Expert gardening tips for beginners

Gardening is a lifelong learning curve based on shared knowledge, trial and error.
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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!

The minty fresh taste of summer

By Nic Wilson from Dogwooddays

Chocolate Mint is one of the more interesting varieties
Image source: Nic Wilson

Mint is the most versatile of herbs – it adds zest to summer desserts and savoury dishes, and flavours herbal teas and cocktails. It thrives in semi-shade where other Mediterranean herbs like thyme and rosemary might struggle.

There are so many types available, all with different scents and uses – so it’s helpful to know a little about the different varieties before you start growing. But if you just want to jump into growing something versatile, then a basic mint plant is perfect for getting started.

Which Mint?

Banana mint has a mild flavour
Image source: Nic Wilson

My favourites include tall apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) whose furry leaves add a fresh tang to boiled new potatoes with butter; it’s also really good in mint sauce. For herbal teas I prefer spicy varieties like peppermint (Mentha x piperita) – a cross between watermint and spearmint, Moroccan mint (Mentha spicata var. crispa ‘Moroccan’) and Tashkent mint (Mentha spicata ‘Tashkent’), also known as spearmint.

For even more flavour, I combine the mint with lemon verbena leaves for an aromatic hot tea, or add sugar, cool the tea and add ice cubes as a refreshing drink on hot summer afternoons. Moroccan and Tashkent mint also have the advantage of being resistant to mint rust, a common fungal disease that can affect leaves from spring until the autumn.

Other varieties to try include ginger mint (Mentha x gracilis ‘Variegata’), an attractive plant with variegated yellow and green foliage that tastes great with fruit salads. Or choose dark chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Chocolate’) my children’s favourite, with deep red stems and leaves that really do taste of mint choc chip ice cream.

The spicy foliage of basil mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Basil’) adds a tang to oils and vinegars,and the soft leaves of banana mint (Mentha arvensis ‘Banana’) have a mild flavour with just a hint of banana. There’s even a variety from Cuba called Mojito mint (Menthat villosa ‘Mojito’) which has a warm sweet flavour ideal for combining with soda water, lime juice, white rum and sugar to create the traditional Cuban highball.

Growing and Propagating Mint

Mint is a vigorous plant that spreads unless contained
Image source: shutterstock/Izf

It’s a good idea to grow mint in containers, unless you have a large patch that will tolerate invasion by this vigorous perennial. I have grown mint in large bottomless pots sunk into the ground – you just have to be vigilant and pull out any surface runners before they root and escape into the garden.

Mint thrives in semi-shade and likes to be kept well watered, but it copes with full shade and full sun too. It’s best to avoid growing different mints close together or in the same container as they can lose their distinct scents and flavours.

Once you have mint it’s quick and easy to propagate by stem or root cuttings. Either turn the plant out of the pot, break off a few roots (with or without shoots) and bury just below the surface in peat-free compost, or take several stem cuttings from a healthy plant and place around the rim of a pot filled with gritty compost. Keep moist until you see new growth and then pot on.

In the Garden

Corsican mint (or ‘mini mint’) forms a green carpet on the ground
Image source: David Eickhoff

Mint is also valuable in the garden as an ornamental plant. Creeping Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) creates a relaxed look trailing along a gravel path, between stepping stones or over rocks. At only 3-10cm high, it forms a mat on the ground and releases its spicy aroma when crushed underfoot. As with all flowering mints, this Corsican mint is a magnet for bees which love its tiny mauve flowers.

Hanging baskets are another ideal place for ornamental mint. Indian mint (Satureia douglasii  ‘Indian Mint’), a tender perennial in the mint family, has delicate white long-lasting flowers that cascade over the sides of a basket. Or as we’ve done this year, plant sweet strawberry mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Strawberry’) in the centre of a hanging basket surrounded by trailing strawberry plants and then harvest both for a delicious dessert – just add cream.

 

About the author

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

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.

 

Easy gardening tips from the experts

Make the most of these tried and tested tips from experienced gardeners.
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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…

Growing berries in pots and containers

By Sasha Ivanova at London Plantology

Cranberry Pilgrim
Image source: London Plantology

There are many ways to grow berries in small spaces – wild strawberries in window boxes, a vertical wall of cranberries, dwarf raspberries in hanging baskets or blueberries in pots on the patio. Plant your containers now and you’ll get heavenly fragrance throughout the summer and a wonderful harvest with which to make delicious jams and cordials to last throughout the winter!

