‘Creepy crawlies help me escape from the real world’: before lockdown I never gardened, now I’m growing strawberries with my kids | Hit refresh


‘The garden has become a project I can enjoy with both of my kids.’
Photograph: jacoblund/Getty Images/iStockphoto

I’m not an outdoorsy person. I’ve always loved the idea of having a garden, but if someone else could put in the legwork then, well, that suited me just fine.

But since lockdown I’ve started gardening and it’s brought about a surprising change in me – one that’s certainly tickled my friends and family, who have rarely seen me roll up my sleeves to dig up a weed, let alone pick greenflies off tomato plants.

In fact, my plant-caring abilities have been the butt of jokes from my four siblings for years, and yes, you guessed it, the punchline is inevitably the plant dying.

I can’t lie, it’s a new passion that grew out of necessity, rather than me deciding I needed a lockdown hobby. A week before the PM officially announced lockdown, my family of four had to self-isolate because my husband started to show coronavirus symptoms; so I was faced with having to keep a hyper three-year-old boy occupied in a two-bedroom flat.

Kala Paul-Worika in her garden

At that point our small, overgrown outdoor space became a godsend, and presented itself as a much-needed play area for him to run around in.

So, with my partner out of action and using garden shears borrowed from my parents plus a pair of yellow rubber washing up gloves, a new green-fingered me was born.

I set about clearing the garden of weeds that were almost shoulder-high in some places. My body ached from the effort, but a sense of pride was already bubbling up inside me.

And once the garden’s potential was revealed, the next step was finding a way for my 10-year-old daughter to get involved.

With what seemed like endless hours of home schooling stretching out before us, the garden has become a project I can enjoy with both of my kids. They’ve loved the responsibility of watering seedlings and watching the different stages of growth, and it has also given all three of us a reason to head outside each day – even those days when getting up and putting on clean clothes was a struggle.

And it’s not always me leading the charge. At one point I thought the tomato plants were dead and done, but my daughter stayed positive and continued to sprinkle them with water. It turned out she was right – something she still won’t let me forget after I was so ready to give up!

Coronavirus, despite devastating the nation and beyond, has brought families closer, and neighbours who were once strangers are now enjoying conversations over the fence (socially distanced, of course). Early evening is usually peak chatting time on our road as barbecues tail off and others come out to check on their plants.

For me, lockdown has definitely brought about a wider sense of community. Every single one of my seedlings and plants was sourced locally through area Facebook groups. We became experts at planning our daily walks to make socially distanced pickups. And when I mentioned I needed some compost, but couldn’t get to the shops because of the kids, a school mum bagged some up for me to take as we passed by her home.

‘Every single one of my seedlings and plants was sourced locally through area Facebook groups.’ Photograph: Stocksy

The only downside has been the rather haphazard way my posse of fruit and vegetable plants has increased. Just last week, someone who lived two roads away posted online about some extra runner bean seedlings they had to give away. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I ate a runner bean, but the idea of sampling one my own fair hands had grown was too tempting.

I’m now the proud owner of six runner bean seedlings – which should go nicely with the strawberry plants, the two different varieties of tomato plants and sole chilli seedling (there was another, but it died … don’t tell my family).

Of course, it’s always when I’m in the garden rolling up my sleeves for the next challenge that I remember I need extra plant pots, more support sticks, or a watering can. I really wasn’t joking when I said I was new to this. So I usually have to whip out my phone to order what I need, then seconds later I breeze through checkout with PayPal. On days when I can’t wait to get going, you’ll see me checking out with one hand and rooting up the latest weeds with the other.

In just weeks, the place I always avoided except during our annual family barbecue, has become a much-needed distraction from what’s happening in the world.

I’m now actively spending time with the garden creepy crawlies I once stayed far away from – a spider merrily building a web on my strawberry plants doesn’t even raise a squeak from me these days. In fact, new gardening me is more likely to emit a squeal (of delight) at the sight of flowers budding on my tomato plants and strawberries starting to turn a juicy shade of red.

And I do plan to keep it up, even if we don’t get any edible crops this time around.

Once lockdown is lifted, I know it will be a case of fitting it around the school run, work and just life in general, but of course I’ll probably get more organised the more practice I get in, right? Probably …

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