3 Veg For Every Beginner Allotment Grower

Allotments are daunting projects. You arrive onto a plot that’s usually filled with weeds as tall as your head. Dig a fork into the soil, and it’ll either be compact with couch grass roots or clumpy clay – or you could have beautiful, fluffy soil (grr…).

The best course of action for a really compact plot is to dig out bigger weeds, mulch with cardboard and manure and then wait until the following spring – however, if you’ve walked onto a plot in March, April or May and you want to have a go at some vegetables – here are 3 Veg For Every Beginner Allotment Grower.

Now, with very well-established weeds, you’ll need to make sure that your plots are mulched with a mix of either cardboard or newspaper, then layers of leaf mold (rotting leaves), compost or manure. Once the bulk of the plot is covered, you can use parts of the space to grow very early crops.

I should add that the harvests won’t be huge. You may have a few troubles along the way with your soil as it hasn’t had a good year of feeding and nurturing. You’ll also need to keep on top of the weeds every week as they try to come through (do 10 minutes or so – they will eventually lose their energy and die off after a few goes). However, these crops will still be tasty, and you’ll have grown your first allotment crops!

Potatoes

Whenever I’ve tried to tackle a heavy and clumpy plot, my first vegetables that I turn to are plants with strong roots. Potatoes, in particular, are a great starter vegetable – this is because they break up that solid soil as they go, and – if you go for first earlies like Maris Bard or International Kidney – you may even have time to plant a June crop of beans.

How I start my potatoes off is either at home or in the greenhouse. Potato plants grow through the chits, or sprouts (those little bits we find on their surfaces when we come to peel them). Knock off the eyes until you have around five all in the same area, face the spuds with the sprouts directed at the sun and keep them warm and dry.

Once the sprouts are the length of your finger, and the danger of frost has passed – check here for your areayou can plant them outside. Now, as the soil hasn’t been well-fed, either locate comfrey leaves and lay them along the bottom of a trench or pick up vegetable feed from any garden centre or DIY store.

When mulching your plot, make sure that you leave room for a trench a spade’s-width. Plant your spuds into the space 30cm apart and 50cm between rows if first earlies or 38cm apart and 75cm between rows if they are maincrop potatoes like Picasso and King Edward. Fill the trenches with a mix of compost and your dug earth and then water well throughout the season.

You will find that the weeds come through, but – so long as you do 10-15 minutes of uprooting every week, they shouldn’t cause too much bother.

Courgettes

Another vegetable that will work well in a mulched bed. Before you sow your seeds, grab a couple of bags of compost or a heap of manure, several sheets of cardboard and newspaper and any vegetable waste you might have. Dig over your weedy soil lightly and remove the biggest plants and roots.

Soak your sheets of cardboard or newspaper and throw down. Cut or leave a hole about 50cm wide (this will be your spot for your courgette). Now layer up the plot with your composting material and leave the worms and microbes to do their work as your courgettes grow.

Start courgettes off in a warm, well-lit house or greenhouse around mid-April/May. Sow the seeds pointy-end up and cover to the top of your pot with soil. Make sure that the pots are moist.

Once your elephant-sized plants have three or four leaves and the risk of a late frost has pased, it’s time to plant them outside.

Where you marked out your courgette spaces, dig down a spade’s depth. Fill this with vegetable scraps and comfrey leaves before topping up with manure. Now take your courgette plant and an extra plant pot. Lay the courgette over the manure and the pot beside it. Slowly fill in the roots of the courgette with the de-weeded topsoil and an extra layer of compost. Firm down and water thoroughly weekly, using the plant pot to get deeper down to the roots.

Strawberries

Get this – you can grow tasty strawberries pretty well in clay soil. As above, mulch the area you’ve set out for your strawberry plants. Again, insert plant pots next to each plant as these will make sure that water reaches the roots!

Strawberries are easiest to grow when they’re bought either online or from the garden centre. As we want delicious strawberries this year, we’ll go for the garden centre potted plants.

Taking the pots, pop them into a large tub of water and leave them to soak for around 10 minutes. Use this time to dig out the holes you’ve marked up in your beds.

Removing the plants from the pots, place each one over a layer of well-rotted manure and then fill until the roots are buried. Firm down and water well and feed with tomato feed throughout the season.

