Lessons learnt from a beginner gardener – 18 months on

In December 2012 I wrote my first blog for Thompson & Morgan, all about my first year as a grower of vegetables. Time has passed by rapidly and I have learnt so much in the past 18 months as a beginner gardener. I thought it was time to tell you more about what I have been up too.

Season two began slowly, the spring of 2013 was really cold and stuff just wouldn’t grow. After learning a few things the previous season, I didn’t plant carrots or parsnips. I just couldn’t handle the worry of carrot fly and forking. I wanted to enjoy the garden as well as eat my produce.

Another change in 2013, I gave up one of my beds for flowers. I love flowers and for many years bought huge numbers from supermarkets or anywhere else I saw them. They were always lovely, but I was aware that they were not “just cut”, they had probably been heavily treated with chemicals. I wanted fresh, scented, cut that morning flowers, so I decided to try and grow some for myself.


Season two progressed nicely but it was not without its problems. One glaring mistake caused much merriment for lots of people all over the summer. Early in the year I sat with my T&M catalogue and picked the things I wanted to grow. I love courgettes, but they tend to take over, wherever you planted them. I spotted some that you could train and decided they were the perfect variety for me “Black Forest”. I built, what later became dubbed “The Leaning Tower of Barton” out of bamboo canes and collected my plants from the greenhouse.

Now in my defence I will say that most squash plants look the same until they produce something.  I happily planted my three courgette plants around the tower and began to train them upwards. They grew rapidly and soon flowers were appearing and then I could see the courgettes themselves beginning to grow. One of the plants though, seemed to be producing supersize veg.

It took me a few weeks but suddenly I realised that I had mixed up my plants. The super size veg were not courgettes. I had somehow managed to train a pumpkin up a trellis. Now the pumpkins were getting large, action was required to prevent them dropping off. So I made pumpkin slings out of net.


Those pumpkins were probably the best I have ever grown. As they were suspended 4 feet off the ground, they ripened beautifully in the sunshine and were not attacked by anything. When the pumpkins begin to appear this year, I will suspend them above the soil in slings.


This year the “Leaning Tower” definitely has only Courgettes growing up it!

Most of the other veg I grew was very successful, one minor error, I made an amazing bamboo frame for my peas and was very disappointed when they didn’t grow very high.  Subsequent examination of the packet revealed I had bought Dwarf Peas. This year, I was very careful selecting the correct variety, they are currently about 7 feet high and still growing.

dwarf peas

I became aware through social media, that there were a growing number of people, who were planting their own flowers and cutting them for sale or just for personal pleasure. So last summer with no experience of large scale flower growing, or in fact no idea of what I was going to end up with, I planted a whole bed with flower seeds. The result was a summer of flowers in my house, nothing purchased at a supermarket or florists.

cut flowers

But I knew I could do better, so I spent the winter, researching plants, going on courses and generally planning my flower year. I found resources which showed you could pretty much grow flowers all year round here in the UK and never have to buy them again. So this is now my mission. The one bed from last year has become two this year, and numerous pots as well. I have also used the borders and fences in the other part of the garden for sweet peas and anything else I can squeeze in.

I was also able to help out someone else on a special day. A few weeks ago I took a few jam jar posies into the charity shop I volunteer at. A customer saw them and asked where they came from. She was put in touch with me by the manager and she told me her story. Her sister was getting married the following Saturday and she wanted home grown flowers. Her dad had planted a load in the Spring, but for various reasons, not enough had grown. She asked if I could help out.

So it was, that last week, in the late evening when it was safe to cut, lots and lots of my flowers went on their way to be used at the wedding. The very happy bride, made a lovely donation to the Hospice I volunteer for. I cant describe the pleasure it gave me to be able to help.

In 2012 I was a novice, now in 2014, I could almost say I am a proper gardener. I love my plot and really enjoy sharing  all my stories from it. If you want to know more about my garden, and especially more about growing your own flower and food, come on over to my blog for a read.

Lorraine Pullen – The Good Life – Well Maybe!

Read Lorraine Pullen’s post about her first year of blogging.

I became a blogger just over 12 months ago when I started my own blog entitled

The Good Life – Well Maybe!

The “Well Maybe” was added as I was a recently retired public servant, with little experience of growing vegetables, but lots of enthusiasm and plenty of time to learn. I decided that I wanted to keep a record of my experiences, the good and the bad, and share them with anyone else who was prepared to read them . It has worked out rather well, both the garden and the blog. What follows is a brief précis of my first year as the grower of tasty but often mis-shaped veg!

My Dad grew vegetables, in fact so many vegetables especially runner beans that I hated them, we ate them every day for weeks on end because if we didn’t they got thrown away. So who would have thought that as the years passed by I would develop a love of all veggies and started to want to grow them myself.

We lived in the overcrowded South East of England and although I did have a garden, it was very small and I was only able to grow a few things each year in tubs and flower beds. But those few successes gave me the taste for bigger things. Enquiries with the local council came to nothing. All the local allotment sites had waiting lists which were years long.

