Expert gardening tips for beginners

Gardening is a lifelong learning curve based on shared knowledge, trial and error.
Image source: Rawpixel.com

If you’re just getting into gardening and could do with some help and advice to set you on your way, we’ve got just what you need: handy tips from gardeners from across the blogosphere. These growers have planted and grown it all before, so give yourself a head start by learning from their wealth of experience. Here are five golden rules of growing for newbies.

1. Enjoy

Take time to enjoy your garden’s journey, not just the finished product.
Image source: NinaMalyna

The first thing to remember about gardening is that it’s supposed to be fun. Learning anything new can have its frustrating moments, but do remember to give yourself the time and space to enjoy working outdoors.

Be confident, says Geoff of Driftwood by Sea, who created his amazing seaside garden from scratch as a total beginner. His message is simple: “Go for it and you will succeed.”

Hayley of Hayley’s Lottie Haven grows a wonderful selection of healthy fruit and veg at her allotment, and her advice is also simple: “Take a step back to enjoy the fruits of your labour.” She says:

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in weeding, watering and harvesting, we forget to look at what we’ve achieved.

Above all, look on your new-found hobby as a way to practise being patient. As Adam of Carrot Tops Allotment says: “The world is moving at a faster and faster pace these days, so make the most of something moving slowly for a change.”

2. Embrace the learning curve

Make confident decisions – if they don’t work out you can always change them.
Image source: WeAre

If you’re just starting out, the chances are that you’ll experience a few hiccups on the road to growing success. Our experts’ advice is simple – embrace your failures and learn from them. You’re on a learning curve – learn to love learning.

“Nobody gets it right first time. Plants can be moved, new varieties of fruit and vegetables can be sown and garden designs can be developed,” says Kate of Diary of a Country Girl:

When something works it’s amazingly satisfying and surely that’s why we all garden!

That’s a sentiment with which Richard, creator and curator of a wonderful resource for gardeners, the Veg Grower Podcast, agrees. He says:

“Whether it’s a seed that didn’t germinate or a plant that didn’t flourish it’s not the end of the world. Look into what went wrong and rectify that for next time.”

3. Start off small

Even a small raised bed is enough space to get a vegetable garden started.
Image source: sanddebeautheil

There’s nothing more demoralising than starting off your gardening career with high ambitions only to find you don’t have the time, ability, and knowhow to bring them to fruition. But by starting off small, our experts say, you’ll develop your skills and capabilities so that one day, you’ll turn round and realise that you have, after all, created your dream garden.

“Don’t be afraid to be utterly realistic about your goals,” says Lucy at the Smallest Smallholding:

Focus on one thing at a time and try to enjoy the rambling and vigour of nature. Accept that imperfection is part of living in the natural world!

That’s advice that Kris, The Allotment Cook would recognise. When he first took over his allotment, trying to do too much meant he achieved little and he admits: “ I was aching in places I didn’t even know existed.” He says:

I learnt to take things a bit slower, plan and be patient….I focused on strawberries, chillies, potatoes and onions. The plan worked and I was eating them all the way through the winter.

If you’re taking on a large plot, don’t feel obliged to cultivate it all at once says Sarah at Digging the Earth:

“Simply strim it back, cover and tackle a bit at a time. Just uncover when you’re ready for it., and plant up as you go.”

4. Be adventurous

Experiment with growing unusual plants and flowers from seeds.
Image source: Shutterstock

Garden with a spirit of adventure and you’ll never look back, our panel of experts say. Always keen to take a chance on something new, they know they won’t always succeed, but embracing challenge means your gardening journey is always exciting and fun.

“I try to grow as many plants from seeds and cuttings,” says Sally at Sally’s Garden Blog. “I find it fascinating, it saves me a fortune, and there are so many incredible seeds available.”

Dawn of Being Self Sufficient in Wales agrees: “Be adventurous if you want to have a go at growing something different go for it, you don’t have to grow what everyone else grows.” She says:

It’s your garden and if you provide the right growing conditions then the growing world is your oyster.

And don’t just experiment with your selection of plants, try new things with your growing space too, as Dawn of Being Self Sufficient in Wales suggests:

Experiment: growing vertically will give you more growing space.

5. Get some training

Try the internet or book a local gardening course to learn new techniques.
Image source: Kaspars Grinvalds

With so much gardening knowledge available at the click of a mouse, it can be difficult to know which advice to put your faith in. That’s why it’s a good idea to get yourself some training from a reputable source, or simply invest in one good gardening book to get you started.

