Guest Post: A New Found Love of Gardening During Lockdown

image0Many of you either know or will remember reading posts from our second daughter Millie in the past. During lockdown she’s kept herself really busy and I am proud of how she has spent so many hours with no work and no friends to visit. Not for her the binge watching of Netflix, instead she went back to basics and started gardening. I asked her to write this guest post as I find it fascinating hearing about how she started everything on her own. She has just turned 20 and is taking a couple of years out from Uni, to really discover what she wants to do. I admire her for that. At the beginning of the year she was in Vietnam, a huge adventure, this trip was cut short by corona virus fears. At the beginning of march she went back to the little Island of Alderney, very much my husband’s home. Within days of her returning everything changed, everything shut down. This is her lockdown story.

Hi everyone! Long time no see! (I seem to be saying that to everyone constantly now that lockdown is finally being lifted here after eight weeks…) It’s Millie here, I don’t think you’ve heard from me in a couple of years but hopefully a few people remember me. During lockdown I’ve been on a very interesting, very surprising, and pretty extraordinary gardening and growing journey that I thought I would share with everybody. 

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I’m in the Channel Islands on a little island called Alderney at the moment, where I’ve been living and working for the past year in a restaurant/bar (well, not living inside the bar!). With a population of around 2000 people and a size of approximately 3 x 1.5 miles, lockdown here has been interesting to say the least! 

At first there was a lot of fear about what would happen if Covid reached the island, as a vast percentage of the island is elderly and vulnerable. The tiny hospital isn’t equipped to handle seriously ill people, and transport to the larger island of Guernsey for ill patients is complicated.

We went into lockdown on the 21st of March, over two months ago. Since then, like most people, I haven’t been able to work. 

Thanks to the lockdown, the luxurious and beautiful house of my absent boss, where I was meant to be living for only a month or so before moving into more permanent accommodation, has been my home for over three months! My two house mates (colleagues) and I certainly have been at least comfortable during lockdown. 

The house also has a really beautiful garden: old stone walls, a small courtyard with raised beds, herbaceous borders around the lawn, several fruit trees, and a large greenhouse! 

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I’ve always been quite interested in gardening and nature in general, and every summer I’ve had a little plot in the garden at home where I’ve grown “experimental” things like strange melons and weird varieties of peppers, always with varying degrees of success. However despite having watched my mum garden amazingly for years, I haven’t actually done much of it myself. Until now! 

The owner of the house, accurately predicting that they wouldn’t be able to travel back for several months, asked if we would be able to plant some veg in the garden and keep it tidy for their return. 

I thought it sounded really fun, and since then it has totally taken off! 

I started off by planting some seeds in trays in the greenhouse, with little idea what I was doing. These included some courgette seeds, a tray of sage, some ox eye daisies and some geraniums. Certainly a strange mix! I also sowed tomato and basil seeds on one side of the greenhouse directly into the soil, and two different lettuce varieties as well as some spicy peppers (a request from my boss). 

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Outside in empty raised beds I started some radishes (having read that they happily tolerate cool spring nights). 

And then I waited. And I watered. Every single night, actually, even when it was cloudy, cold and raining outside. This was mimicking the watering I’d seen at home in summer: where, of course, the vegetables dry out quickly under baking French sun and need water constantly. 

Safe to say, the seeds took a very long time to germinate (over a month for some), and half of them never sprouted at all! I drowned them before they could even break the surface of the soil… 

In the meantime however, the radishes popped up with astonishing speed and quickly started growing and turning red. I ordered several different baby plants from a shop on the island as well as keeping an eye out for anyone selling baby plants on Facebook. This is how I came to acquire four sweet pea plants and build a permanent frame for them against the side of the greenhouse! And then another frame! And then a frame for the beans I had decided to plant in one of the beds. 

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I also decided to sow carrots outside, and acquired several different flower varieties to plant in the empty tubs around the garden. These, I am happy to say, have all flourished. The sweet peas all also recently have started flowering, and there are four different colours so far! They have almost reached the top of the frame that once seemed so big, time for some pruning I think.

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Four strawberry plants I bought and planted, expecting them to grow sadly, have also taken off in their new home, and there are now many baby strawberries forming! In the tub with them are two wild strawberry plants I unearthed when I was clearing weeds out of the tub. After being cut back and rid of their dead leaves, as well as finally having unblocked access to sunlight, they’ve grown massively and have loads of flowers.

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I’m finding it incredibly rewarding to watch plants grow from nothing, or to give them the right care and see them shoot upwards. 

Some tomato plants I bought and planted in the greenhouse in the meantime have also grown at an exponential rate, and there are now lots of tomatoes forming. I find the tomatoes really easy to care for with a bit of knowledge, and there are now three different varieties in the ground! 

