Top tips for new gardeners

Garden Life
From Sarah’s garden to yours
As an experienced gardener, I’ve learnt that lessons are usually learnt the hard way, by trial and error, and finding out what works for your plants in your garden, one experience at a time. Hindsight is a beautiful thing so if you are new to gardening or thinking of starting, why not take advantage of my trials and tribulations and follow these tips.

Just start

As a new gardener, the unknown can seem overwhelming, especially since there are so many ways to garden. You may be considering whether you need raised bed or in ground, permaculture or biodynamic, to spray or not to spray, heirloom or newly bred, formal or informal, to mention just a few. The options are endless and each can feel daunting. The best way to start though is to do just that, start! Your experience will grow alongside your garden.

There are no rules

The first concept to grasp is that there is no wrong or right way of gardening. There are no rules to follow, so you can relax and do what feels right for you. That being said there are certain guidelines that are worth following such as advice on the back of seed packets. It is there to help you get the best from the product you have just bought. It’s a good idea to find some basic gardening advice from a trusted source and learn as you go. On the whole, you can’t go wrong with putting a plant in the ground and keeping it watered. Once you get the hang of it, then you can explore more complex areas such as organic gardening or companion planting.

Seasons and location matter

The vast array of seeds available to the home gardener is phenomenal, and there are so many beautiful and delicious things to grow. However, it is important to note that each plant has a time and a season where it performs at its best. To grow plants outside of this window can make things more challenging than they need to be. Also, when making your selection, ensure the plants you choose are suitable not only for your season, but also your location. You may be too far North for something that grows like a weed in the South.

Patience is important & timing is key

So many things in life are rushed. How can we get there faster? How can we do this quicker? Nature slows us down to its rhythm and won’t be hurried. Most plants are regulated by things like temperature or day length, and a bud on a tree will burst into bloom when everything is perfect. As gardeners, we can create artificial conditions by starting seeds off in the warmth of the indoors in the spring and they will germinate. However, if the conditions aren’t right outside in the garden, then plants can’t be planted out yet and you end up with very large plants desperate to get outside. The ideal time to start growing from seed in spring is 6–8 weeks before the last frost. You should be able to find this information on the internet or ask a local gardener – they will know. Although there are always exceptions, 6–8 weeks should allow your plants to be the perfect size for planting out, once the time is right.

Soil is the key to it all

You are what you eat, and the same applies to plants. An ill-prepared soil is like starting the week with an empty pantry. Not only do you need to make sure the soil is full of nutrients to last the season, but that it is a good soil, balanced with a healthy micro community and plenty of organic material to help with structure and moisture retention. Achieving perfect soil is something that often comes with time but once you do, you will get amazing results. Find out as much as you can about your soil, and think about what it needs to make it ideal for the plants you want to grow - bearing in mind different plants have different needs. For example, blueberries like an acid soil and cauliflower prefer it a little less acidic.

Weeds are the worst

Weeds can suck the joy right out of gardening as they are thugs that take over, steal nutrients, space and light and cause your plants to struggle and even die. The best way forward is to completely weed the garden before starting. Remove everything, roots and all – don’t just pull the tops off. Then wait two weeks and remove everything that comes up. If you have time, then wait another two weeks and do it again. This should give you a good clean soil to start the growing season with. Then as they pop up again – which they will, regularly remove them while they are small and things will stay manageable. Whatever you do, don’t let weeds set seed and don’t put seeding weeds in your compost.

Great tools become best friends

Great tools help make gardening easy and enjoyable, and after a couple of hours digging cold hard soil, you appreciate the benefits of a good quality, well-designed spade or fork. You don’t need every type of tool on the market - there are so many to choose from - however having the right tool for the job makes it so much easier to get the work done comfortably and efficiently. Start with the essentials - a good spade, fork, trowel, hose with sprayer, and secateurs. A couple of sturdy buckets are always useful, as are comfortable gardening gloves. You get what you pay for so get the best quality tools you can afford and look after them. Wash them after use, keep them sharp, and store them in a shed. They will reward you by working alongside you for a long time.

Take notes

Start your own garden diary, or treat yourself to one of the published versions that also have helpful tips and information for each month or season. As you learn, write down as much as you can – gardens are busy places, and there is often so much going on that you probably won’t remember it all. Document your successes and failures, and what you did to get there. Take plenty of photos in all seasons from all angles. Remember to review your notes and celebrate your achievements and milestones. Make plans and dream big! Before you know it, you will be learning from your experiences, and have a fabulous garden that you can continue to enjoy and develop in tune with your ideas and imagination.
Family in the garden