Sally at Sally’s Garden Blog puts it succinctly. She says:

I bought a really basic gardening book which had a weekly gardening project, I loved it, it really made me want to get gardening.

25 years later, via a postgrad degree in landscape architecture, and a lecturership in horticulture, Sally now works as a professional gardener.

Alice Vincent who gardens 60ft up, takes things a step further. Her book ‘How to Grow Stuff: Easy, no-stress gardening for beginners’, contains just the sort of advice fledgeling gardeners need to get them started. She says:

If you kill something, try and learn why.

Pete at Weeds up to me Knees says it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the courses on offer through your local authority, something he feels he’s benefitted from greatly: “the secret is, whatever gardening knowledge you have you can always expand on it as there’s so much to learn!”

We hope you’re inspired to get out into the garden and start digging. If you have any tips for gardening beginners that you think we’ve missed, just drop us a line via our Facebook page, and we’ll get back to you. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this little gem from Geoff at the Driftwood by the Sea:

Always do what you feel is right for you and your plot. Don’t be swayed by what the experts say!

Easy gardening tips from the experts

Make the most of these tried and tested tips from experienced gardeners.
Image source: welcomia

A great way to get the most from your garden is to follow the advice and guidance of generous gardeners who’ve already been there and done it. Here we bring you some top growing tips from expert gardeners and bloggers – green fingered folk who know their onions.

Enjoy it!

Don’t forget the wildlife that helps your garden look so spectacular.
Image source: The Forgotten Garden

Rule number one from Patricia from The Forgotten Garden in North Devon is simply to relax and enjoy what you’re doing: “Don’t spend time focussing on what you can’t do, just focus on what you can, with an eye on the wildlife that shares the garden with you.”

Although it must be said that Patricia, in a true modest gardener way, would never describe herself as an expert. She rightly points out that all gardeners are “learning as we go, and enquiring minds discovering more!”

Another horticulturist with a laissez-faire attitude is professional gardener, Judi of Judi Samuels Garden Design who sees many clients over-pruning shrubs to force them to conform to a particular space in the garden. Instead, she advises growers not to impose their will onto a plant, but rather, “allow it to be what it knows it is.” She says:

Part of my life’s work is teaching clients about right plant, right place – celebrating the form of a plant and allowing it to be.

In the same vein, Mike at Flighty’s Plot is all about “enjoying what you do”, which for him involves giving yourself the space to simply try things to see what happens without putting yourself under too much pressure to succeed every time.

Less is more

A plate full of edible “weeds” can result when a section of garden is left to its own devices.
Image source: Totally Wild

Why not let the earth itself tell you what it wants to grow? Says James of Totally Wild. He recommends leaving a 2m square patch of soil bare so that “so-called” weeds can fill it:

“Once you know what grows there, discover what you can do with it. The nettles are edible, the dandelions can make coffee, the chickweed a salad, and ground elder is fantastic wilted.”

And don’t bite off more than you can chew says Jono of Real Men Sow: “Even if you are lucky enough to get a full size plot, don’t feel pressurised to use it all.” Keeping things small and manageable makes sense, he says:

Concentrate on growing the food you enjoy, and not trying to grow so much that you can’t maintain a neat and tidy plot.

Take note

Sow your seeds at the right time for stronger plants and better crops.
Image source: Grow Like Grandad

Do always take note of the weather says Matt of Grow Like Grandad – it will catch out the hasty gardener:

Don’t be in a hurry to sow seeds early or plant out tender crops, you’ll only end up doing the same job twice.

A sure-fire way to expand your gardening knowledge is to make a note of all the interesting plants you come across while you’re out and about says Sally of Sally’s Garden Blog: “I always keep a gardening notebook and pen to write down any interesting plant I come across and a camera to remind myself of great plants.”

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Part fill heavy pots with polystyrene to make them easier to move.
Image source: sattahipbeach

If you’re growing in large pots in an urban garden or on a balcony, Ellen of Ellen Mary Gardening says you can make them much easier to move about by half filling them with packing peanuts before planting:

It’s a great way to recycle packaging and lessen waste and all you need to do is place some landscape fabric on top, then your soil and plant up.

Meanwhile, Mal of Mal’s Edinburgh Allotment has a great tip for reducing waste. He says: “Use writable tape to transform single use plastic labels into multiple use plastic labels.”

