Blogger and horticulturalist Kelli Johnston on being creative in her County Antrim garden
Like many people I began with trips to the garden centre, buying plants on offer and 'randomly' planting them around the garden, often learning from my mistakes. Later I began experimenting by clipping trees and hedges into topiary shapes, as well as growing my own plants from seed. I loved seeing seeds transform from tiny green threads to eventually flowering.
Then I decided I should grow things to eat, so I researched the easiest vegetables to grow and began with potatoes, carrots, courgette, salads and herbs. Before I knew it I was digging up half the garden, sections at a time, for flower and for vegetable growing. Next I began mixing veg and flowers together in borders, and growing vegetables in containers at the back door.
I went on to study garden design and I've had the pleasure of designing a garden from scratch, starting off with a mood board, then an initial drawing and design, to planning its development over phases, getting stuck in with the hard landscaping and then the planting schemes. This has been an amazing process and experience, and my passion for gardening continues to grow!
I enjoy creating flower borders like a painter might enjoy creating art on canvas. I often grow from seed as I refuse to pay £10 (or more) for a plant that can be grown from a 99p seed pack, or from taking cuttings. It’s so easy to grow sunflowers, nasturtium, marigold, poppy and a range of other plants.
The biggest challenge in the garden, apart from the weather, is slugs and snails, which cause havoc. In their hundreds and thousands, they can quickly devour plants as a simple midnight snack. Growing organically, I generally revert to catching and disposing of them. Other pests like greenfly or blackfly can often be deterred by planting marigolds or keeping an eye out and removing them before they colonise.
Getting outdoors and getting your hands dirty is the best part for me. I find digging and planting therapeutic and a real stress buster. It’s rewarding watching plants grow and develop, and of course every month the garden looks different!
I find myself outside in the evenings inspecting progress, rearranging plants, deadheading (pulling off old flowers), weeding, slug hunting and just sipping a cup of tea while birds flutter and the bees buzz. It is the perfect way to de-stress and enjoy nature.
Maintaining a garden is like having your own little paradise right on your doorstep. It's so rewarding! And what great satisfaction it is to harvest edibles like chives, tomato and radishes for your own summer salad. Last summer my grocery bill was reduced as I grew edibles that kept me going into autumn. Things like kale, chard and leek are so easy to grow and packed with nutrients.
I've been an active gardener for over ten years. When friends and family come to the garden, I hear comments like, ‘Wow, look at the colour in the garden!’ (referring to the giant purple delphiniums) or, on the flipside, ‘Why would you want to grow things, isn’t it too much work?’. Many people think of gardening as a chore, whereas I think of it as a fantastic way to keep fit, utilise my creative energy, and enjoy the fruits of my labour.
Gardening is so good for us and our health! You can read about some of the health benefits by clicking here.
Kelli teaches 'Garden Design for Beginners' and a range of gardening workshops. For more information on courses, click here.