Strawberries

Alpine Strawberries
Image source: London Plantology

I started my berry garden by propagating alpine (aka woodland) strawberries from seed. The seeds germinated quickly and easily in the spring and by the end of July I had a few plants growing in the window boxes. Their compact growing habit and shallow roots make woodland strawberries ideal for containers and hanging baskets.

I love these little hard working plants. They always look cheerful and flower non-stop, even in winter! The berries are smaller than common garden strawberries but they’re packed with flavour and fragrance. On a hot day, a few freshly picked berries create an incredible aroma in your hands.

Grower’s tip: sprinkle alpine strawberry seeds on top of compost and don’t cover with soil as they need light to germinate. A bright windowsill is perfect.

For a vertical edible garden, try new varieties of climbing strawberries. Strawberry “Mount Everest” and strawberry “Skyline” produce up to 1m long runners which can be trained on trellis or a pea netting.

The visual effect of a green wall dotted with shiny red berries is stunning and the scent of strawberries in summer is delightful. With luck, slugs and snails will be too lazy to climb “Mount Everest” to get their pickings!

Climbing strawberries are also a great addition to patios and front gardens. They can be planted in ‘Tower Pots’ (pots with a supportive frame) and trained into living vertical columns. Place Tower Pots strategically around your patio to create unusual focal points. They draw the eye making small spaces look more spacious, and you’ll have the added benefit of eating freshly picked berries when they’re ripe!

Blueberries & cranberries

Blueberry Bluecrop
Image source: London Plantology

Growing blueberries and cranberries is easier than you might think. Given the right soil conditions, both will supply delicious berries year after year. Acid-loving plants, they will perform best if the soil pH is less than 5.

The easiest way to ensure a correct pH level is to grow blueberries and cranberries in pots filled with an ericaceous compost mixed with bark. Bark mulch will help to retain moisture in containers, needed for the plant’s shallow root system.

Bluecrop and Pink Lemonade are my favourite blueberry varieties. Bluecrop is a compact bush, suitable for containers, and has large bell-shaped cream flowers in the spring, blue-purple berries packed with antioxidants in the summer and colourful leaves in the autumn. Pink Lemonade is the first pink blueberry! A truly unique variety with delicate pink flowers and sweet rose-pink berries – it’s loved by kids for its delicious sweet flavour and by grown-ups for its amazing appearance.

Both varieties are self-fertile but having two or more plants will improve pollination and your harvest.

I also grow Pilgrim cranberries, or rather they are spreading everywhere on a pilgrimage across my garden. I planted them last spring under pine trees but they quickly became overrun with weeds. The creeping cinquefoil weed intertwined with the crawling cranberries became impossible to bear, so this season I am experimenting with a new method.

I’m now planting cranberries in three hanging baskets positioned one below the other to create a cascading effect. Cranberries send out runners which I will be rooting in the baskets lower down to propagate new upright plants. Flowers and fruit are produced on upright plants so it is worth rooting as many new shoots as possible for a good yield.

An added bonus is that the glowing red berries look amazing in the late autumn when all other colours have almost disappeared from the garden.

Grower’s tip: Water blueberries and cranberries with rainwater to help maintain the acidity of the soil.

Dwarf raspberries & blackberries

Juicy blackberries
Image source: London Plantology

When I got my own small London garden, my dream was to plant a few raspberry and blackberry canes, but I did have some doubts. Large thorny bushes spreading across the middle of the lawn wasn’t very appealing! However, with new fruit varieties available, it’s easy to grow your own berries even without a garden.

Trailing raspberries and blackberries are a perfect choice for hanging baskets and require less maintenance than flowers. They look wonderful hanging on the patio, balcony or by the front door, and you can pick delicious home-grown berries on your way in from work! For an interesting colour mix, try pink raspberry “Ruby Falls” and dark blackberry “Black Cascade”.

Dwarf varieties like blackberry “Opal” and raspberry “Ruby Beauty” reach only 1m height and are good for growing in large containers. Their flowers attract honey bees and bumblebees and their bushy habit ensures a bumper harvest. An extra bonus of the trailing and dwarf varieties are the thornless stems!

Have you tried growing berries in your garden or allotment? How did it go, and what are your favourites? Have you discovered any productive varieties or dwarf plants suitable for small spaces? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the author

Sasha Ivanova is an urban gardener, blogger, and martial artist. Passionate about propagation and growing from seed, she grows all her plants in a small London back yard. Her research has led her to cultivate unusual edible plants, as well as experimenting with fruit trees in what she describes as a ‘garden without trees’. Read more at her blog, londonplantology.com

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.

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