Got an old plastic striplight cover? Rachel at The Good Life Ain’t Easy’s ingenious tip is to use it as an outdoor propagator to get your seeds to germinate. Hers “worked like mini greenhouses warming up the soil” – what a great idea.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our contributors’ fab gardening tips; if you have any of your own to add, please leave us a message on our Facebook page. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this little pearl of wisdom from Thomas at Thomas Stone Horticultural Services:

Take 15 minutes to enjoy your garden; sit down and relax in it and enjoy your hard work.

And that’s perhaps the most important tip of all…

Veg growing tips from the experts

Keep your veg plot brimming over with delicious produce with these handy tips!
Image: Steffi Pereira


From one man who likes his veg Tudor style to another who loves to grow Tomatillos, and on to other green fingered folk with handy hints to share, here we bring you awesome veg growing tips from people in the know – veg gardeners and bloggers from across the country.

Choosing

Be bold and grow unusual crops like tomatillos for a tasty addition to your table.
Image: AN NGUYEN

A man who knows what he likes to put on the end of his fork, Matt of Grow like Grandad says there’s no point growing crops you and your family don’t eat. It’s a view Dawn of Being Self Sufficient in Wales shares. She says: “There’s no point growing cauliflower if you hate the stuff.” Her solution is to write up a list of everything your family does eat, and stick to that for your veg sowing selections.

If you fancy being a bit more adventurous, another Matt, this time from Modern Veg Plot, says: why stick to veg you can buy at the supermarket when there are so many tasty alternatives to try?

There are absolutely loads of unusual, interesting and incredibly tasty crops that are dead easy to grow at home such as Achocha, Cucamelons, Oca, Yacon, Tomatillos, Salsify, Kiwano and Tiger Nuts.

Or look for veg that keeps on giving, says Anni of Anni’s Veggies. She says perennials are the way to go:

Gracing the garden for several years or more at a time perennial vegetables are the ultimate in easy gardening.

Anni recommends kales like ‘Daubenton’s’ and ‘Taunton Deane’, tree and Welsh onions, and an old favourite from Tudor times: Skirret. A root with a sweet start and a peppery parsnippy finish, skirret roots are long and thin with “mature plants producing new baby plants around the base of the main stem allowing the gardener to easily propagate more stock.”

Sowing

When sowing your seeds, make sure to avoid gluts by careful planning.
Image: Audrius Merfeldas

“Work with nature, not against it,” says Hayley of Hayley’s Lottie Haven. She gets two crops from her sunniest spots by sowing earlier there than elsewhere on her plot, and gives shade-loving plants a helping hand by growing them in the shadow of taller plants:

I plant my lettuces and beetroot in the shadow of my tall plants such as sweetcorn and beans. Everything should work in harmony

That’s something with which perennial-loving Anni agrees. She says skirret produces flowers pretty enough to grace a border, just one reason why she sows perennial veg in “mixed ‘polycultures’ with other beneficial plants which can fix nitrogen and perform other vital functions in the garden.”

Whatever you choose to sow, avoid gluts by sowing less, but more frequently. That’s what Richard of Sharpen Your Spades does: “I sow short rows of things like radish, beetroot and carrots every few weeks.”

Growing

How many courgette plants do you really need?
Image: elesi

Once you’ve thinned out your carrots, “earth them up a bit,” says Lou Nicholls, head gardener at Ulting Wicks. It’s a trick her grandad taught her:

“First it makes it more difficult for carrot root fly to get at them and secondly, it prevents the tops from turning green as it stops the sunlight from reaching them.”

Make the most of your perennial veg by using existing stock to create more says Anni of Anni’s Veggies. She goes for Taunton Deane kale because it “has a very branching habit and cuttings taken from young side shoots are easily rooted to form new plants.” She also sticks to harvesting the leaves of her Welsh onions so that the bulbs can increase in number.

Don’t forget to collect the seeds from this year’s plants. Anni says: “seed can be saved to sow for more plants next year.

If you’ve got some growing tips to share, we’d love to hear from you. Just hop over to our Facebook page and drop us a line. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with our favourite tip from Matt of Grow Like Grandad: “Despite your spring sowing enthusiasm, you only need two courgette plants…” Wise words, indeed.

How green is your pond?

By Carol Bartlett at the Sunday Gardener

frog-on-leafpad-pond

Ponds are great way to attract wildlife to your garden.
Image source: Svetlana Foote

A pond will attract a variety of wildlife into the garden such as frogs, damselflies, dragonflies, water boatman and pond skaters. Many different types of birds will visit for a bath and a dip; I even had a kingfisher dive in for a fish.