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I also started finding baby tomato seedlings EVERYWHERE where they seem to have been grown last year — even in the compost heap. I ended up deciding to plant about twenty of these 1-inch-tall seedlings, not expecting them to survive having their tiny baby roots ripped out and then replanted in pots. 

I underestimated them and ended up with twenty extra tomato plants! As it turns out, they are hard to kill. Now all of my friends have (somewhat reluctantly) consented to taking tomato plants into their care, with no idea of what variety most of them even are! Mystery tomatoes!

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Volunteering during lockdown at the garden centre/little salad farm has proved to be incredibly fun and very educational as well, from how best to germinate seeds to how to efficiently and quickly get rid of the largest weeds. I’m now also working a couple of paid shifts there every week (definitely welcome given the lack of work) helping to pick and prepare organic salad for sale. (These pictures are actually of my own salad, not theirs!)

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Another little area I’ve enjoyed learning a bit about has been how to propagate cuttings. This started out when I tried to find some lavender plants to replace dead ones in the garden, only to find out that there are none here and none will be delivered for several months. Undeterred, I read a couple of articles about how to grow lavender from cuttings on the internet and decided to give it a go, using stems from the only still living lavender plant in the garden. Only two of the seven have failed to grow, and the rest have not only grown but started to develop flowers!

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When I saw that the lavender was going to be a success I decided to try propagating more cuttings, this time from a type of succulent known locally as Dead Man’s Fingers (Mesembryanthemum) that are found all over the beaches here. This was successful, and one of the plants recently flowered!

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Of the many different seeds I’ve now grown and everything I’ve learnt, I would say that my favourite part of it has definitely been getting to eat what I’ve grown and give away extra baby plants to people, there’s something so satisfying about growing something tiny into something big and seeing it keep growing!

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Amongst the things now yielding food from the garden we’ve so far had radishes, baby carrots, the two different types of lettuce, the parsley I sowed, mint from wild mint that I replanted that has exploded in growth (great in some lockdown mojitos!).

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The poor courgettes I planted as the first seeds have all been planted out several weeks ago, where they’re been recovering from the traumatic experience I put them through. Now that I know how to give them the right care they’ve all taken off and are starting to form tiny flowers.

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We’ve also got cucumbers, melons and two “mystery” gourd-type plants (they look like squash, I really hope they are squash!), as well as sage, oregano that I transplanted from another garden, coriander and chives, and the basil that is finally sprouting!

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Now that I’m about to be moving again I’ve grown lots of “extra plants” and put them in pots instead of the ground, so that as well as leaving a growing and varied garden here for when the owners come back next week, I can also take a small garden with me and carry on growing. 

I’m really fascinated by everything I’m growing, I can’t seem to stop buying plants and sowing seeds even though I ran out of space ages ago! 

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It’s a new interest, but I can already tell that it’s going to be a lifelong one. My plan over the summer, despite all of the uncertainty that we’re going through at the moment, is to carry on growing and see where this love takes me! 

That’s all I have to say for now, but I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading a little bit about my new obsession and are all safe and healthy. 

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75 thoughts on “Guest Post: A New Found Love of Gardening During Lockdown

    • Well done Millie!
      Having seen your veggie patch at home in France……I can see where you’ve inherit this talent from!
      Your enthusiasm is infectious, keep it up. X

      • Haha yes I’ve definitely got a high standard to meet having seen the garden at home! Hopefully I’m doing good job representing Hays gardening haha x hope you guys are well! X

    • I think I’m very lucky to have had this to do, lockdown has definitely had its ups and downs but I’ve seen so much more of spring and nature than I usually would thanks to it! X

  • Well done, Millie! At least you were locked down in a lovely place. You either inherited those gardening genes or just being around your mom rubbed off. Would you share a bit more detail about propagating the lavender from a cutting? I’d like to give that a try. We’ve moved to Arizona in the southwest US and are now in a desert climate. That makes growing things much more of a challenge, especially since “spring” can be quite hot. I think many things that would be planted in spring back in the Midwest should now be planted in the fall here. I’m learning. 🙂

    All the best,

    janet

    • Hi there! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, I think the gardening comes from watching my mum garden my whole childhood and some of it sticking in my brain! I was surprised by how much I had learnt/remembered subconsciously. The lavender cuttings are a bit tricky as they are quite temperature sensitive, as you are going into a desert summer I think it may now be too hot! Here is the most helpful article I found about cuttings: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/lavender/rooting-lavender-cuttings.htm

      Good luck! X

      • Thanks, Millie. I think you may be right and I’ll have to control the desire to plant until September. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading and asking people about the best practices.

  • Millie, thanks so much for sharing. I had forgotten the joy of gardening from years past but with us all sitting tight, it has been my salvation these last 10 weeks. My hope is to keep it looking as good as it is now.

