this thing's incredible

These Odd Little Seed Mats Mean I Can Have a Vegetable Patch in My East London Flat

Photo: ZING TSJENG

It all stemmed (sorry) from my houseplant obsession. When I looked upon my empire of succulents and rubber plants, my heart yearned for something … more. I gazed at the limp and anaemic pre-bagged salads in supermarkets and thought: What if I could grow this myself? So, while picking up a bag of indoor potting mix in my local garden centre last year, I spotted an unassuming spicy salad leaves “seed mat,” complete with dorky-looking farmer mascot. I tossed it into my trolley on a whim — after all, it only cost £3.

Seeds are pre-sewn into a circular mat made of a thin tissue-like fabric — the seeds can vary, but I got a zingy mix of rocket, mizuna, mustard leaves, and leaf radish in mine. All I had to do was fill an appropriately sized pot — the mat is about the size of a small dinner plate — with compost, put the mat on top, cover it with a thin layer of more soil and then water the whole thing. After that, I just watered the compost every few days so it didn’t dry out and made sure to place it in the sunniest part of my little back garden (a sunny windowsill or balcony will do, too). Unlike growing salad greens from a packet, the seeds are already spaced out, so I didn’t have to worry about measuring the planting distances or thinning them out as they grew.

Around two weeks later, I was blessed with the presence of tiny salad seedlings, and my first harvest was ready to pick a week or two later. I’d stumbled upon a way to grow my own vegetable patch, while skipping the decades-long waiting list for an allotment in London (seriously, it’s 40 years). The mat made easy work of something that to me, had previously seemed impossibly hard. You can start picking leaves once they’re about two inches high — as long as you don’t decapitate a plant entirely, they should keep sprouting for at least three to four more ‘cuts’. I get away with harvesting enough for a side salad for up to two people or a few leaves to whack into a couple of sandwiches. Buoyed by success, I’ve now branched out into more veg — “Mr F” (as he’s charmingly called on the packaging) also does some mean carrot and spring onion seed tapes. But nothing will replace my seed mat — I sow one every couple of weeks, to make sure I’ve got a rolling supply of salad all spring and summer.

Some other Strategist-recommended garden supplies

The Bordy, a water-retaining bird for plants, has been a best-seller ever since the Guardian’s Coco Khan first told us about how it saved her plants from dying.

We first featured it in this recommended-by-experts story. Lisa Muñoz, interior plant designer and founder of Leaf and June, says this bottle is “typically something you’d see in salons,” but it’s her favourite mister for plants. “It’s small and lightweight, even when full of water, and it creates a gentle, steady mist.”

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This Seed Mat Means I Can Grow Salad in My East London Flat