You can enjoy allotment strawberries in no time!

Taken on a plot this year? What crops have you gone for? If you’ve been growing your own for years, I want to know what edibles you started with. Let me know in the comments below.

My Move Into Garden Vlogging

It’s official! The weekly vlogging series is away.

With the arrival of 2018, a renewed sense of optimism and lots of exciting things to talk about on the allotment, I decided that it was high-time I started making more videos. Alongside regular articles and recipes on the blog, I’ll be covering everything from the whys and the hows of gardening to recipes, reviews and interviews on YouTube.

Whether you’re a gardening pro or a gardening newbie, my YouTube channel will have something for everyone. And, what’s more, I’ll be presenting the sowing, growing and cropping in a way that I hope is unique and refreshing.

There are lots of stereotypes about gardening and growing your own food. It’s time to cut those stigmas loose and open up gardening to a whole new generation.

As food prices continue to rise and food quality decreases, more and more people are actively learning and engaging with their food. Growing your own food is a powerful act. Through taking control over production, you’re helping the environment, yourself and – in some cases – your bank account too.

So, whether you’re new to the growing game or you’ve been gardening for years, join me for the ride. I want this to be a conversation though, so if you have ideas for content or suggestions for the channel, leave a comment below.

You can also find my first two videos below. Finally, don’t forget to subscribe to my channel for all of the latest updates.

Have a good week everyone!

3 Ways I’m Going To Be Better In 2018

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Yes, it’s that time of year! We’re on the verge of 2018 and everyone is keen to get their New Year’s resolutions out there.

Well, mine are fairly modest this year.

After a poor start to 2017, suffering from an anxiety disorder which caused me to fall behind on the allotment, I have spent the rest of the time cooking up a recipe (figuratively speaking) which will allow me to keep focussed on the plot next year. Hopefully, you will find this blog post useful too. Especially if, like myself, you struggle to keep yourself motivated in the garden. There are lots of ways in which you can manage a busy life and keep on top of the watering and weeding, and it all starts with your mind and body.

1 – Keeping myself fit

Keeping yourself active is top priority. Last year, I either walked, cycled or ran every day to beat my anxiety and increase my mood. Not only has it helped my mind focus on what is good in life, it’s also improved my memory, given me confidence and the allotment is starting to take shape nicely.

Now, combining this with my allotment makes the whole experience even better. The plot where my allotment is situated is the largest in Bristol and it’s a fantastic track to jog around. Furthermore, I’m out of the smoggy city so I’m breathing clearer air, I can practise mindfulness with the  birdsong and when I’m done, I take a big swig out of my flask and get to work on the plot.

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2 – Organising my time better

Whether it’s my mild dyspraxia or my regular day-dreaming, I can often be a little disorganised.

This extends to the allotment. Even as I write this, there are still a handful of jobs that I keep putting off. In fact, I will often look at other pictures of gardens and feel a little out of my depth – sometimes deciding to give up for the day.

What keeps me coming back however, is my dream of being self-sufficient. I remind myself that I’m lucky to have an allotment as big as the one I have. A plot that is filled with fantastic perennials and has the potential to supply me with food throughout the year. And the only way that I’m going to get to this point is by organising my time better.

This starts with keeping diaries, calendars, notes and spreadsheets with all of the planned projects and timeframes. It then moves into more regular jobs like weeding and grass-cutting. Here, my phone comes in really handy. I can set times for both jobs months in advance if I want to, and slowly but surely, I work my way into a solid rhythm. I then notice how much better my plot looks and how easy it is to do, and I keep up the pace.

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3 – Only eating homegrown or organic

Sure, I grow my own food. But I’m still a sucker for convenience shops too.

This year, the harvests have been patchy. Most days I’ve found myself picking up a tin of beans or a bag of vegetables to bulk out my supplies.

Instead, what I should be doing is going on a slightly longer walk to my local greengrocers. There are hundreds of organic, local and independent shops in cities and towns – and they’re actually pretty affordable too. I did an entire week’s shop of vegetables in my local recently for under £10 – and if you’re making an effort to keep fit and be healthy, shopping fresh and organic is a logical decision to make.

