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How growing your own vegetables went mainstream – plus what to sow now

With sales of seeds rocketing, we look at how how lockdown has inspired us to grow our own produce

dig for victory poster
The National Archives

Wouldn’t it be lovely if one of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic was a happier, healthier population? Far-fetched as that might first seem, there are reasons to believe it could be true. Even before the country was placed in lockdown on 23 March, with supermarket shelves emptied as panic buying took hold, vegetable seed suppliers were already seeing rising demand – websites were crashing, temporarily closing or having to implement queuing systems as the nation prepared to hunker down and grow their own.

While Google searches for ‘how to grow an avocado’ were nearly 100 times higher in mid-April compared to last year, the biggest winners in terms of sales were varieties better suited to our climate: seed potatoes, onion sets and garlic saw increases of up to 550 per cent at Mr Fothergills. Chiltern Seeds reported all its top 20 sellers in April were herbs and vegetables (compared with just four last year), with ‘British Basil’, ideal for our slightly cooler weather, topping the list.

Searches for ‘how to grow an avocado’ were nearly 100 times higher than last year

Doctor-turned-gardener and broadcaster SarahRaven has seen a huge spike in her grow-your-own range, particularly in tomato plants, while Essex-based Kings Seeds has recorded growth in everything from raised beds to cold frames and chicken manure – all likely to boost garden yields. Greenhouse retailers are reporting similar interest – Hartley Botanic, which sells handmade designs, has seen sales rise by 35 per cent.

Flower seeds and plants, where available, have also seen increases, especially as the fear of food shortages receded. ‘We thought the interest would fade over time, but it hasn’t,’ says Claire Ransom, founder of Lazy Flora, which provides seasonal plant subscriptions (and whose edible plant box has had to be put on hold after rocketing sales meant they outgrew new premises in just 48 hours). ‘I think people have been getting a lot of joy and solace from their gardens.’


WHAT TO SOW NOW

Three varieties to try, whatever your level of gardening prowess

french breakfast radishes in a bowl
Karen Appleyard / Alamy Stock Photo

Best for beginners

Super easy and super quick to grow, ‘Radish French Breakfast’ produces tasty, elongated red roots with a white tip, which are delicious served raw with butter and salt (£1.30; kingsseeds.com).

basil in a pot on window sill
OlgaMiltsova

Best for window boxes

Suitable for our climate, ‘British Basil’ can be sown throughout the year and can also be grown indoors on a sunny windowsill. Try it with strawberries and a dash of balsamic vinegar (£1.95; chilternseeds.co.uk).

chicory leaves in a bowl of salad
Jonathan Buckley

Best for green fingers

Chicory ‘Variegato di Castelfranco’ has glorious speckled leaves and a refreshing bitterness when used raw, and a milder flavour when cooked.Sow now to enjoy throughout the winter (£1.95; sarahraven.com).

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration August 2020

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