Gardening 101 For Beginners

I’m just going to come out and say it: I love gardening.

If you listen closely, you may hear the faint shrill of my 14 year old self curling up into a ball and dying. Deepest apologies to any of my teenage selves existing in other dimensions, but the unthinkable has happened, and I am now officially on course to become my mother.

Not that that’s a bad thing. Despite her questionable taste in carpet colours (sorry Mum, that hallway blue is offensive), she’s queen of D.I.Y. and a dab hand at anything green, a talent which has undoubtedly been passed down by my Nan. Gardening is a family affair for us Plumsteads. My Nan likes her flowers, my brother and Grandad their roses, and for me and my Ma, it’s all about growing your own veg.

My Mum has grown veg at home for as long as I can remember. Two things were a given for me, growing up: 1) if my Mum found a stray cat, it was going to come and live with us (we ended up with five, in the end), and 2) at some point or other during the summer, she’d come bounding in through the back door and demand that one of us two kids ‘try a bite of this, fresh from the garden!’. Neither of us much liked cherry tomatoes or cucumbers at the time, favouring the enduring teenage combination of Lucozade and Mini Eggs over anything home-grown, but obviously, somehow, my Mum’s green fingers have had an impact on me.

Fast forward to the grand old age of 24, and here I am in a fit of rage, launching garden twine across my neighbour’s dividing wall because a tomato plant I’ve been growing for months has suddenly snapped in half. I am now a gardener, and with that comes gardener’s rage. It’s also comes with gardener’s joy, a term which sounds suspiciously like a Cosmo Karma Sutra position but which actually refers to the unadulterated satisfaction of growing something from scratch. The same feeling that saw my Mum force-feeding us freshly-plucked strawberries, is the same that sees me chasing Keiran around with an armful of assorted greens, begging ‘please just try one of my beans!!!!’.

Coming from a long line of avid gardeners, it was easy for me to transition from a couple of cacti to a spread of someday-edible seedlings. For those who don’t have guidance so enthusiastically available, I thought I’d run a few questions by my Ma to pull together a Gardening 101 for total beginners. Whether you live in a flat with extremely limited space or you have a little outside area to work with, hopefully you can find some ideas in here which will help you achieve that exploding, euphoric, overwhelming burst of gardener’s joy (okay, I did that on purpose).

 

Dress - Zara

Sliders - Chloe

If you’re new to gardening, what are the essential pieces of kit?

Essential pieces of kit will depend on the size of your garden. If you are just container gardening or courtyard gardening (that’s growing stuff out of pots and raised beds, as opposed to the ~ ground ~), then you aren’t going to need large tools like a lawnmower or rake, fork or spade. The most important pieces for any garden are the following hand tools: a fork, a trowel, a pair of decent secateurs (those scissor-type things), a scoop for using with compost, a plastic trug (a kind of big rubbery bucket), a watering can or water butt and some plants labels.

 

In terms of growing veg vs. flowers, which is easier? Can you do both as a beginner?

Both are just as accessible to a beginner. You need to have a plan, however, and make sure that the plants you grow are in their ideal conditions. It’s so easy nowadays as you don’t even have to grow from a seed - both flowers and veg are available as young plants from garden centres. Just do the homework first (I would particularly recommend the Royal Horticultural Society website), and then pick which plants would work best with your setting and lifestyle. Some plants need more TLC than others, so if, for example, you know you’ll forget to water them regularly, it may be better to choose those which are more draught tolerant. You also need to take into consideration where you’ll place them in your garden; some plants will happily live all of their lives in the semi-shade, whereas others require more sun. Both are doable, though! It just depends on what suits you.

Summer season for growing veg has passed - what can you start planning to grow in winter?

Due to our ever-changing and bizarre weather, the seasonality parameters of what veg you can grow and when are constantly shifting. Some quick growing veg like lettuce leaves, spring onions and radishes can still be planted at this time of year. Also it is worth planting a few seed potatoes for Christmas dinner. If the weather is mild through Autumn they will still grow, though may not be as big or plentiful as a summer crop. For winter veg, the following are most likely to look after themselves through winter:

  • Onions/garlic/shallots (ready to harvest next summer)
  • Winter hardy varieties of spring onions
  • Spinach (it’s a cut and come again crop - cut it and it will grown again! Make sure you remove the flowers as they appear though, as this means it’s going to seed and won’t produce any more of the good stuff)
  • Broad beans (plant now, harvest in Spring)
  • Peas (check for Winter hardy varieties, will crop in Spring)
  • Cabbages and most ‘greens’ (again, check for winter hardy varieties)

What do you recommend for those without grass/with little to no outside space?

The grassless garden is the ideal area for lots of container growing, and if you’re strapped for cash or limited on space, then get creative. Anything can be a container, from watering cans to old sinks and toilets, you just need a some holes for water drainage and, if you’re on a balcony, something to safely secure it in place. Take five minutes and plan where you want everything - it will pay off in the end. If you are missing having a lawn then use lots of greenery and shrubs to compensate and consider how you can add some different dimensions.

 

How often should you water your plants?

Plants need water, obviously more in summer and in sunnier places in your garden. Best rule of thumb is to stick your finger in the top of a pot and if it’s dry, then water. A good soak a couple times a week is better than a dribble every day. Sometimes in severe drought conditions the plants will droop on top - this doesn’t necessarily mean they are dead, they are just feeling the sun like we do.

 

Any top tips for those who want to get into gardening with no previous experience?

Don’t give up if somethings dies, just try again. It’s wonderfully rewarding when you get your first display of flowers or your first crop of veg. Take the ups with the downs, and see every disaster [I think Mum is referencing my snapped tomato plant here????] as a potential opportunity to try something new.


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