Archive | Novice Gardeners Advice and Pointers

Learning to garden is part trial and error and part recommendation, learning and application of information.

Top Tips for Growing in Pots

Sedum bootimus-Don’t judge the results by the crop you harvest but by the seeds you sow

Ten Tips for Growing in Pots and Containers

  1. Terracotta is a sympathetic choice for containers in your garden. They are also porous and let in air and allow plant roots to cool through evaporation.
  2. Try several pots of the same size and or shape in a group (I like ‘long tom’ pots). Planted with Agrostis Cloud grass will create a real impact.
  3. Exotics like Banana plants look shapely and they can be moved, pot and all into shelter or wrapped for winter protection.
  4. Keep a sense of balance between the needs of your container plants. They need water, food and light but not an excess of any one feature. The pot is a micro environment that needs regular care such as watering / drainage, fertilizer and shelter.
  5. Trailing plants will benefit from a bit of training in  the right direction.  Pinch out rampant plants and those you want to branch. Pick off faded flowers.
  6. Constant watering can wash out nutrients so give a weekly liquid feed.
  7. Mix plants of different colours, textures, habits and heights. Variegated plants and scented plants often work well.
  8. Locate the pot carefully as the aesthetic of the base and pot combination can be important. A gravel or coloured chipping base can be very effective.
  9. Do not be too conventional with the container. In addition to the old gardeners boot (above) I have seen a wheel barrow planted with courgettes and fire buckets (with holes) used for displays. Use your artistic skills like many container on the top of barges that are brightly painted.
  10. Choose appropriate plants. Below is a second top ten of plants you may want to try in pots.

Top Ten Plants for Outdoor Pots

  1. Clematis cartmanii ‘Joe’ is a white, spring flowering trailer that can be tied to an upright. Try it with blue Crocus or Muscari.

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Autumn Blues

Lister Park 067

Every colour has its day and for blue that is often in Autumn. This is a selection of our blue to purple plants showing off during mid to late October.

Blue conifer

There are not too many plants that form a blue leaf or needles in this case. Eventually this Firs young needles will turn green.
Some Hostas are said to have blue leaves or blue/green.


Michaelmas daisies are one of our favourites on Gardeners Tips as you may have noticed.

Geranium  Rozane Gerwat

Blue is a tough colour to get right in the garden. Roses, Dahlia and Narcissus are renown for not having blue varieties. I have cheated with this hard Geranium that was in flower earlier in the year.


Five Soil Types

Soil Color and Quality

There are potentially as many soils as there are gardens but they can be classified into five types.

Heavy Clay Soil

Minute particles of clay stick together in a gluey mess when wet and go rock hard when dry.
Often clay soil is very fertile. Clay soils can be improved with drainage, coarse grit, or the addition of coarse organic matter as humus.

Sandy Soil
Sand particles are much larger than clay making sandy soil free draining, light and quick to warm up in spring. Nutrients wash through quickly and watering and feeding of plants is needed. Sandy soil can be improved with the addition of humus.

Lime free Soil

Peaty or dark lime free soils are generally rich in organic matter. Acid in nature, below ph7.0, they tend to be moisture retentive and suit acid loving plants. In extremes they may be hard to re-wet if they dry out too much. Perennial plant selection

Alkaline Soil
Limey soils are often pale, shallow and stoney. They are free draining and quick to warm up in the sunshine. Moderately fertile they benefit from the addition of organic matter.

Average Soil

The dream of every gardener and found when soil has been well cultivated and enhanced for many seasons. Local conditions make a fixed definition hard but reasonable drainage and neutral to slightly acid soil makes for an average soil that is suitable for the majority of plants.

Soil Tips

Consider your own soil by looking at the colour, feeling the texture and observing the plants that grow best in yours or local soils.
Avoid boggy soil that will not drain as plants need air at their roots or they rot or drown. Airless soil also attracts moss.
Impoverished soils have the nutrients leached out with water or taken by earlier crops. Add back humus as well as general NPK fertilisers.


One spadeful of soil will be teaming with 1000’s of life forms

Soil Color and Quality by elvisripley CC BY-NC 2.0


Growing at School (a Gardening Scheme)

Sunflower -Valentine

Gardening is not lesson time but fun time even if you do the growing at school. ‘The ‘RHS Campaign for School Gardening’ aims to inspires and supports schools to provide children with gardening opportunities to enhance their skills and boost their development.’

