A friend very sweetly commented the other day that I had taught her mindfulness in the garden, which hadn’t been my intention - we were actually pruning lavender. But after she had explained, I realised that she was in fact describing the focus and attention to detail that is needed when you are looking after plants, and how you learn to read the garden and respond to what it needs. This slow time certainly lets the stress of everyday life melt away and hopefully the results will be happy healthy plants well as being happier and more relaxed ourselves.
Having a ‘slow gardening’ approach to jobs that need doing can turn chores into a restful, meditative time and this certainly applies to one job I am often asked about - watering. There are some rules and reasons for how you water, but it is really a judgement call and taking the time to think about the plant, the soil, the weather and time of year makes a huge difference for what you need to do.
Here are some tips for watering your garden.
· Water only when needed – the best way to test the soil is to feel the soil with your hands; the surface can look dry, but delve down a bit (10-15 cm) and it feels lightly damp, like a sponge that has been wrung out. If the soil is too wet, it can be just as damaging as having too little water.
· Focus on the roots – Remember, it’s the roots not the leaves that need the water. Wetting the foliage can promote the spread of diseases, so aim for the soil around the roots and let the water soak in.
· Water thoroughly and deeply – it is better to water once a week rather than every day. It encourages the roots to grow deeper rather than on the surface.
· Mulch – adding a layer of mulch slows down evaporation from the soil as well as reducing weeds.
· Water in the morning – this might not be the ideal time for slow gardening but watering in the morning allows water to dry off the leaves if they have got wet, so reducing the chances of disease. It also hopefully deters slugs and snails who love the damp climate of a freshly watered garden for an evening invasion!
· Use the right tools – if you have a water butt to recycle water, fantastic! Hoses with a sprinkler attachment or watering cans with roses allow the water to lightly fall onto the soil like rain, and so decrease damage to the plants and soil erosion. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation system are worth installing if you are unable to get into the garden as often as you would like.
Originally published in Focus magazine