The headline advice from the government during the current phase of the COVID-19 pandemic is to stay at home – but what does that mean for people who have a garden?
First of all it’s important to know the difference between social distancing, shielding and self-isolation:
In either of the first two categories, there are no restrictions on enjoying your private outdoor space such as a garden or back yard, and getting fresh air is important.
But can you go in the garden during self-isolation? The short answer is yes, you can.
The NHS advice about going outside while self-isolating may come as a surprise – although you should not have visitors to your home and should have food and medicines delivered rather than going out to buy them, you are still allowed to take your one period of exercise per day.
However, you should be extra careful to avoid contact with other people, and stay well over the recommended six feet or two metres from anyone you see.
Importantly if you have a garden of your own, you are absolutely allowed to use it as normal – the only exception is if you live with other people.
If you don’t live alone, self-isolation can be more difficult. If you are the one displaying symptoms, you must stay at home for seven days, or until your symptoms have gone, whichever takes longer.
The other people in your household should also self-isolate, but for twice as long – at least 14 days, plus a further seven days from the onset of symptoms for any individual who becomes infected.
You might want to minimise direct contact with the other people in your household, especially elderly relatives, to reduce the risk of them becoming infected.
If so, remember to factor this into your use of the garden. Evidence suggests you are less likely to transmit COVID-19 in open spaces, so in good weather you might prefer to sit outside with your family, but stick to the two metres of separation if possible.
Fresh air and exercise are an important part of staying healthy and recovering from illness, especially if COVID-19 leaves you feeling short of breath and generally fatigued.
Self-isolating alone can be challenging but the rules are much clearer. Self-isolating with other family members is more complicated, so do your best to minimise contact and stay home – in your house or in your garden – as much as you can.
A healthy garden creates a balanced ecosystem that can help your flowers and shrubs to thrive, not to mention keeping your lawn green and healthy.
For example, if you are looking for natural ways to fight slugs in the garden, try attracting thrushes and hedgehogs, both of which love to snack on slugs.
Here are a few ways to make your garden a home for wildlife of all kinds, with plenty of beneficial effects as a result.
Hedgehogs are high on many gardeners’ ‘would like to meet’ list, so create a mini hedgehog habitat in a quiet corner of your garden for the best chance of receiving a spiky visitor in the night.
You can buy special hedgehog food, but meat-based dog food and cat food (not containing fish) works too, along with a shallow dish of water – you might also want to leave small access holes at the bottom of your fences.
A bird bath can attract many more winged visitors to your garden. Keep it in the shade to prevent it from drying out. This should mean you can rely on rainwater to fill it for longer and also slows algae growth, which thrives in direct sunlight.
If you opt for a moving water feature such as a fountain, it will probably come with a filter in the pump. The slimy stuff that accumulates on the filter isn’t very pleasant, but it is rich in nutrients, so use it as fertiliser for your flowerbeds.
Wildflowers are equally happy growing in bare soil as they are growing through grass, so it’s up to you whether to make a meadow retained in a flowerbed or scatter seeds on an area of lawn.
Either way, a good mix of wildflowers should attract butterflies and bees into your garden, and thorny teasel can bring in goldfinches, especially in autumn as the tufty flower heads dry out.
You might not use your garden at night, but nocturnal wildlife does, including hedgehogs, foxes and a particular friend to gardeners – bats.
Keep night lighting to a low, plant fragrant night-time flowers and consider putting up a bat box, and you can expect these lovable flying mammals to take up residence, keep the midge and mosquito population under control, and deposit richly fertilising guano on your shrubberies in return.
A compost heap is a great way to make your own fertiliser from garden cuttings, glass clippings and the right kinds of kitchen food waste.
Compost needs to drain, so make sure liquids can run off from the bottom of your compost container – this also leaves somewhere for microbugs to get in and help the digestion along.