Quick Result Seeds

  • Sprouting seeds that grow in a jar without any soil.
  • Mustard and cress a salad crop you can grow on a wet facecloth or old sponge.
  • Annual seeds flower for just one year. They can be bought in mixtures containing lots of different plant seeds.
  • Pot marigolds also called Calendula have big seeds,  bright yellow or orange flowers and flower the same year they are planted.
  • Sunflowers are ever popular link
  • Annual seeds from Thompson & Morgan

More about the Scheme

Companion Planting

  • Waitrose, Marshalls, Dorset Cereals and the RHS are promoting a Campaign for School Gardening. The aim is to provide pupils with hands-on learning opportunities in school grounds to grow plants and garden sustainably.

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What does Self-Sown Mean?

Hesperis matronalis Alba

Seeds are self sown when seeds germinate and grow without the help of a gardener. The majority of plants grow, flower, get pollinated then set seeds. If seeds are then distributed naturally from the plant they are self sown.

What Plants are Self Sown

  • Weeds are among the most common self sown plants. I am thinking of Dandelions, Daisies and Buttercups but unfortunately there are lots more.
  • Before cultivated gardens anything not grown for food was probably ‘nature sown’ in that the plant did it for it’s self.
  • In a broadleaved wood you may get Oak trees growing from self sown acorns whilst Rowan and Elderberry are sown by birds eating berries and dropping seeds.
  • Garden flowers that are commonly self sown include Foxgloves, Nigella, Candytuft, Poppy, For-get-me-not and Nasturtium.

How are Seeds Self Sown

  • Wind distributes seeds that are very light or have a float mechanism like a Dandelion clock or Sycamore seed’s wings.
  • Some seeds are expressed from seed pods by firing. Pansy seedpods tighten up and the ripe seed is squirted a good distance from the parent plant.
  • Birds and animals including humans can be responsible for spreading seeds. Some stick to your clothing others are eaten but not digested like Tomatoes.

Top Ten Self-Sown Garden Plants

  1. This list was compiled with the help of Crocus whose first choice was Alchemilla mollis aka Lady’s mantle, good for edging sunny and shady borders and filling cracks in paving.
  2. Aquilegia ‘Nora Barlow’ or Columbines self-seed readily and are very easy to grow in sun or partial shade.

Continue Reading →


Chionodoxa – Glory of The Snow


Chionodoxa are beautiful, hardy spring flowering bulbs that are easy to grow. They grow 6inches tall from small bulbs and have pretty star-shaped flowers with long narrow leaves. (Also spelled Chinodoxa and common name Glory of the Snow). The blossom has a central line on each of 6 petals.

Cultivation 0f Chionodoxa

They do well in most garden soil. Plant 2-3″ deep.
Chinodoxa are most effective when planted in clumps and allowed to naturalise.
Suitable for rockeries and growing in pots.
Flowers lasts for 3-4 weeks, after which both the flowers and the foliage die back.

Chinodoxa Varieties

Chinodoxa Lucilliae is widely available and flowers bright blue
Chinodoxa Luciliae Alba is a clear white with star shaped flowers in March.
Chinodoxa  Forbesii Pink Giant produces a wealth of pink flowers.
Chinodoxa Forbesii is bright blue with a white centre.

Chinodoxia Alba

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Help with January Gardeners Jobs

The new year gets gardeners all enthused but it is also a time to show patience. The gnomes wont rush to help you anytime soon Hi-ho.

Helpful Tips

  • Beware experts – book learning may not translate into a better garden.Most experts make me worry.
  • Worry less about experience. Applied experience as a result of your own gardening is better than the secondhand variety.
  • Maslov’s hierarchy of needs applies to garden plants as much as gardeners. The basic needs of food, water then shelter in an appropriate home need to be taken care of first. No need to rush into being an exotic all knowing gardener.

Guardians of the Mint








Jobs left from Last Year

  • Clean pots, ornaments and seed trays, insulate outdoor taps and do those maintenance jobs you have avoided.
  • Build compost heaps, raised beds and hard landscaping when weather permits.
  • In dry weather treat wooden furniture and structures.