    • Yes I think I might have lost my mind if not for spending time in the garden and getting outdoors! So glad that you liked my post 😄

  • Millie how wonderful! Congratulations on your amazing achievements over the past few months. It was a delight to read your post. I look forward to more.

    • Thank you so much! In the grand scheme of things it’s not much and obviously it has not helped the community at large during the pandemic but it helped keep me sane and I’m absolutely loving it! Hopefully I write some more posts in the future 😉

  • I did enjoy that, Millie. Thanks. I am no gardener but, like you, have really enjoyed getting to learn and do more in the garden during this period. So much seems to depend on the individual circumstances – soil, sun, season, amount of water…our courgettes did not get a huge amount of water but failed miserably for instance. All the very best.

    • Yes, and some plants seem very fussy even if you are doing everything perfectly by the book! Even since this post the courgettes have continued to shoot up and outwards though, so I think in these circumstances that they just germinated in very cold weather and then nearly drowned… oops! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  • Millie, this was a delightful post; thank you! I’m interested in how things progress, how the lavender project turns out, and what variety the tomato volunteers turn out to be. This year we have two such volunteers, and I have no idea what kind of tomatoes they are. We also have several volunteer lettuce plants from last year’s. The best of luck to you!

    • Hi, thanks so much for reading! I planted the lavender ages ago and it’s still growing so it looks like it’s turned out well! Not sure about the mystery tomatoes, most likely cherries or something similar? To be decided!

  • Thank you for your interesting post. You have been very busy….isn’t it wonderful to watch a tiny seed become a thriving plant! Hope you stay safe during these crazy times, and also hope you write a post from time to time. Very enjoyable reading!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yes I’ve certainly been keeping busy, thankfully. It is honestly the most satisfying thing to watch them grow! I’m going to try and continue posting from time to time, stay tuned! 🙂

  • Wow, what a place to land for lockdown! You really ran with it, too. Your boss will be darn lucky to have all those vegetables. I hope your new place has space for you to carry on successfully with gardening. It seems you discovered its joys. May they enliven your days in times to come!

    • Definitely got lucky with the house! Haha hopefully they’re happy with it, they’ve timed their return very well as everything is starting to produce fruit bit by bit! Yes I will have a garden where I’m going thankfully, a bit smaller but I definitely want to keep growing 🙂 I’ll be back at work too so smaller is certainly better time-wise! Thank you for reading and I’ll try to keep everyone updated on the growing 🙂

  • Thank you Millie!! Your blog was certainly interesting! Looks like you made lemonade from a lemon! Sounds like you have grown just about everything. Loved your pictures. The area you were in looked so interesting too. Take care & let us know how everything “moves” since you will be leaving!!

    • I’m so glad that you found it interesting! Haha I think I made SEVERAL jugs of lemonade from the lemons. I did grow a very strange and large collection of plants 😂 it really is a lovely area, so special and such a beautiful place. We’ll see how they move, hopefully I’m Not about to kill my plants!

  • Howdy from Texas. Thanks for the great post. A lot of people have a green thumb and just we don’t use it enough. I am glad Millie found her green thumb. Continue on my dear. Take care and be safe. May you not wait so long to update us in your adventures.

    • Hi there! It’s sad how many people ignore nature or don’t realise how much they’re able to interact with it, I know that a lot of people having been getting outdoors more and gardening more since lockdown, hopefully it is a trend that continues. Thank you for reading 🙂

  • Hi Millie – really pleased you have discovered this rewarding and, often, calming hobby or, dare I say it, passion – as that’s what it may well turn into. If you are growing veg have a look at companion gardening as it helps deter many of the pests that may otherwise munch their way through your hard earned crop! Good luck! Pennyx

    • What a lovely interesting post Millie and beautiful photos too – thank-you. Warmest wishes for whatever new ventures life has in store for you. x

    • Hi Penny! Lovely to hear from you. I already enjoyed it but had no idea how much I truly love it! Hope you’re both well xxx

  • Hello Millie,
    I have just finished reading your post and had to tell you how much I enjoyed it. You obviously have green fingers and may have inadvertently discovered something that brings you joy and a great feeling of satisfaction.
    I look forward to hearing about what eventuates next in your life.

    • Hi Suzanne, I am so glad that you enjoyed my post! It really makes me happy growing things, I can already tell it’s going to be a lifelong passion 😄

  • I loved catching up w/you this way—-great work Millie! I am gardening like crazy as well but in a less friendly climate! Keep up the good work & send out a msg. to let us know how the new venture/living space grows for you!

    • Thank you! The only downside is that because it’s coastal it can incredibly windy which the baby plants definitely are not fond of 😬 I will do my best to keep everyone up to date!