Of course, if you’re having to manage a family your options can be more limited. One thing that I will suggest, though, is that you write out a meal plan, buy and cook the vegetables that you need and then store them to whip out whenever you need to throughout the week. By doing this and shopping organically, you can do your little bit for the environment, whilst arguably saving money where you’re not impulse buying.

So there you have it. Three ways that I’m going to be better in 2018. Perfectly achieveable and affordable too. What resolutions have you made for 2018? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy New Year wherever you’re reading this and keep up to date with all of the latest by following me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!

 

Why Choosing the Right Pots is Important For Small Space Gardens

Do you ever get tired of eating a tomato in your salad that just isn’t quite juicy enough? Or that bland piece of broccoli on the side of your plate? When you grow your own food, you don’t have any of these problems. If you’re clever about it, you can also save money, too.

And it’s easier than you might think. For myself, two hours gardening a week is a luxury because I’m often in five places at once. So, whether you’re a single parent with barely a couple of hours free, a busy worker or a student – in my new Small Space Garden series, I’m going to show you how you can master healthy homegrown food and a busy life.

Winter is here. As you read this, I’m 100% certain that the idea of going outside and gardening is the last thing on your mind. Yet, doing all of your preparation this side of Christmas means no hassle when the work starts picking up again and the growing season is in full-swing.

So, if you’re interested in starting your very own small space garden on your windowsill, balcony or terrace, picking up the right-sized pots is a good place to begin. Check out the video below for my guide to finding the best pots for the highest quality crops:

 

Are you starting out on your gardening journey in 2018? What are you focusing on this winter? Let me know in the comments below

Here’s a Way to Help You Keep the Weeds Down

I would be lying if I said that I was an organised gardener. My allotment certainly takes on the “wild” look and this also extends to the piles of pots and lost tools that I spend endless amounts of time trying to find. As an unorganised gardener, I also have a big problem with weeds and slugs and, if you’re reading this, I imagine you must do too.

I would love to have days and days to spend neatening up my allotment plot, but the reality is that other things like work come in the way. If you’re young or you’re new to growing your own food, seeing an entire plot of land consumed with weeds is not motivating – particularly if you only have a couple of hours a week to spare gardening.

So how do you deal with weeds and more with so little free time?

I’ve been asking myself this question for months. If you don’t get rid of the weeds, your delicious crops lose all of their energy, the slugs have a place under the weedy growth to thrive and decimate plants and, if they even survive all of that, growing so close to these dominating neighbours will result in harvests that are tiny and sad.

But now I have a plan, and you should try it too

By taking out my phone and timing myself on one patch, I discovered that it only took 10 minutes to do what was a couple of square metres of earth. My allotment is big, but by multiplying this time by the ten or so plots I’ve created on the allotment, I worked out that I could get the entire stretch done in well under 2 hours. And this is clearing weeds that have been allowed to establish for months!

Granted, much of the weedy growth on my plot has been killed back by placing cardboard, newspaper, manure and veg waste thickly over the greenery in the past three years. However, even a tougher job, when broken down into a specific time, looks much more achievable.

Now, moving forward, I can plan to do anywhere between ten and twenty minutes of de-weeding a week. Furthermore, I can be sure that next year’s crops will grow and flourish the way that they are supposed to, without bindweed clambering, grass sprouting and brambles clinging.

This isn’t a ground-breaking new technique to get the whole plot done in less than a second (although please let me know if you do manage to do this). Yet, like almost everything about gardening and growing your own food, it’s all about changing your mentality and making life easier.

If you’re working on a new garden or allotment this year, or you’re struggling to keep on top of things – remember – it’s far better to break large jobs into smaller chunks than attempt to do it all at once.

Do you have any tricks for managing weeds and juggling a busy life? Let me know in the comments below!

My Budget Greenhouse, Six Months On

Back at the beginning of the year I decided to run a little experiment. You see, I wanted to buy a greenhouse, but I had neither the means to afford a proper glass one or the means to transport it up to my plot, so I settled instead on a plastic model. The trouble with plastic greenhouses is that they aren’t nearly half as durable as their glass counterparts. One strong gust of wind, and the frames end up in a mess or the material covering the house is ripped up. You could even find your greenhouse caught up in a nearby tree.

