Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Gardening for the first time

 If you have decided that this is the year you are going to plant up your garden and learn how it works then firstly congratulations, I hope you get the absolute joy of gardening and it becomes a life long passion but if you just want your world to look a bit nicer, then that's good too but where do you start?

Well you could just rush to the garden centre and buy everything which takes your fancy. Now I am not adverse to the odd impulse buy or two but firstly there are a few basic bits of info you need to know before you could potentially make some expensive mistakes.

What condition is your soil in?

Is your soil full of clay, sand or a mixture?
If it is clay, then the good thing is it does keep hold of nutrients but it does dry out in the summer and becomes rock hard and is sometimes waterlogged in the winter.
If it's sandy like mine, then the nutrients leach out of the soil, it's rather thin but it is free draining, so the plants don't tend to sit in water like they do with clay.

Then you need to know the pH balance. In other words, is it acid or alkaline.
This is easy to find out by buying a soil testing kit from the garden centre for a couple of pounds.
You add soil to a test tube some water and wait to see what colour the soil goes. A visual guide on the packet will tell you the pH of your soil.

So now you know what condition your soil is in and the pH balance, you can buy your plants to suit your soil. Whatever your soil, clay or sand, you will need to feed it with some compost. Garden compost, well rotted farmyard manure or green compost like Eco Compost are good ones to go for. Spent mushroom compost is cheap and cheerful but it does have lime in it, so don't use it if you are going to grow acid loving plants like Rhododendrons or Blueberries.

What aspect is your garden facing?

You need to observe the way the sun moves across your garden.
It's no good buying a plant which loves full sun, if the bed is in shade most of the day.

It's well worth finding this out first as it will save a lot of disappointment and money if you buy the wrong plants for your conditions.

So now you know your conditions, what plants do you buy?

Well it's purely down to what you like and how much time you want to spend in your garden.

My favourite style of planting is cottage garden. You can use shrubs as the backbone and perennials as the stars with roses and climbers for colour height and scent and not forgetting spring bulbs, to fill the spaces whilst the perennials are growing.

Perennials grow, flower and die back in one season, to return again the next year. You can either cut them down to the ground at the end of Autumn or if they have pretty seed heads, leave them through the winter and cut them down in spring.

It's good to spread the flowering times throughout the garden and throughout the year, so you have something of interest in flower every month.

Here are some of my favourites, which I wouldn't be without:





                                                       Angelica for height and structure

but the list is endless.
Roses for scent and beauty. Grasses for grace and movement. Lavender and honeysuckle for scent.

Visiting gardens open to the public like NGS gardens, are a good way to get inspiration and RHS shows like Hampton Court or Gardener's World live at the NEC are both good as you can buy the plants you see, at the shows.

Your local library has a good source of gardening books and the Internet has endless inspiration and information. I always find Gardeners World or the BBC/gardening very good sources.

Whatever your style of gardening, I hope like me your get enjoyment and pleasure from your connection with the soil and with the warmer weather heading our way this week, there is no better time for getting out there and getting your hands dirty.

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