If you’re lucky enough to have access to your own garden, have a look outside. Is it paved over, or covered in stones? Do you only ever venture outside in barbeque season? Could you be getting the most out of it? The mental health benefits of gardening are enormous, with even small amounts of time spent outdoors leading to massive reductions in stress and even incidences of Alzheimer’s among the elderly. Digging and planting can boost the body’s cardio strength and increases manual dexterity.
Add to this the health benefits of fresh, organic produce and it becomes clear that time spent in the garden is a great investment. With Belfast City council offering twelve community gardens (ran alongside organisations as diverse as Grow and the Salvation Army) and seven allotment sites, even those without the space to develop their own plots can get involved and reap the benefits of growing your own.
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”
Once such project is the allotment site in Colin Glen, a prime example of what can be achieved when you’re able to engage with a community. There are 57 occupied plots on the 7 acre site, with a waiting list in operation. There’s an eco–building, workshops and even a pizza oven on site, along with a dedicated crew of staff and volunteers who are working to educate people about sustainable food.
It’s not just the public and third sector getting involved, with several restaurants and hotels getting wise to the benefits of having cheap, fresh produce on their doorstep. The landmark Europa Hotel has created a roof garden slap–bang in the middle of the city, with greenhouses for micro–herbs and raised beds for hardier produce, all of which ends up in the hotel’s kitchens.
Here in Northern Ireland we’re blessed with a climate that enables us to grow pretty much what we need to sustain our diets. Scallions are a popular choice for the thrifty gardener – very easy to grow and if you trim the edible shoots, they grow back – not for nothing are they traditionally known as everlasting onions.
Tomatoes are another favourite. While they require the warmth and sunlight that a greenhouse can provide, a basic collapsible tent can be picked up for around ten pounds. Throw in the soil and seedlings and you can be in business for under 20 quid, harvesting in July to September. Strawberries are a simple and fun way to get children involved in the garden, needing a minimum of skill to raise a delicious crop – just keep an eye out for birds and slugs!
With the range of gardening supplies available, the only limit is your imagination. Blessed with a surfeit of space? Consider bringing in a few chickens and a modular henhouse, or even an urban beehive, which, aside from letting you start your own bee business, can enhance the local greenery by way of pollination.