  • I really enjoyed your writing. I bet your landlord/boss will be thrilled that you have done such a nice job. Well done and keep it up Millie.

    • Thank you! Hopefully they’re pleased, they’ve got two weeks of isolating once they get back in a few days so they’ll have plenty of time to enjoy it 😂

  • You have inherited your mother’s green thumb, it seems! That was really fun to read and I’m happy that you found something interesting with such great results to do during this challenging time. Your radishes look gorgeous! What a great greenhouse to use, too. Well done. xoxoxo, Nancy

    • Hi Nancy!!! I hope that you’re well and safe over there 😊 I definitely have inherited a lot of her traits it seems! The greenhouse is AMAZING, I am going to miss it! And yes the radishes were awesome, I’ve put cucumbers in their place now but I pickled the remaining radishes, very delicious! X

  • Well done Millie! You’ve got your mother’s talent. I’m growing my first vegetable garden and find myself obsessing over seeds too. I’m at maximum capacity for this year but we’ll see when next year takes me.

  • I loved this post. I visited Alderney Island some years ago. You have done an amazing job in what was my experience a challenging place to grow things. Probably just my opinion as I live on an island with a sub tropical climate. Congratulations.

    • Hi there, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I think in terms of climate it’s okay, just a bit cold in the spring and always windy. You’ve probably got a great climate for growing things year-round if you’re subtropical!

  • Way to go, Millie! Good luck with your move to a new residence. Those owners were lucky to have you watching over things and giving them such a huge head start for the growing season.

    • Thank you! I just moved in today and finally got everything sorted out, next step is going back to work. Stressful but at least I’ve got nature and my pots I brought with me!

  • I enjoyed this SO much and I am beaming with happiness for this life long love that you started…all by yourself. So proud of you. Just tremendous, and inspiring!!! I’m planting seeds tomorrow!!!

  • Congratulations Millie. You have obviously got a talent for gardening and everything that, as a child, you watched your mother do sank in without you realising. You only needed a few little clarifications – which you soon discovered for yourself – before you were up and running. My father in law lived on Alderney for many years and so I have visited a zillion times, both then and since. The air is so beautifully clear that the sunshine cuts through and I remember with great affection the stunning gardens of so many residents.
    I only wish this account had come earlier because I could have learned from some of your mistakes! I am no gardener and like you I planted seeds in my greenhouse this year, young plants being unavailable. I both drowned them by overwatering and overfrizzled them by putting transparent covers on the trays even though the greenhouse has been hot as Hades. Suffice to say, none has sprouted. I must try again. Trial and error. We can learn at any age. Good luck with the next stage in your beautiful life Millie.

    • Hi there Tricia, thank you for your lovely comment! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and what a surprise to find a few people who know of Alderney and the surrounding areas! It really is a beautiful and magical place, we are definitely very lucky to be here. Gardening seems to me to be very much trial and error! But I find that plants in general are pretty forgiving… and if not then you can always grow more! 😄 enjoy your garden x

    • Arent we enjoying gorgeous weather at the moment, will definately be in the sea later today!
      Do be careful though with the Hotentot Fig, think you called it Dead Mans Fingers, its an invasive in the islands, causing alot of problems on the cliffs as it smothers native plants. A difficult opperation to remove it….

      • Hello from just across the water! Such lovely weather we’re having, not a fan of all this wind at the moment though! 😂 I suppose you can’t have everything. Yeah it’s definitely very invasive, I’ve put it in pots and will keep a close eye on it. Enjoy phase 4 by the way! Exciting and positive times… x

  • Hey there 🙂 Thank you for the post. It reminded me of the time I used to garden with my mum. I have really fond memories of that time. Your plants are growing so well. I guess it must be all the love you put into your work. My grandma always says plants know if we care for them.

    • Hi there, I’m so glad you enjoyed my post and that it brought back fond memories. One of my favourite parts of gardening has been sharing it with other people. I definitely love the plants, hopefully they can feel it a tiny bit 😍

  • Wonderful post and glorious pictures. You do, indeed, have a green thumb, Millie.
    Watch out for the mint, though. It is extremely invasive and left alone will pretty much take over its immediate world. I’ve found that such things can be planted safely if you cut the bottom out of a plastic pot and sink it into the ground to help contain the roots.

    • Thank you! The mint is in pots and I wasn’t planning on planting it in the ground, I will bear this in mind 🤔 xx

  • I’d love to hear what the homeowners say when they see their grounds brimming with edibles and friends. Well done, you!

  • you are an inspiration to the next generation, well done in trying something new. just put a poem about my little court yard garden where everything is grown in pots, using many odd things found at the car boot. Unfortunately my seeds did poorly as the blackbird keeps digging for worms inside the trays.

    next step for you is to try cuttings be surprised what you can grow from a small piece, and friends are always happy to give you cuttings.

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