Impending retirement gave me the opportunity to finally get my veg patch. We decided to move house and I was determined that this time I would get the garden of my dreams.

After a long search we found the idea home on the South Coast of England in a perfect spot between the sea and the New Forest. And finally I was able to start my new garden.

The plot was barren, having been cleared of trees several years before and then left unused. It was though, the perfect canvas on which to draw my plans. The list of things I wanted to do was pretty long, but with the help of my long suffering, but very able husband we set about doing the groundwork.

This is the space we started with

Guest blogger - Lorraine Pullen

This is what we started with

The correct greenhouse was imperative, so after much thought I ordered a nice large 10ft by 8ft space.

Early on I also knew I would have to help the soil as much as possible. It had no life in it. Luckily living near the New Forest, the ideal source of nutrients was readily available . Horses roam everywhere here and leave behind their rich deposits! it wasn’t long before a huge pile was steaming nicely at the end of the garden .

December 2011 was a month we thought would never end. We spent day after day puzzling over the instruction booklet, trying to put the greenhouse together. A bit of advice to anyone getting there first greenhouse. Pay the company to put it up for you. It  took us a very long time, but the sense of achievement when it was done cannot be beaten.

So 2012 arrived and so did the chickens. I wanted some company when I was outside so thought it would be nice to get eggs and compost from some birds. Another building was constructed on the patch, a rather spiffy house for the ladies to reside in.

Now it was time to plan my raised beds. After reading lots of advice, we decided on 10ft by 5ft beds. in hindsight, I would have made them narrower, 4ft would have been perfect. As it is at the moment, I struggle to reach the middle of each bed without standing in them. This is not a good idea as it compacts the soil.

Scaffold boards made good beds and then all of the paths were graveled. One quickly typed sentence, but two long hard weeks of work, with literally hundreds of trips up and down the garden with tons of gravel and topsoil. But finally by the end of February, the groundwork was done.

Guest blogger - Lorraine Pullen

Groundwork complete, time to get planting

And then the fun could begin. March meant all sorts of things were planted in the greenhouse. I was like a kid in a sweetshop. I had no idea what I was doing, or if any of it would work but I spent many happy hours in my little glass palace.

Outside, in the beds, the first plants went in, strawberries and potato’s were amongst the first. Each planting left me wanting to do more. March also heralded the arrival of our very first home laid egg. That was a very special moment.

April and everything was growing like mad. The greenhouse was bursting with plants. tomato’s, broccoli, peas, beans, cabbage, peppers, squash, lettuce and many more. Outside carrots, and parsnips were in. If I knew then what I do now, I would never have planted them. Carrot fly became one of my summer long obsessions, alongside blight!

May, was more of the same, happy hours planting out And then early in the Month, that magical day when finally I was able to pick the most delicious strawberry. It was wonderful and even more so because I grew it. Finally after months of hard work, I was seeing the fruits of my labour.

Other successes followed on over the summer months. tomato’s, potato’s lettuce and many other. There were failures as well. The broccoli was infested with caterpillars. That was another lesson learned, butterflies may be very pretty, but they are after your vegetables as well.

Then of course it began to rain. On a biblical scale, and with the damp condition came the blight. First the tops of the potato’s went. Then closely followed by all 12 outdoor tomato plants. My first major disappointment. Luckily I had 4 tomato plants in the greenhouse and they have been prolific. I will be growing the Alicante variety again. I only cleared them 2 weeks ago.

Other disappointments were the spinach, which was pitiful, the carrots, fly ridden and the strangest shapes you have ever seen and my peas, which struggled to reach about 3 feet high and then produced a mere 12 pods.

The plot is still producing. I have about a dozen kos lettuce which are still growing outside in November! The sprouts are looking amazing, as are the savoy cabbage and my leeks are standing to attention in two lovely straight rows, waiting to grace the dinner table .

My first year is drawing to a close. I can safely say, despite the weathers best efforts, I have had a pretty successful season. The ground had never been cultivated and I think it held up well. I have lots of plans for making it more productive. Two beds are currently sown with green manure. I have been composting all the chicken house straw and droppings since march, and I know that will help immensely.

I would encourage anyone who has ever thought about growing vegetable to give it a go. I am healthier than I have ever been, I spend hours outdoors in all weather and I love it.

So what have I learned, well lots and lots and lots but here are my top five

  • The online gardening community is the nicest group of people I have ever  encountered. Happy to share tips and seeds!
  • Never trust a pretty butterfly, it’s just looking for something to lay eggs on
  • Slugs eat absolutely everything
  • Carrot fly can get through the smallest hole
  • Don’t bend over to look at a seedling with two freshly laid eggs in your pocket

and finally

I still don’t like Runner Beans

Please come over for a visit sometime and find out what else I get up to.


Guest blogger - Lorraine Pullen

The veg patch


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