancestors) could have guessed the impact that a virus born in a Chinese street market was going to have on us all. Our livelihoods, mental health, hairstyles, families and even our language has been impacted as we battle to come to terms with what is commonly referred to as the ‘new normal’. However out of despair comes hope, and this particular annus has been soothed to a large extent by our common passion for gardening – and in particular, our excitement around ‘grow your own’. Not since the Dig for Victory campaign of WW2 has the nation wielded so many spades and completely immersed itself inn the universal panacea – Gardening!

At the start of the pandemic with toilet roll wars breaking out in Poundland, homeowners turned their hoarding instincts to garden products and with garden centres forced to close their gates, the online gardening world exploded. The big online retailers of seeds and plants were forced to ration customers in order to satisfy the insatiable demand from home gardeners – forcing a re-think for any business involved in gardening. Lets hope that this doesn’t spell the end of the garden centre as we know and love it, as I for one would be devastated. The personalities, the ever-changing and ever more enticing displays, and the unique smells and ambience of these places make them one of the most evocative ‘British’ institutions – after the pub of course. Please support both these fine institutions!

A lot of focus has rightly been put on the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of people of all ages, and the restorative effects of gardens and gardening. On a personal level I know for certain that gardening has kept me on the straight and narrow over the years – particularly those particularly dark times when I returned from conflicts during my time in the military. Without the release valve of a garden to re-focus my mind I’m pretty sure I would have been yet another PTSD statistic – so I completely understand how our gardens have been so crucial during the various lockdowns. I was lucky enough to be allocated a local allotment at the start of the first lockdown which has proved to be a complete lifeline to everyone in my family. It became a complete obsession and was the focus of our physical and mental exertions for what was a very strange but horticulturally fruitful spring. My boys became familiar with just about every gardening tool in my arsenal and Helen, my partner and ardent vegetarian, grew so many courgettes that we have now slightly gone off them!

There’s no avoiding the ‘C’ word I’m afraid and for anyone who isn’t already buying a new puppy (please don’t call it Furlough!) then can I suggest you invest in something garden related for your loved ones? It’s a perfect time of year to be planting something new and interesting – how about some rare and interesting fruit trees? There are some great heritage varieties of apples, pears, plums and my personal favourite, the Quince. Have a look online and there are lots of specialist nurseries who will help you in your search – but if you want something that is really quirky and incredibly useful then can I suggest a Wormery? Far easier to keep than chickens, a little ‘factory’ of worms will eat and digest all your household waste and leave you with some first class compost and liquid manure. You can buy complete kits with ‘special’ worms – but if you’ve got a fisherman in the family you might need to get two to keep them happy with bait!

Obviously if you haven’t already got one then now is the time to get yourself a spade so you can join in the gardening revolution. It will also mean that once you’ve listened to the Queen try and upstage her famous ‘Annus Horriblis’ phrase with an even better one you can get outside and burn off some festive calories with the rest of your bubble!

Merry Christmas everyone!

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