A beginner’s guide to being a beginner gardener

Well hello there. I am Helen and I am new at gardening. Very new. Newer than Newton from Stoke Newington on his way to Newton Abbott. So new.

In my capacity as an ultra newbie I will be guest blogging for Thompson & Morgan. I am now your go to absolute-beginner-novice-don’t-know-what-I’m-talking-about gardener. Everyone needs one of those.

beginner gardener

This is me being new and enthusiastic

If you’re new too I’m so glad you’re here! We can be like the loners who bond over the buffet at an event where we don’t know anyone else; discussing the crudités and the cheese and such like. Except in this instance our topics of conversation will be more soil based.

It’s hard not to let the enthusiasm take over when you’re at the starting line isn’t it?! As one of the world’s newest owners of a garden in glorious London I’m like a pushy mum. This garden is my first baby and I have totally over ambitious visions for it that culminate in my mind in some sort of mythical, magical Enid Blyton inspired/Secret Garden level of bloom-tastic wonder. Then I have to remind myself that I am a total novice with a lonnnnng way to go.

The first thing to acknowledge here is that, in the words of Fawlty Towers’ Manuel: ‘I know nothing!!’

I do not know my Perennials from my Alpines (maybe they are the same thing? I don’t know. All I know is they sound posh and I like it) nor do I know why it insists on being called a trowel and not just ‘a small spade’. In fact I have a feeling my foray into gardening for the first time in my life is going to be a little Fawlty Towers-esque.

For instance; I have only owned my garden for approximately 6 weeks and, already, one pretty daisy plant (acquired from the wholly inspiring but scarily over crowded Chelsea Flower Show) has fallen victim to my not-so-green fingers. I think it was the lack of watering that did it… Oops. It does seem to have a few green shoots doing their best to be with us all above ground so it’s not total despair just yet. Hopefully said daisy will be one of those ‘hardy’ plants I keep hearing about and turn back into a thing of beauty instead of this light brown deep fried crispy scenario:

beginner gardener Helen Sorren

Now here is the trouble when you’re brand new; you know nothing and it’s really hard to admit you know nothing. If I’m being honest all I’ve ever actually known about gardening is that lawn mowers exist – and (mostly) dads use them – that honeysuckle smells really nice and that sitting in a garden to eat your breakfast is one of life’s simplest pleasures.

The designing, preparing, planting, growing and tending to bit is the big mystery. How exciting that you can join me at the very beginning of this journey of discovery!

I thought it might be useful at the starting line to share my three realisations for anyone else in my position. We really know nothing do we? But it’s OK.

1) The guilt factor

You kill stuff. You don’t really know what it is or what to do with it so you do the wrong thing (eg ‘look at me! I’m ‘pruning’! Oh I’m so clever to be ‘pruning’! I’m so gardeney. Wow I’m really channelling The Titchmarsh here! Look at me go!’) and inevitably you go too far or it’s the wrong time of year and you destroy it in the process. It’s OK. It’s just a garden. Stuff will grow back.

beginner gardener Helen Sorren

This is me looking positively dangerous with a pair of Secutures (also known as garden scissors. Is that how you spell them?)

 

2) The loss of the concept of time

When you plant stuff one day and you wake up the next morning like it’s Christmas and you’re six and you think it’s all going to have burst forth over night and you skip to the garden because your beds will surely be filled with colourful delights!… and then you get there and realise most stuff takes weeks if not months if not years to really become anything. It’s OK. Have patience little one.

beginner gardener Helen Sorren

This is me being impatient with my minuscule hydrangea

3) The ‘I know what you mean’ nod

When you mention to a friend or family member or just acquaintance that you have been doing a spot of gardening and they jump in with their latest warning on how their perennials are just ‘out of CONTROL this year ho ho ho’ and you just nod sagely as if to agree but you’re thinking ‘perennial? What’s that?’ Its OK. They probably don’t really know what a perennial is either.

beginner gardener Helen Sorren

This is me wondering whether this is a Perennial…

So it’s time for us beginners to just be beginners!

We wander around B&Q with our new wellies on looking like we know what we’re doing, picking up random pots and great sacks of ‘top soil’ (who knew there were so many different types of soil??) when really we are just a bunch of Manuels trying to avoid the next horticultural disaster.

I think what I’m trying to say is: don’t be scared that you don’t know anything – embrace it!! – because when we start out aren’t we all a little bit Manuel?

Follow my (slow) progress on my blog.

Helen Sorren is an actress and comedian. She also presents on Hoxton Radio every Saturday 10am-12pm Follow on Twitter @helensorren
Thompson & Morgan
Since the first seed catalogue was published in 1855, Thompson & Morgan has grown to become one of the UK’s largest Mail Order Seed and Plant companies. Through the publication of our catalogues and the operation of our award-winning website, Thompson & Morgan is able to provide home gardeners with the very best quality products money can buy.