But what should you do if your pond looks like a bowl of green soup? The good news is that this can be fixed. Here’s how.

A natural water balance

Don’t despair if your pond looks like pea soup.
Image source: Carol Bartlett

The cause of this greening is algae. Usually a pond is fairly clear over winter until spring arrives and the ecology starts to change. As temperature and sunlight levels increase, the water warms up, blooms of algae appear, and your pond turns green.

For algae to thrive in your pond it needs sun, minerals and nutrients to feed on. The key to maintaining clear water is to create an ecological balance which reduces these elements, in turn, inhibiting the algae.

Reduce sunlight to the pond

Use plants to reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the water.
Image source: Dirk Ott 

Cutting down the amount of sun on your pond will make the conditions less suitable for algae. This may seem counterintuitive since most pond plants like a good amount of sun. So to keep algae in check you’ll need to come up with a clever way to reduce the amount of sunlight to the water without shading the plants.

The answer is to cover a good part of the pond’s surface with plants that will act as a shield to the water underneath. Floating plants, submerged plants and water lilies are ideal. You should aim to cover about half of the pond’s surface.

Reduce nutrients in the pond

Scoop any fallen leaves from your pond to reduce nutrients in the water.
Image source: Sinica Kover

Algae feed on the nutrients in your pond, so reducing nutrients in the water will inhibit algae growth. Avoid constructing a pond near deciduous trees and shrubs. When leaves fall into a pond they sink to the bottom, rot down and make the water more nutrient rich. In addition they also release toxins which pollute the water and endanger pond life. If leaves do fall into the pond, it’s best to skim them off with a net and remove.

It may be tempting to use ordinary compost when planting into a pond, but it’s full of nutrients. It’s better to use sterile aquatic compost which is free from peat and nutrients wherever possible.

There is also the thorny issue of whether to introduce fish. Fish are attractive, but they excrete, which adds nutrients to the pond and feeds the algae.

Oxygenate the water

Water Crowfoot is a good oxygenating plant.
Image source: Zoltan Major

Algae grows fast and can rapidly deplete the water of oxygen. It’s important to oxygenate the water to support the plants and wildlife which in turn keep the water clear. Submerged oxygenating plants are invaluable to the natural balance of the pond. Try things like ranunculus aquatilis (water crowfoot), hottonia palustris (water violet), potamogeton crispus (curly pondweed), and myriophyllum verticillatum (milfoil). They will also help support the algae-eating animals, such as water snails and tadpoles.

Most oxygenating plants grow well, but depending on your local conditions, you may have to try several to establish which grow best. Most are easy to control so they shouldn’t get out of hand. However, do bear in mind that some oxygenating plants are invasive. Things like parrots feather, have the potential to escape and overwhelm native plants.

A fountain or a waterfall makes a lovely water feature. They look good and serve a practical purpose – adding more oxygen to the water. Installing a waterfall or fountain will require a pump which can be combined with a filter and a UV clarifier. These also help to keep the water clearer.

If planting water lilies, remember that they don’t like being splashed, so arrange fountains accordingly.

Other tips to reduce algae in a pond

This pond has a concealed pump and filter system.
Image source: Del Boy

It’s part of the natural pond cycle that early in the season there will be an algae bloom, when the water first warms up. Then the oxygenating plants start to work, the vegetation grows and the lily pads will spread over the pond surface. Within a week or two the green bloom fades and the water becomes clear. The period of green should be limited to a couple of weeks early in the season. If it continues beyond a few weeks, here are some other things to bear in mind.

The size of a pond can affect its natural balance. A larger pond will maintain its natural balance more easily while small, shallow, under-planted ponds will heat up faster and suffer more from algae.

I have found barley straw effective, although it doesn’t seem to work for everyone. The straw decomposes in the water inhibiting the growth of algae.

A pond filter can be very helpful to remove algae. If you have a significant number of fish, a filter is essential to maintain good quality water and to ensure that fish excreta doesn’t feed the algae. It is important to buy the right size of filter for the volume of water (determined by the size and depth of the pond), and number of fish to be stocked in the pond. Specialist suppliers offer advice on this.

There are chemicals which can be added to the water, but I’m not happy to add them to a pond which is full of wildlife. It is a matter of personal choice. The sustainable way forward is to build up the ecological balance in the pond so that it naturally takes away the algae.

