Gardening can be challenging, and more than a little overwhelming if you have a lot of land to attend to.
However, the basic principles are easy to learn and so easy now that summer is here. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing the results! Whether you’re hoping for a flowerbed to impress the likes of Alan Titchmarsh, to educate the family about the wonders of gardening, or just want a neat lawn, a BBQ area and somewhere to hang the washing, you’ve come to the right place…
What is gardening?
Let’s start right at the beginning. Gardening is the act of tending to a piece of ground so that it becomes a plot of land used for relaxation, recreation or growth. It’s a broad definition – which means your garden can be whatever you want it to be. Typically, people use gardens to cultivate flowers, shrubs, fruit and vegetables, or as extra leisure space for themselves and their family. The first step, therefore, is to decide what you want your garden to be used for. The second step is to do sufficient research on sites like Natural Dwellers that will arm you with the best gardening tips.
How do seasons affect gardening?
Gardening is an almost year-round activity, but spring, summer and autumn is when green-fingered people don their sun hats and get down and dirty. You’ll need to plant most of the contents of your garden in spring and autumn, tending to it with extra dedication throughout the summer months. Unless you’re very keen, there isn’t a great deal of activity in the garden in winter. For the most part, winter gardening is all about preparation for the coming year, pruning, and preventing hard frosts from undoing all your hard work.
Climate and weather influence gardening in the UK. For example, too much in the way of rain, wind, cold, heat and frost can have an adverse affect, but equally, plants need adequate amounts of sunshine, water and clean air to thrive. As our climate is mild and varied, gardening in Britain is pretty easy!
What do plants need to survive?
All plants need sunlight, water and healthy soil – they just need them in different quantities. Imagine Goldilocks: it needs to be “just right” for your garden to grow! So, it’s worth remembering that plants are a bit like people… they have personalities of their own with some preferring a hot, dry environment, whilst other varieties prefer shade and moisture. You’ll need to learn what quantities of sunshine, water and nutrition your plants prefer in able to help them survive.
Do I need a plan for my garden?
No, but a plan will certainly reduce your chance of crashing and burning. Draw a basic sketch of your garden and include vital characteristics: where are the sun traps? Which areas are always in shade? What effect are the neighbouring walls and fences having? How might you use them to your advantage?
Then, get designing. Do you want an area with patio, decking or gravel? Are you envisaging a paved path? Would you like a burst of colour flowers blooming from every corner, and do you want to see dappled sunlight through the leaves of fruit trees?
Once you’ve sketched your ideal garden and factored in answers to these questions, take a hard look at your drawing. How much work is this going to take to achieve? Are you prepared to put in that amount of time and money? How much energy are you willing to give in order to maintain this kind of garden? If in doubt, plant half as much but twice as well. It’s better to start with less if you’re a beginner.
My garden’s currently a mess – how do I clear it?
There’s no shortcut here… just roll up your sleeves and get stuck in! If you have a garden waste bin collected by your local council, fill it regularly and clear your garden incrementally. If you don’t have this kind of service available (or would prefer to clear the garden quickly) you can take everything to your local waste disposal centre. Get rid of anything you don’t want, which might mean dismantling entire garden sheds, removing trees or taking fly-tipped rubbish to the dump. Once your garden is empty, remove leftover weeds and stones and dig the earth over. Digging the earth by turning the soil is a process called ‘fluffing up’ and is essential for the health of your soil.
Do I need to do anything else to the soil?
Probably! Healthy soil is critical for the success of your garden. Garden soil ought to have a pH value close to 7 (below 7 and it will be too alkaline, above 7 and it will be too acidic), so before you pull on your gardening gloves, check your garden’s pH level using a helpful test like this one.
There are six main types of soil: clay, sandy, silty, peaty, chalky and loamy. The type of soil in your garden might play some part in the success of your efforts because some are easier to garden with than others. However, even if you find yourself with one of the trickier types, you can add fertilisers and treatments to improve the quality and nutrient-density of your land. Gardener’s World has some helpful information to help you find out what your soil type is and what it means for your garden.
Finally, as you fluff your soil, incorporate organic matter, manure and compost to add the right nutrients and compounds to help your garden grow.
What plants and tools should I buy? And where should I buy them from?
Visit a garden centre or nursery to choose the plants you’d like. You can even go online and buy beautiful bulbs and more if you want more choice than your local shops can offer.
Not sure which seeds are best for beginners? Try sweet peas, aquilegias, marigolds, fuchsias and honeysuckle and check out this helpful guide for planting flowers. If you’d prefer to focus on veg, radishes are pretty forgiving and will grow in almost any soil. Strawberries are surprisingly hardy, and potatoes, salad greens and green beans don’t require too much monitoring either.
You’ll also need the right tools if you’re going to get into gardening. Take a look at this helpful guide on the pruning tools for trees, hedges and shrubs. The larger your garden, the more tools you’re likely to need. However, all gardeners need the basics: containers, potting soil, watering cans, a trowel, a spade, gardening gloves, a shovel and a digging fork.
How often should I water my garden?
The quantity of water your garden needs will depend on the quality of your soil, the plants you’re growing and the weather you’re experiencing. However, as a rule of thumb, make sure your garden gets an inch or two of water once a week – one deep watering is better than lots of frequent, shallow watering. However, sandy soil is going to hold less water than clay soil, so it will dry out quicker and probably need topping up. Therefore, put your finger a few inches into the soil every week and see if it’s dry. If it is, give it a little more water.
It’s worth considering the weather too. If it’s very hot, you’ll need to water your garden more often, but if it’s been raining your garden would probably benefit from skipping a turn with the watering can. It’s better to water your garden first thing in the morning before the sun is high in the sky (to reduce evaporation and ensure as much water penetrates the soil as possible), but late afternoon is OK too.
Will bugs or animals ruin my garden?
Possibly, but you don’t have to use harsh or harmful methods to keep them at bay. There are three groups of pests that are a problem for your garden: mammals (such as rabbits), insects (such as tomato worms) and gastropods (such as slugs). They’ll come to eat the delicious things you’re growing (and who can blame them?!), so if you want to ward them off, trying eco-friendly tactics such as scattering coffee grounds. Slugs and cats dislike coffee so will keep out of your flowerbeds and vegetable patch! Slugs particularly dislike copper too, so it could be worth lining your flowerpots pots with copper tape. Bloodmeal sprinkled carefully around the garden will deter rabbits as the smell spooks them away, and it could be worth ‘pairing’ your plants – insects don’t like the strong scents of oregano and basil and will keep away from your tomato plants if you place them alongside one another.
How can I help wildlife?
Your garden can help wildlife if it contains trees, flowers, shrubs, structures and features to support animals. Why not plant trees to give birds somewhere to nest, or hedgerows to provide cover and corridors for small mammals? Long grass and tall flowers will attract butterflies and dragonflies, ponds will provide a home for amphibians, and lavender will act as a magnet for bees. You could even build a bird or butterfly feeder if you want do a little more for the ecosystem.
Is there anything else to know?
Yes – there’s lots more to learn if you’ve mastered this guide! Try the Royal Horticultural Society or BBC Gardens for in-depth advice, or pay a visit to the National Trust’s gardens for inspiration!