Gardening, a challenging few months

Tomtato

Tomtato

This spring has proved the most challenging gardening season in all my gardening years. In November 2014 whilst on holiday at my Sister`s in Huntington Beach, California, I had a bad fall and fractured my spine. I`ve always wanted an extended holiday but not quite like this – flat on my back. Getting the garden ready had to be done in short bursts so I could rest but with the help of my Husband Alan, who did all of the lifting, moving and digging I managed to get the garden sorted.

I am growing the TomTato® again this year as it was very successful last year with almost 5 kg of tomatoes as well as the potatoes harvested. I started it off indoors but as soon as the weather was right transferred it into the larger container of Incredicompost® in a sunny but sheltered position.

Begonia apricot shades

Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’

I ordered `garden ready` plants this year as I wasn’t sure how much I would be able to do in the early months. They arrived this last week and look wonderful, very fresh and ready for planting. I love Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ and have planted these into a triple basket, 12”/14”/16” and now in position in the front garden. They are very easy to handle and you don`t have to worry about growing them on first which might have been a problem as I couldn’t stand for very long.

I am planning to use three troughs at the side of the front garden but looking at them they really looked worse for wear, then I wondered if they could be painted with the blue paint we have on our decking, no sooner said than done as Alan painted them last night now they just need planting up and they look like new troughs.

I have also planted a triple stand with black and red petunias and red diascia as a tribute to our local football team – AFC Bournemouth who have just been promoted to the Premier League from being almost bankrupt six years ago. I am patiently waiting for these plants to start flowering so I can see the full effect.

April here in Bournemouth on the South Coast was very dry and warm everything in the garden really sat up and took notice flowering quite early in some cases. May, unfortunately has been cold and wet. In March my 90 year old neighbour died, I have been looking after her front garden for several years. I was very kindly given two stone planters which stood either side of her front door. They now take pride of place in my back garden.

stone planter

My Strawberry ‘Irresistible’ which I had on trial about three years ago are doing exceptionally well and now have the fruit formed – and to think they almost got thrown out as they had been covered in leaves in the winter and couldn’t see the plants!!

Here`s hoping that the rest of the summer is going to be kind to us all especially the gardeners. Enjoy!

Jean Willis
I started gardening 65 years ago on my Dad’s allotment and now live in Bournemouth, where spend a lot of time gardening since retiring. In 2012 I won the Gold Award for Bournemouth in Bloom Container Garden. I am a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel.

Gardening without the graft

Gardening is, without question, one of the most active and rewarding hobbies. To get the most out of your garden it is best to plan all year round and create your own gardening calendar to keep you on track. You have to think about which flowers and vegetables you are going to grow, when is the right time to plant them and how to care for them. When everything falls into place and you get it right, you get such a sense of satisfaction and achievement from raising your seeds to maturity.

However, sometimes reality can creep up on us and we run out of time, leaving our gardens taking a back seat. Occasionally something more immediate is called for when we lack time or even space to grow plants from seed. With modern innovation, creating a beautiful garden does not need to take up much time. That is why we introduced our instant gardening range.

Our range of larger shrubs and plants have a proven track record for hardiness, ease of care and garden performance and includes instant-impact shrubs and herbaceous perennials. The best part is, they are established on the nursery grounds and delivered straight to your door, ready to be planted in your garden.

gardening without the graft

Take a look at Lavender ‘Hidcote’. This hardy English lavender is perfect for pots and borders. Mid-height ‘Hidcote’ is ideal for an informal low hedge along paths, where its evergreen foliage can be appreciated. Flowers July – Sep. Supplied as 1 x 3.5 litre potted plant.

For the full selection of our larger plants click here.

You can also now buy garden ready plants online. Unlike shop bought plants that have been grown to look good in store, our garden ready plants are sent out in prime time for planting out in your garden or containers. Our garden ready plants are sent to you ‘green’ ahead of flowering which means the plants will establish quickly and as their energy goes into producing roots, they will be producing more flowers throughout the season.

Our garden ready Busy Lizzie ‘Divine Mixed’ has received a 5 star customer rating for their spectacular colour spectrum and ease of planting. No potting on is required and they can be planted straight into your garden.

gardening without the graft

‘These plants arrived in fantastic condition and truly were ‘garden ready’. No potting on required, they’ve been planted in their final position and in only a few days look well established’ – Natalie, online customer.

To see our full range of garden ready plants click here.

Why not try our instant gardening and garden ready ranges this year, we promise it will be worth it! We would love to see how you get on so please post or tweet us your pictures.

