Lockdown gardening – scorched earth to Eden

My gardening days have improved since proclaiming myself as a Clueless Gardener two years ago. Since then, I have managed to grow enough greens and cherry tomatoes to modestly feed my family through a couple of seasons with few problems and relatively little effort. My dreams were small – just to pick a few leaves for a humble daily salad – and so were pretty easy to make a reality. This summer I even managed to grow a monster of a courgette plant, which is still plunging out bold yellow fruit that I greedily pick to stir-fry with garlic and olive oil and top with homemade hummus. I don’t share them with anyone and I feel no remorse about my avarice.

Though that plant was a triumph and I was so proud of the hundreds of cherubic miniature tomatoes that grew in crimson, tangerine and lemony hues, the victories of this year’s garden were severely hampered by the lack of rain. My city of Auckland is on track for a 1-in-1000 year drought. Being on an island without reticulated water, we rely completely on rain. For gardeners this spells trouble, or dead plants. Unless you’re super-organised with two large water tanks that are filled during winter, or are willing to pay hundreds of dollars per water delivery every month or so, you’re left with few options to keep your garden alive.

Though I ambitiously planted for a bumper crop, the ‘big dry’ meant I had to sacrifice anything that took much water, which turned out to be everything except for the tomatoes, lettuce and courgettes. I didn’t hold out much hope for the tomatoes but they survived purely off grey water captured in tubs beneath our shower and kitchen taps. These poor plants, which had been blasted day after day in the brilliant sunshine of a long, hot summer, managed to thrive. Why? How? I’ll never understand nature.

From scorched earth to lockdown desert
Autumn showers and winter downpours I knew would once again fill my tank and turn my cracked, barren patch of dirt into a green grove.

Barren and bare.
Nothing growing on here.









Totally useless faith though, when you have nothing to plant. In the madness leading to lockdown because of Covid-19, every single seed or seedling for sale on the island was snaffled by people panicking that they mightn’t have any food in the mysterious apocalyptic days ahead. I would just have to flag the garden this year – I was powerless over this, like so much else in these strange times.

My acceptance at buying expensive and floppy spinach in plastic bags from the supermarket was interrupted when I was offered a few seedlings from a green-fingered friend, then some snow peas and parsley from another. I found a small gardening supply company online that had a few seeds left for sale.

Clare Mummery from Grow Inspired, to the rescue of the Clueless Gardener.

Still quite clueless
Then, my gardening guru Claire Mummery from Grow Inspired reappeared.

She could get me some of what I wanted but I had to wait. She would be in touch. It felt like being part of a drug deal, securing seedlings. It was all very stealth and like a big secret, even though food and gardening supplies were classified as an essential service. Two weeks later after emailing to and fro, I had a pile of the little darlings: bamboo spinach, mustard greens and a host of other things that I couldn’t identify.

Exciting though it was, I was mortified that I couldn’t decipher what the hell I had, let alone where I was supposed to plant it. After a video chat with another gardening friend (who graciously didn’t laugh too hard at my ineptitude) I figured out what seedlings were what and planted them. It was so lovely to see some green again against the bare dirt of my garden beds.

By this time the seeds I ordered online had arrived in the post. A big day was spent creating makeshift seedling mix out of the compost pile and some old dirt. A week on and they’re actually growing. They’re like my babies. I get a kick  out of seeing them push through the dirt like proud wee green soldiers. I carry them inside to keep them warm during the cooler nights we’re having and cart them out again to bask in the warm autumn sunshiny days.

Now my garden is full and there’s an army of seedlings – coriander, spinach, spring onions and beetroot – bustling with growth and jostling to be next in line for planting in the big garden.

I even have water to spare, thanks to a few April showers and a water delivery.

It’s time to sit back and watch the garden grow as much as it can during the dwindling warm days heading into winter. And to be grateful for gardening friends, gurus and generosity which turned my scorched earth into a lush eden.



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