After choosing the Wilko Greenhouse for around £30, I had to work out a way of ensuring that this wouldn’t happen to me. My plot is quite exposed and even if I could only keep the greenhouse up for a year, so long as the growing season was done I could at least take something away from it.

I decided that digging a trench for the base was one of my safest bets at keeping it secure. Once this was done, I filled the entire square with earth and woodchip to help anchor it down. Wilko do supply you with guide ropes, which I made as tight as I could. Yet, having a compost bin on one side and some fencing on the other guaranteed that the structure wasn’t going to blow off in a hurry.

I can safely say that, six months on from setting the greenhouse up, it has yielded some fantastic results. My tomato harvest has increased to triple the amount I had last year out on the exposed balcony. I’m picking countless hot chilli peppers too. However, the biggest achievement for me this year has been successfully growing aubergines.

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Just some of the delicious tomatoes I’ve picked this year.

It’s not just inside the greenhouse that I’ve reaped the rewards. Providing yourself with a growing space that’s warmer than the outside during the winter and gives plants shelter to grow at their own pace means that you can have several strong vegetable crops ready to plant a little earlier than those you’ve had to grow at home. They’re also cheaper than garden centre varieties, too.

In the five years that I’ve been growing my own food, I have attempted aubergines three times now. On only one of these occasions have I managed to get any fruit. Picking my two long fruits earlier in the year, they made a fantastic base for curries and veggie Bolognese.

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Whether the greenhouse survives some of the winter storms remains to be seen. But the overall picture is very promising indeed. In fact, I am so impressed by the results of my experiment that I will be erecting another greenhouse just a metre away from the original to house more of my seedlings next year.

So, if you’re hesitating about buying a plastic greenhouse over a glass one ready for next year, don’t overthink it. There are plenty of ways that you can keep your greenhouse secure, and the crops are worth it too.

Recipe: Pea and Stilton Stuffed Butternut Squash

If there’s one crop I look forward to the most it has to be squash. Pumpkins, courgettes and butternut squash are all fantastic vegetables and they can be used in a whole host of different ways. Although the initial preparation of slicing the squash into smaller chunks and removing the skin can be a little difficult, it’s worth it for the tasty orange flesh.

For vegetarians and vegans, pumpkins and squash have become suitable replacements for meat, and this recipe I’m bringing you today is no exception. If you are vegan, replace the milk cheese for a vegan equivalent, or leave it out and use houmous instead. The possibilities are endless. This is why, if you have a garden or allotment, it’s such a great idea to grow your own pumpkins and squashes. They don’t take a lot of caring for and you’ll get some fantastic results!

Pea and Stilton Stuffed Butternut Squash

Ingredients

  • One butternut squash, halved
  • A lug of olive oil
  • A teaspoon of paprika
  • A teaspoon of chilli powder
  • Seasoning
  • 100g of peas
  • One onion, chopped
  • A couple of handfuls of spinach
  • Block of Stilton
  • Fresh chives

To start off, turn your oven to Gas Mark 6/200C. Place your butternut squash halves, with the middles carved out, onto a baking tray and lightly cover them with a good lug of olive oil. Next, season with salt and pepper and top everything off with the paprika and chilli powder. Slide the tray into the oven and bake for around an hour or until the squash starts to char on the sides.

In the meantime, make your stuffing. Take 100g of fresh peas, or tinned equivalent, and pulse together with a handful of chopped fresh chives, the chopped onion and a little ground black pepper. Set aside until the butternut squash begin to soften.

Once the squash is soft, take a large spoon and press the stuffing into the middles. Place the squash halves back into the oven for around 10 minutes. Once again, remove the tray from the oven and this time place fresh chopped spinach leaves onto the stuffing, finishing with some generous pieces of Stilton, or a vegan topping of your choice (houmous, breadcrumbs and seasoning, couscous or vegan cheese). Cook the squash halves until the cheese has melted. When this is done, serve up and enjoy with a hearty summer salad.

If you’d like to know more about how to grow your own pumpkins and butternut squash, why not drop me a line on the contact page?