 

Terri Overett
Terri works in the e-commerce marketing department assisting the busy web team. Terri manages our blog and social media pages here at Thompson & Morgan and is dedicated to providing useful advice to our gardeners. Terri is new to gardening and keen to develop her horticultural knowledge.

Gardening is therapy – Ray’s story

gardening is therapy

Ray and Sharon

A year ago when Ray came to Thrive, he was at a complete loss and couldn’t see a future for himself.

Following a career in the army, including particularly tough tours of duty in Northern Ireland where he lost two close friends, Ray was left battling severe depression whilst trying to hold down two jobs to support his disabled wife and family. The future felt bleak. When he heard about Thrive at a veteran’s group session run by Combat Stress, Ray was interested but it still took him considerable courage to actually come along to the charity.

Thrive offered him a place on the “Down to Earth” programme at Saltwell Park, Gateshead which supports veterans living with a wide range of physical and mental health difficulties and is funded by The Royal British Legion. The programme combines practical physical work with gaining horticultural skills and a qualification if desired. It also encourages shared experiences and the forging of friendships. This is what social and therapeutic horticulture is all about and Ray says he can’t believe the difference in his outlook on life.

In the beginning, Ray was quite timid, quiet and reserved, and was experiencing memory issues, but fitted in with Thrive right from the word go.  Ray said; “Even though it all sounded great, it was so difficult for me to start with, but I persevered as I knew it would be good for me………… and I am so glad I did!”

There has been a marked improvement in Ray’s memory and a noticeable reduction in his levels of anxiety. He enjoys sharing his life experiences and skills with the rest of the group and by doing so has gained confidence. So much so that on a recent therapy break with Combat Stress in Scotland he attended a horticultural session with other veterans and was able to showcase the skills he had acquired at Thrive. He apparently shone and led some sessions, even showing their ‘experts’ how we do it!

“I love it here so much I that I even get to Saltwell Park an hour before it all starts so I can check on the plants and look at the gardening books! We all work at our own pace and never face any pressure. It makes me relaxed and comfortable which makes me want to learn. ”

That desire to learn has inspired Ray to gain a further qualification and he is now working towards the City and Guilds Work Based Horticulture Level 2 Diploma which could open the door to a new career – all linked to the gardening he clearly loves. For Ray, the future is looking brighter every day!

Sharon, a Senior Horticultural Therapist at Thrive’s site at Saltwell Park in Gateshead, said: “It’s been a real pleasure working closely alongside Ray and seeing how gardening has helped change his outlook on life. Ray’s story is a journey from dark despair to confidence and hope – it’s been an emotional journey from the early days to where we are now, sharing emotions, fears and experiences and I am so proud of what Ray has achieved.”

Ray says;

“I have really enjoyed learning the proper way to do things in the garden and the lads and lasses who volunteer here are a real help. I am confident, take pride in what I do, and see real benefit in growing things. It’s been brilliant therapy for me.”

Although Ray continues to live with mental health difficulties and cope as a carer for his disabled wife, he never misses a session and that is a huge compliment to us as it shows his enjoyment in attending and commitment to the project. He has grown in so many ways and is a valuable asset to the project.

Thrive continues to raise funds to help people like Ray at its four regional centres. If you can help, please visit the website.

Thompson & Morgan
Since the first seed catalogue was published in 1855, Thompson & Morgan has grown to become one of the UK’s largest Mail Order Seed and Plant companies. Through the publication of our catalogues and the operation of our award-winning website, Thompson & Morgan is able to provide home gardeners with the very best quality products money can buy.

A year in the greenhouse – Amanda

Hello everyone, my name is Amanda and this is the first of what I hope will be one of my many blogs for Thompson & Morgan. I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. It’s situated at the top of a hill and literally a five minute walk from the Cleddau Estuary. Being so close to the Irish Sea means that we get mild temperatures in the winter, however we also have to cope with the very strong salt-laden westerly winds that can blow up at any time of the year.

I started gardening later in life, for a few reasons, they are in no particular order but I would like to share them with you.

The first reason is for my physical and mental wellbeing. As I was born with a congenital heart disorder, and didn’t want to pick up any germs, I was a little scared of gardening. Especially as a youngster – but over the years I have realised gardening is actually very beneficial. It’s a great form of exercise, it is approved by my cardiologist to help maintain a healthy weight, keep muscle tone and improve lung capacity. It helps to reduces stress, it gets me outdoors, even in the winter, and I can enjoy super fresh fruit and veg, knowing exactly where it comes from and how it was grown. Which is to say, two minutes from my kitchen and mostly organic.