With a little effort, it is possible to have an algae free pond. Apart from the early spring bloom, algae is not inevitable as long as you have a few tricks up your sleeve to keep it at bay.

About the author

Carol Bartlett, The Sunday Gardener, lives in the north of England where she has created a diverse garden including wildflowers, natural areas, herbaceous borders, a wildlife pond, trees and wetland plants, along with a vegetable plot. She has been gardening, reading, researching and photographing plants for over twenty years and her website is a popular resource for gardeners young and old.

3 simple ways to combine ornamental and edible planting

Article by Nic Wilson from Dogwooddays

This ornamental garden consists of flowers and leafy vegetables.
Image: Arjuna Kodisinghe


Picking your own fruit, vegetables and herbs is one of the highlights of the gardening year, but you don’t have to turn your garden into an allotment in order to grow and harvest your own food. There are many ways to grow crops within an ornamental framework, so that your garden – whatever its size – can be a beautiful and productive space.

 

Add An Edible Hedge

Rosemary hedges can be left natural or kept low and trimmed neatly.
Image source: Shutterstock

Native edible hedges create valuable habitats for wildlife and provide a range of crops like cherry plums, hazelnuts, sloes, elderberries and rosehips. Even if you don’t have room for a large hedge you can try edging beds and borders with step-over apple trees which will create low boundaries and provide fruit within the first few years.

Rosemary and lavender can be used as edible hedging to give definition to different areas of the garden. My narrow front garden is trisected by a rosemary hedge (Rosmarinus officinalis) to create three distinct gravel planting areas. In the winter the hedge provides evergreen structure and during the summer months, perennials fill the space and the hedge all but disappears beneath a colourful meadow. We use the rosemary leaves in soups, stews, on the barbecue and to garnish homemade chips.

If you like the idea of a low edible hedge with a box-like appearance, you could try growing a myrtle relative – the Chilean guava (Ugni molinae). This evergreen shrub likes a sheltered spot in acid soil and is hardy down to around -10°C . It has small dark green leaves which develop a deep red autumn colour and has deliciously fragrant white bell flowers in summer, followed by small red berries. Not only are the berries one of the tastiest fruits in our garden (they were Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit), they also ripen in October offering fresh flavour at a time when all the other fruit has passed into winter hibernation.

 

Plant Attractive Crops in Containers

A row of contemporary pots planted with cavolo nero would make a striking statement.
Image source: Ruud Morijn Photographer

We tend to focus on the productivity and taste of our fruit and vegetables, but many also have ornamental flowers and foliage which can add beauty to a garden. Blueberries thrive in pots and if your soil is alkaline like mine, growing blueberries in containers is a practical way to grow this acid-loving shrub. In addition to their delicious, healthy fruits, blueberries have delicate white flowers in late spring and the foliage turns a rich red in autumn, meaning this is a plant which combines beauty and utility throughout the seasons.

Colourful vegetables like Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’, purple kohl rabi ‘Kolibri’ and cavolo nero will grow well in containers – you can grow one type repeated in individual contemporary pots for the minimalist look or add them all to one large pot with an underplanting of thyme or edible annual flowers, for a more cottage garden effect.

 

Grow Edible Annual Flowers

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ is a popular edible plant.
Image source: Nic Wilson

Most annuals are easy to grow and fit well into small spaces in borders, containers and vegetable beds. Nothing looks and tastes better on hot summer days than a fresh salad decorated with edible petals. One of our favourite edible flowers is the nasturtium with its peppery leaves and seed pods which we pickle as an alternative to capers. We grew Nasturtium majus ‘Cream Troika’ last year alongside tumbling tomatoes in hanging baskets – the buttery yellow flowers with red centres trailed lazily over the edges, lasting all through the summer.

English marigold (Calendula officinale) is another easy annual. The flowers range from the vivid orange and yellow ‘Power Daisy Orange/Yellow’ to the muted tones of two of my favourite varieties – ‘Snow Princess’ and ‘Sherbert Fizz’. The petals look appealing in salads, adding a light peppery flavour. Calendula readily self-seeds, so not only will you have edible flowers in the future, but each year brings different colours and shades as the plants readily cross-pollinate.

 

Disclaimer

The author and publisher take no responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Not everyone reacts positively to all edible plants or other plant uses. Seek advice from a professional before using a plant for culinary or medicinal uses.

Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2017). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at www.dogwooddays.net

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