An Introduction to Growing Your Own Food and Working Full-Time

You’ve finished work for the day, you’re on your way home and you suddenly realise that you have no food in your cupboards. Heading to the local shop, you pick up the easiest stuff that you can find. Tins of beans, instant noodles and ready meals fill your basket week in and week out. If you’re feeling a little more gourmet, in goes the pasta sauce. But you want to live healthily and you see those garden programmes and all of the people on them look so happy.

In your dreams, right?

What we would’ve considered to be the normal way of life even within the last century has become something of a “hobby”, or the Good Life. That essential life skill of finding and growing our own food isn’t needed anymore what with supermarkets and fastfood chains. Yet, what we find in supermarket foods – sugar, salt, fat and more fat – hardly does us any good. We’re not meant to eat such processed meals, and the environmental impact of mass production is another problem altogether. With more and more mouths to feed, our food is becoming less nutritious and more expensive. Yet, it’s all well and good me preaching this to you. The reality is that you have a 40 hour a week job and not much time in between. Why would you want to grow your own food?

It’s not as complicated as you might think. Like anything, you can go as deep as you like with gardening and those who do sometimes alienate the rest of us. What’s important to remember is that most of it is unnecessary for the average grower. Even I don’t have the time to do half the stuff that others do. And you probably struggle finding the time to tie your own shoelaces, let alone reading up on all that there is to read on starting an allotment. But by following some simple steps and bringing little veggie additions to your patio, balcony, windowsill or room, you can improve your food and your wellbeing immensely.

Every week, I’ll be bringing you a new little guide to help you become a boss at growing delicious food, whilst still managing your 9 to 5. If you’ve tried it and failed before, I’m here to motivate you. If you’ve never done it, but something’s switching you on – I’m going to help you achieve it. All you need is a pot, some compost, a plant and about fifteen minutes of your life a week.

Now, I won’t take up any more of your time. Next week, we’ll be looking at setting up your quick and easy garden. Stay tuned for the first of my guides!

 

Dark Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

At some point in our lives it’s likely that we’ve tasted a carrot cake. When you first hear the words “carrot” and “cake”, something sounds off in the brain. Surely these two foods can’t mix? But, unless you’re eating a really badly done cake, the match is almost perfect. I say almost: I have to sell this cake to you so I’m obviously going to put it above the carrot cake. Besides, this chocolate and beetroot cake recipe really celebrates that current trend of combining sweet and savoury (what’s with putting garlic in smoothies? Garlic!?)

You’re going to have to source some raw beetroot – or, even better, you could grow some and keep this recipe handy. A bit of pre-prep: pop all of your beetroot into tin foil, wack the oven onto gas mark 4/ 180C and place the beets onto a baking tray. Cook them in the oven until a knife goes straight through them. Then, when you reach this point, take a knife to the beets and carefully take off the skin. Trust me, it’s worth it and you get some delicious fresh beetroot for pizzas, salads and more.

Onto the main event:

Dark Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

Ingredients

190g caster sugar

250g cooked Beetroot

135g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

200g butter

5 large eggs

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

200g dark chocolate

Step One –Making the Cake

Begin by preheating your oven to gas mark 4/180C. Take a cake tin, line with greaseproof paper and run a little butter around the sides of the paper. Next, take your beetroot and blend in a food processor.

Heat up a saucepan of water over a medium hob. Pop a glass bowl over the top and into this melt your dark chocolate. Remove your chocolate from the heat and stir in your butter until soft.

In a separate bowl, sift your plain flour, baking powder and cocoa powder together. Move to one side.

Follow this by separating the egg whites from their yolks. Combine the dark chocolate and egg yolks in with the beetroot.

Whisk the egg whites until you have solid peaks (it helps if you have an electric whisk handy, otherwise give it a good beating by hand). Carefully fold this into the beetroot mix, adding a quarter of the whites first and then following with the rest.

Finish by making a well in the centre of the beetroot and pouring your plain flour mix in. Steadily fold the flour in, taking your spoon out from the outsides of the bowl and into the centre. Whilst you do this, make sure you’re adding some air by doing a figure of eight.

Step Two – Baking the Cake

Pour your mixture into your prepared tin and place it into the oven for around 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean and the cake bounces back when pressed at the top.

Place onto a cooling rack, get your clotted cream or double cream at the ready with some fresh strawberries and devour the lot.

