A guide to lockdown gardening by Dr Elsa Pooley

With lockdown providing ample time to get stuck into work at home or in the garden, we called on our gardening expert Dr Elsa Pooley to share what she’s been up to over the last few weeks:

I am a landscaper who is so busy during my normal working life that I very seldom spend real time in my own garden. How things have changed during the lockdown. I now take enormous pleasure in being able to enjoy the plants in my garden, walking my dogs and throwing balls at the same time. The dogs cannot believe their luck, having me with them all day. But I also experience enormous frustration that I cannot do much at all to keep my garden in shape. I have only one fully-functioning arm at present (a broken left wrist is still not functional), which means all I can do is water when dry, trim with secateurs and… that’s about it.

With all this time at my disposal (avoiding all the backlog in my office, housework etc), I have tried to find ways to get maximum benefit from the limited work I can do in the garden. It is quite a big garden which normally takes a lot of trimming of flowering shrubs, and of the smaller trees, to keep the garden from being overwhelmed with shade. I cannot use a lopper, so must leave the larger plants. My advice to any of you who might be wondering where to start, with no garden service to help with the heavier work, is to find a small area of the garden that bothers you the most, then tackle it piece by piece, within your physical ability to do so. Weed it, trim any old parts of the plants, large or small. Now is as good a time as any to do this at the end of summer. It will also give immediate satisfaction. Then move to the next spot. If the weeds seem to be out of control, measure off a metre at a time and, over the following weeks, you will see real progress.

What has also really impressed me is that, when there is nowhere else to go, it doesn’t matter that the whole garden isn’t ablaze with colour, that greens predominate. I find I am taking great pleasure in observing which plants are coming into bud – colour to come – and planning where I will move plants around when I have help with digging in the future. I am also realising that neglect can be benign – sometimes leaving the plants in your garden to grow and spread can lead to unexpectedly lovely combinations.

So, how about starting to keep a garden diary – what is in flower this week, month, season? Just a simple notebook or note on your pc or smart phone, with pics from to back it up. Names of the plants can come later. Have you noticed how many orange flowering plants are in bloom at the moment? All will change from the end of May when we head into the winter succulent flowering season. For me, autumn is very special – great flowers and butterflies, and, especially, Plectranthus season! I add a few pics from my garden – see what you can find in yours.

Crossandra fruticulosa Shade Crossandra
Leonotis intermedia Klipdagga
Metarungia longistrobus Sunbird bush
Plectranthus ecklonii (purple) Tall Spurflower and
Pelargonium tongense Tonga Pelargonium
Kleinia fulgens Coral Senecio
Hibiscus pedunculatus Forest Pink Hibiscus
Barleria albostellata Grey Barleria. Remember, DO NOT water
this plant. It thrives in the dry.
Plectranthus ecklonii in full flower. Note the leaves, heavily eaten
– sign of butterflies to come!
Plectranthus ecklonii tall at the back, Plectranthus saccatus Stoep Jacaranda in full flower in middle ground, white flowering P. ecklonii in foreground. The tallest shrub at the back in the Shell Bush Orthosiphon labiatus which has now finished flowering and I need to cut it back by about half.
Plectranthus ecklonii with Euryops chrysanthemoides (yellow) Golden
Daisy Bush, with Dombeya tiliacea (white flowers) Forest Dombeya
in the background.
Strelitzia reginae Crane Flower in need of attention. I need to trim the tree above it to ensure it gets enough sun to flower well, and need to remove the ferns growing inside the Strelitzia plant which are now obscuring the lovely leaves.

As always, we wish you health and safety during this time of uncertainty. We can’t wait until we can host another glorious gathering in our gardens at Renishaw Hills.