I’m not sure if using water from our four foot fish tank to drench the garden is classed as organic because of the colourings that go into fish food but the plants seem to like it. I do not water the plants that are eaten raw, just the potatoes, rhubarb and pretty flowers. Has anyone else used water from a fish tank to feed their plants? I have a feeling that I read something that said goldfish water is a good fertiliser, but I can’t remember where I read it.

a year in the greenhouseThe second reason I garden is because I wanted to learn a new skill.  I didn’t think I would be very good at growing something from seed or cuttings, and I hate failing at things, but without trying I would always be wondering if it was something I could have done. Luckily Thompson & Morgan have handy growing hints and tips on their website and their products always come with detailed instructions. I started off with simple seeds like sunflowers, sweet peas and asters, then progressed onto mini plugs of more tender plants and tomatoes when I got one of those plastic pop up greenhouses. I now have a 6×6 horticultural glasshouse. After eight years or so I can now say I am okay at growing things, but I still consider myself to be a beginner. Does anyone else feel this way?

For example I can grow peppers, aubergines and tomatoes from seed every year without encountering problems. Yet, every year without fail I kill my cucumbers before they are more than a foot high.

Two years ago I tried to grow carrots, the slugs had them. Last year I beat the slugs by moving the pots around constantly, but the carrots were so small, (even though the leaves were huge) that not even a carrot fly could go to the trouble of nibbling on them. It was pretty pathetic. This is why I still feel like a beginner. I have a lot to learn.

The third reason I garden is because of tradition. My paternal grandparents ran a farm so growing crops is in our blood. Whilst my maternal grandparents worked on the land and recycled everything before it became trendy to do so – they were also fantastic cooks and grew a variety of fruit and vegetables in their garden at the back of the house and to me were able to create magical food from a surprisingly small number of ingredients. If we wanted a pudding after our meal we were told to go and eat the raspberries or suck the nectar from the nasturtiums.

Whilst the farming grandparents allowed us the freedom of playing in the barns, walking the sheep dogs, helping harvest potatoes or go running and sitting in the fields, the village dwellers who only had a small garden allowed us to collect ladybirds and caterpillars and grasshoppers and study the insect world for ourselves, so long as we didn’t break the dahlias or peony or roses in the front garden. We never played in the back; I guess we were too scared of damaging grandpa’s regimented rows of produce. Both sets of grandparents taught me lessons I would like to share in future blogs.

a year in the greenhouseThis tradition of growing is the real reason why I want to be part of the blogging community.  Almost two years ago my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I wasn’t as close to him as my brothers were as my parents divorced when I was thirteen, but luckily through gardening we were able to mend our relationship. Before his illness became too aggressive I told him I was growing potatoes in a grow bag, being a farmer he thought this was the funniest thing anyone had ever told him. He said it wouldn’t work. I saw this as a challenge and gave him daily telephone updates of the potato progress along with taking photos on my phone to show him when we visited on the weekends. I didn’t realise how pleased he was until I overheard him telling his health visitor that I had fantastic food growing in the greenhouse as well as tasty spuds.

As his health began to fail he kept asking me if he could buy me another greenhouse for Christmas, I told him it was too expensive a present and that he needed to keep his money for heating, especially as the cancer had spread to his spine and shoulder bones. I tried to keep his spirits up by having a potato growing challenge – I would grow potatoes again in my grow bags if he grew two in a large plastic pot. After thinking about it he agreed saying he was wrong to say potatoes in sacks would never grow. Sadly dad died in June 2014 two weeks before our potatoes were ready. I inherited the plastic pot with them in it and at first I didn’t want to eat the spuds as that was the last thing he grew. In the end I knew he, like my grandparents, would be mad if I let good food go to waste, so ate them and they were delicious.

Dad also left us a little bit of money – I am not someone who has to have the latest tech, or have to spend it straight away. He didn’t leave us a fortune but it was enough for me to buy a new greenhouse with, it’s a 10×6 one. He also wanted me to be like his father and keep a diary of my gardening year. I have kept diary for most years but they have just been about random bits of daily life. I had no idea my granddad kept a diary of his life and farming methods, just before dad died I had the pleasure of reading the ones he had translated from Welsh from the years 1973, 1974 and 1975. So, forty years on I want to honour my past, be grateful for my present, and look forward to my future. I want to write about a year in my new greenhouse, covering everything from its construction to first fruits. I want to record everything from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs.

My actual diary is a physical paper journal where each day I will record things like when the greenhouse was delivered, how many blocks were laid for the base, the weather, things in bloom, and the cost of compost, anything greenhouse related. I sourced my diary on the Internet as the one I wanted includes sections for each week to record things like to do lists, weather patterns and interesting gardens to visit. Each month I will give you a concise update on my progress; I will include photos of significant events, and write some hopefully interesting things. In return all I ask is if you could share some of your gardening moments with me? Please leave me anything from comments, to hints and tips to improve my gardening, or pictures of your own plot. I promise I will try to respond to each one.

Until next month – Happy Gardening!

From Amanda.

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

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