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Less Gloom, More Bloom: How Plants Help Anxiety and Depression from Experience

Although I’m often writing excitedly here or over on Instagram and Twitter about what I’ve been up to, things have been difficult lately as I’ve been suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Whilst I spend much of my time worrying, lately my anxiety has dominated my life, consuming me and in the process I’ve had to scale back simple tasks. The day to day had been an uphill struggle up until very recently. But this is no surprise.

Anxiety and depression are on the rise, particularly amongst us Brits. With busy lifestyles, job dissatisfaction, daily troubles and more, it’s easy to see why so many of us suffer.

Yet, if you’re reading this whilst suffering from depression or anxiety right now, let’s do away with the doom and gloom. There is a very powerful secret weapon that I’ve been relying on almost every day to ease my anxiety. It’s an antidote not only to short-term symptoms, but to on-going and more serious forms of depression, too. One of the best ways of improving your mood, increasing your energy and helping yourself to get healthier is by spending time with plants.

Whilst research has shown that even just a wander through a green space and interacting with plants as you go is enough to combat depression, by owning your own plants you’ll notice even more improvements in your energy levels and your mood.

Walk, run, sniff, pick – plants and gardens are the best therapists

Unlike the busy towns and cities, the boxy flats and the claustrophobic streets, by getting an allotment with your friends, turning your rented garden into something more or by simply including some essential plants to your balcony or terrace, you can start feeling happier.

You want to build a space that you can completely immerse yourself in. Anxiety is beaten by breaking your thought spirals. You need colour, scent, flavour and texture to occupy your mind with and plants are just the thing.

Scented plants for calming you down

Rosemary

Just a sniff of this richly-scented herb has not only been proven to help with memory, grab a lung of it and you can help to control your anxiety. Feel the waxy leaves, look over the purple flowers and watch the bees working away to relieve all that stress.

The best part is that rosemary will happily grow in pots and you can hang it up around the house or, more importantly, use it on those roast potatoes. Here’s a great website for picking up your own plants.

Chamomile

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Image via Pixabay

Staying with herbs for a second, chamomile is a fantastic plant for anxiety. You can even take a bag of tea and scatter it over a pot full of soil for some easy seedlings. Just make sure the soil is moist and add a light layer of soil over the top of the seeds. Chamomile not only looks good, it smells beautiful too. By sowing lots of seeds, you can create carpets of flowers that will help you with a good dose of mindfulness.

Roses

These flowers come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. You can find some miniature roses that are perfect for patios and terraces. Alternately, get as many of these bright, bold flowers in as you can in an allotment or garden. By growing roses up archways or training them across fence panels, you can create a truly immersive space that will transport you. So long as you give the plants a good dose of manure when you plant them and keep them trimmed back a little every so often, they should thrive.

Colourful Plants to Boost Your Mood and Keep You Healthy

Depression is mood-altering. So how can we help to bring balance to your lack of energy and lack of inspiration? These projects aren’t big: remember, a pot, a bag of soil and a plant can quite literally transform a space. Even by just spending time caring for one or two of the plants mentioned will help you find a little peace and comfort.

Sunflowers

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There’s a real sense of achievement when you grow one of these. Of course, even if you don’t have the space to grow a goliath plant, you can still get some large-headed, bright flowers filling your space with colour. The best bit, of course, is that you can take the seeds once the heads have wilted. Sunflower seeds have lots of nutrients in them to help combat your depression, and from sowing seeds to harvesting a crop, that sense of achievement will also give you a great buzz.

Tomatoes

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Not only do tomatoes taste fantastic, they’re really good for you too. Lypocene, a nutrient that actually halts the build-up of pro-inflammatory compounds linked to depression. Grow cherry tomatoes for the richest source of lypocene. Cherry tomatoes are also highly productive in small spaces and, so long as you give them a good water every other day in dry weather and feed once a week, they should give you a glut. Wander past your tomato plants and take in the rich aromas, watch them growing to huge sizes and observe the tomato fruits as they ripen: it really is mesmerising.

Pop along to your local garden centre or any high street DIY store and pick up some late additions now.

Jasmine

The scent of jasmine is enough to reinvigorate your senses. You don’t even need to be close to smell the deep aromas of this plant. Let the jasmine fill your closed space with greenery and aroma and you’ll feel all the better for it.