Gardening – taking stock

Well, here we are. COVID has become a word, and I’ve made my second appearance on the web. Like most small gardening operations, we’ve not found it easy; one week we were in Spain, worried that we wouldn’t get out, and the next receiving our order of summer bedding plants in the dark from a large lorry that blocked up the entire road. Then came the hard decision to cancel the Ely Open gardens.  We looked sadly at the garden, knowing that we could only share it virtually this year. So can you actually. If you go to  you’ll find pictures of all of our gardens, as well as pages with ideas for helping pass the days of lockdown. You also get the opportunity to donate to the NGS…

Speaking of which, so what do you do in lockdown? If you’ve a garden, there’s always something to do. But, now you also have the time to sit and enjoy your patch. If you’ve no garden, and you’re able, go for a walk. Enjoy what Nature has to offer. Wild flowers are out now. Take photos of them if you don’t know them, and enjoy finding out which of our garden flowers have them in their ancestry. And if you can’t get out and have no garden? If you’re able, buy a bunch of flowers, some coloured pencils or paints and some cartridge paper. Have a go at close observational drawing. You might find it compulsive… there are a few other ideas on the website, if you’re interested.

For most of us though, we’re beginning to emerge from lockdown. Garden centres and nurseries have begun to reopen, and we can go buy plants. Don’t forget the people who sold you plants from the gate though. You can’t get more carbon friendly than that, and you’ll probably pick up a bargain. Get to know what people grow, and ask their advice about the plants that they sell. I always reckon that the mark of a good nursery is one where the staff can speak with authority about their plants, or call somebody over if they can’t.

Now would be a good time to take stock of what’s happening in your garden. Look at any flowerbeds that you’ve got? Do they look tired? Plants too crowded? Get brave, and have a mid summer sort out. It’s not time to divide or move plants, but you may want to get rid of plants that aren’t performing, and generally create space for those that are.

There won’t be any plant shows to go to for the foreseeable future, so go online. Type the name of the plant that you’d like to buy, and see what comes up. Google is a wonderful thing . Don’t be overwhelmed. Use phrases like ‘plant sales near me’. Most computers will come up with something. There are many nurseries that do mail order now. Look for ones that offer advice, good pictures, and a chance to ask questions. Go on, treat yourself to that exotic plant that you’ve always wanted. If you do go to our website, you’ll see a picture of the current Mrs. Ellis and I stood in front of a Strelitzia (What? Goooogle!) (photo at top of article). Ours came from a show and took about five years to flower. You might not want to go that extreme, but there are plenty of exotic looking plants that grow successfully in our neck of the woods. Shouldn’t try coconuts though. Wouldn’t fit in the greenhouse in winter. Musa Basjoo would though. The so called hardy banana (it’s the largest perennial plant, and dies back in winter) will put up with winter in the greenhouse. We’ve successfully grown ginger in the garden, and over wintered two types: Hedychium gardnerianum, and Assam Orange. Don’t be put off by the names. If you go exotic, so do they! The first one has the most fragrant yellow flowers. The second, featured by by Monty Don no less, has striking orange flowers, also fragrant. We saw them both growing in a garden in Cornwall, and thought we’d have a go in Ely. They have survived several winters outside. The secret is to make sure that they have plenty of drainage, and mulch them well for winter protection. Might be a good idea to dig some up and overwinter in a frost free place. Like a lot of plants, they lose their top in winter and regrow. What else could you try? Well, citrus fruit, tree ferns… They’re all out there, most can be persuaded to grow in pots (Our citrus and tree ferns are) and can be helped through winter with a bit of ingenuity. Many are suitable for balconies and small places, so there’s no excuse.

So, get out there. Find something interesting and challenging. Order it, and amuse yourself by investigating what you need to do to make it survive. Then, plant it and enjoy!

Ken Ellis