It’s time to resurrect your clogs and embrace dirty fingernails - because gardening is officially a trend. According to a poll of leisure activities, conducted by Alfresia, taken from 500 people aged 25-35, gardening came fifth highest - above going to the cinema and visiting family (though below trying new restaurants and bars, natch).
Young people aren’t just tending their own plots - they’re volunteering on community gardening projects too. Apparently, we’re all harking back to The Good Life.
Of course, celebrities are leading the charge. Just look at Zooey Deschanel, who posted a picture of herself on Twitter cradling what looks like a giant courgette-gone-marrow from her garden with the tag, “as dirty as this sounds, this was growing in my garden”. Actress Mindy Kaling is known for posting images of her flower beds on Instagram, while Shakira has even been known to put up pictures of her giant homegrown peppers. Cultivating veg has never looked saucier - and it seems that young women are leading the charge.
None of this comes as a surprise to me - for I'm among them. It took over a year to find my modest-sized London flat. Not because I'm a sucker for high ceilings, or had my heart set on an open-plan living area. No, because an outdoor space, however small, in which to grow herbs and train a rose, was essential.
Now, three years later, I have won the battle against the Russian Vine, coaxed a jasmine along the fence, re-planted the flower bed – which had been a dumping ground for barbecue coal, bits of old tools, and, oddly, a great big grey chorizo - with lavender, roses, geraniums, silver leaf and a glossy Magnolia. I’ve even propagated hydrangea.
There’s nothing like the thrill – and the taste – of picking ripe tomatoes from the sprawling bush that I have carefully watered all summer and worried about while on holiday – texting my flat mate constantly to ask if it’s alright (not too dry, damp, or - God forbid - exhibiting the signs of tomato blight).
In the heat of July and early August, I eschewed al fresco drinks and dashed home after work, to bring wilting plants back to life. I watched, in wonder, as sunflower seeds burst their banks to become seedlings and now great towering sunflowers.
Never mind that, only a couple of years ago, I wouldn't have been able to tell a sunflower seedling from a rosehip.
I knew my love of gardening must be serious when friends bought me a smart trowel and fork set by Sophie Conran for my thirtieth birthday. They were so shiny and pleasing, I could barely bring myself to use them.
Garden accessories are, for me, as exciting as a new pair of shoes or fabulous earrings. Hunting for the perfect plant pot has become something of an obsession. Why have generic Homebase terracotta when you could buy a salt-encrusted pail from an antiques market, or bring an old-fashioned trug from a junk shop back to life?
That new handbag might have to wait – because I currently have my eye on a brass and cane watering can by Carl Auböck (£895). Ok, that’s a bit extreme, (even for me - you might call it a pipe dream) but I have purchased some chic outdoor furniture from Maison du Monde with the reasoning that it will help to make an extra outdoor room in inclement weather. Not to mention a nice spot for gin and tonics with friends.
Nurseries are more tempting than the Zara sale – I keep buying plants to fill pots and vice versa. But then, I view my garden as an investment – it’s relaxing – and could even add value to the flat.
A national report of homeowner habits, published by Lloyds Bank Insurance in May this year, showed that homeowners aged between 25 and 34 spent an average of £747 on their outdoor space last year, compared with the average spend of £366. Of the 2,000 asked, a third of young people said their motivation was purely a love of gardening, while 14 percent wanted to increase the value of their homes.
Perhaps the greatest challenge - and the ultimate proof of your gardening prowess - is producing home-grown veg, a la Zooey Deschanel. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have become on-line versions of competitive village shows. A bounty of glossy, colourful veg pictured in artisan baskets increasingly fills my newsfeed.
Thanks, in part, to the BBC’s Big Allotment Challenge, the desire for allotments continues apace - it’s more difficult to get your hands on one than a table at the Chiltern Firehouse. According to the Richmond Government website, the waiting list is 5 years for a big allotment in the London borough, and “considerably longer” for a smaller one. Award winning gardener, Kate Gould - who specialises in bringing small urban plots to life - thinks that for most people 'growing their own' arises from the desire to eat organically and feed their families well. Perhaps it’s the Michelle Obama effect – and we all want our own White House vegetable garden - not to mention, those very lean upper arms.
But, don’t despair, everyone has a window ledge – and you really can’t kill a rosemary plant. Even if you don't have a £900 watering can to tend it with.
The hidden benefits of gardening
Herbs will revolutionise summer cocktails. Rosemary and thyme are great survivors, and add Mediterranean zest to a gin and tonic. Mint is a rampant grower and useful for all sorts of drinks and dishes, from fresh mint tea to the Indian dip, raita.
Painting, or varnishing, a wall or fence in hot weather is guaranteed to give you a tan - even if it’s the shade of wood stain.
Plant your favourite flowerst to save money on cut versions from expensive florists. Hydrangeas (my choice) also dry very easily and add frilly drama to any vase of flowers.
Can’t be bothered to shop on the way home, or pinched before payday? Pop some staples – tomatoes, leeks, courgettes, garlic, chilli – in the garden and you can whip up a flavoursome pasta dish without going near a supermarket.
Seek shelter from prying neighbours, or the road, by installing a great, big lilac bush
Sweetly scented plants from sweet peas to jasmine and lavender will help mask those unwelcome wafts on bin collection days
Window boxes perfectly disguise badly painted window ledges
Gardenistas are getting a hidden workout. Lugging watering cans and digging borders are great for toning arms.
The Telegraph, London