Gardening for beginners

Written by    Last updated: August 30, 2007

Creating a garden can be a truly rewarding experience.If you’re put off because you think it’s too difficult, here’s a guide with all you need to know to help you get started…


Step 1: Which way does your garden face?

It is important to know the amount of sun your garden gets and at what time of the day, as this will affect your choice of plants and the placement of sitting area, pond and barbecue. If you don’t know which way your garden faces and don’t have a compass handy, you can get still an approximate idea of East and West from the rising and setting sun. Work out which category it falls under:
East facing gardens:  sun streams in early in the morning but is gone by mid to late afternoon.
West facing gardens: get sun from around midday until it sets in the late afternoon or evening.
North facing gardens: get some sun in midsummer but are largely in the shade during autumn, winter and spring, when the sun is lower in the sky.
South facing gardens: get sun in the garden during most of the day and all through the year.

Step 2: What kind of soil does your garden have?

The kind of soil you have will determine the kinds of plants that will thrive most easily. It’s best not to try and alter the nature of the existing soil in the garden, as it’ll only work in the short‐term. You can buy a fairly cheap lime testing kit from any garden centre, which will come with test tubes and chemicals for testing. Dig down rather than taking just the top layer of soil and also take samples from several parts of the garden in order to get a proper analysis.

Step 3: What stock already exists in the garden?

Make a rough plan in a notebook of where plants are located in the garden. If you’re unsure, ask a friend who is a keen gardener or a neighbour, who might also be able to tell you about plants that may come up at other times of the year. Don’t be in a hurry to uproot existing plants or trees, as they will provide some structure and privacy until you’ve worked out a proper plan for the future of the garden.

Step 4: What is going to be the primary purpose of the garden?

Have a discussion with your partner and decide what you will be using the garden mostly for. For instance, will it be used only at weekends for entertaining or in the evenings, after work. Consider also its use by children or pets. This will help you make decisions such as whether you need a lawn and where to place seating in the garden. It will also help you in your choice of plants, for instance, if you’re using it in the evenings mainly, you may wish to place seating to catch the last of the sun and choose plants that give off their scent at that time. Buy or borrow from your local library a good reference book, like an encyclopaedia of plants, and get to know popular varieties.

Step 5: How much time can you spare to care for your garden?

If you are short on time, you may wish to go for a low‐maintenance garden, choosing a hard surface or gravel instead of a lawn, which will require regular cutting, feeding and weeding. Choosing hardy plants will reduce the risk of them dying out and with some planning, you could still end up with an attractive and practical garden.

Some useful gardening tips

Ants: you can deter ants by shaking some scouring powder at their point of entry to the house.
Birds: tying foil bows to thread between garden canes keeps birds off young plants.
Bulbs: when buying bulbs, always make sure they are nice and firm.
Cats: stop cats from fouling flowerbeds by sprinkling lemon peel or crushed orange on the soil.
Compost: used tea bags make good compost. Store them in a plastic bag, and when the bag is almost full, seal it and leave it out in the garden for the tea bags to rot.
Greenhouse: when frost threatens, protect young plants by covering them in newspaper.
Hanging baskets: place ice cubes on top of the soil in hanging baskets to water them. Used teabags are a good substitute for moss when lining hanging baskets.
Kneeling: for all kneeling jobs, place a cushion inside a carrier bag.
Mint: plant mint in foil‐lined holes to stop it from spreading.
Moles: drive moles from your garden by repeatedly putting mothballs down the mole holes. Planting Caper Spurge (Euphorbia lathyris, ‘mole plant’) at intervals around the garden will also keep them away.
Paths: rid garden paths of weeds by sprinkling salt on them.
Roses: banana skins dug into beds of rose bushes provide good nutrients.
String: to avoid tangles, place a ball of string into an empty baby wipes container, pulling the end through the hole.

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