Plant Matters

  • Prune soft fruit bushes and apple/pear trees.
  • Force rhubarb by covering with a bucket filled loosely with straw.
  • Sow alpine seeds and plant winter flowering clematis cirrosa or napaulensis.
  • Check over wintering tubers, cold greenhouse plants and pinch out the tops of sweet peas to get bushy well rooted plants.
  • Prune grape vines before the sap rises to avoid bleeding.


  • Keep taking the green and look after the sprouts.
  • Bring hyacinth bulbs indoors for scent and flowering.
  • Gather leeks and root veg roughly clearing the ground.

Month by Month Gardening for Guru & Novice

Book Cover

The Royal Horticultural Society produce many books and this one, RHS Gardening Month by Month by Ian Spencer contains over 1,300 seasonal tasks. Covering tasks for every part of the garden, expert plant advice and lists of star plants from January to December it is a great confidence booster. When you have finished those tasks it will be time to start a new year!

Whether you are a green-fingered guru or are just starting out enjoy 12 months of successful gardening. With help on what to do when to ensure your plants are well cared for and your garden blooms all year round.
Easy-to-follow, this guide not only tells you what to do when, but shows you how to do it.
You only need to browse and not follow slavishly.

Continue Reading →


Plant Hardiness Ratings

You want your plants to survive our British climate so it is worth understanding the hardiness ratings. Plant hardiness is based on the lowest temperature that a plant can normally withstand during  winter.

Categories of Hardiness

  • Hardy plants are those capable of coping with temperatures as low as -15º C.
  • Frost-hardy plants tolerate temperatures down to -5º C
  • Half hardy plants should survive in temperatures above zero.
  • Frost tender plants may be at risk below 5º C.

Hardiness Zones

  • The USA is so large and covers many different climates that it relies on Hardiness zones for horticulture and gardening.
  • These hardiness zones are geographically defined areas where temperature  will dictate what plant life is capable of growing.
  • Zone 1 is -50º C,   Zone 8 equates to -7º C   and Zone  10 is zero.
  • England is generally in zones 7 – 10 Scotland is cooler and Ireland warmer due to the warming effect of the gulf stream.

Plan Your Hardy Garden

  • Frost will run or fall down slopes and collect in ‘frost pockets’. Be careful what plants you put at the bottom of slopes.
  • Frost on young buds may not hurt but a rapid thaw caused by spring sunshine probably will. Camellias get frost burn and loose their buds if facing an easterly rising sun.
  • Your garden will have a series of micro climates so map out those areas that are suitable for special plants.
  • Allow your plants to acclimatise. Sudden drops in temperature can be more deadly than cold.
  • Be aware of heat hardiness as some plants will not survive hot temperatures.
  • Fertilizer hardiness is an issue not fully understood so watch out for sufferers.

Tactics of Hardy Plants

  • Hardy herbaceous plants allow the foliage to totally die back in autumn. The roots remain viable under the soil and regrow in spring.
  • Some hardy plants allow the stems and leaves to fall on the root crown to create a warming mulch until next spring.
  • Sappy growth is a target for frost so hardy plants stop growing in summer allowing the twigs to toughen up. Do not feed plants with high nitrogen feed in late summer if you want them to remain hardy.
  • Trees and shrubs take the sap back down into the plant and branches so that twigs are too dry to be damaged if they freeze.
  • Plants will grow less well and be prone to winter injury if the soil is heavy, wet, of low pH or low fertility, or in general not suited to the plant.
  • Some plants grow more sugars in summer to sustain them through cold winters.
  • Thermal insulation from snow cover helps plants survive normally deadly winter temperatures

The Hardy Plant Society

  • The Hardy Plant Society is a UK charity that was formed to foster interest in Hardy Plants.
  • The Society informs and encourages the novice gardener.
  • There are 40 regional groups so you can join one near you.
  • They have specialist societies for Geraniums, Peony, Pulmonaria, Variegated plants and Ranunculaceae

Sources of further information

It is hard to address the ‘question asked by everyone with ambitions to grow hardy and semi hardy tropical plants in the UK’.

The British Fuchsia Society
has an official list of fuchsia plants that are capable of being over wintered in the garden


Easier Gardening as You Age

Expert gardeners can spend 50 years learning, sometimes just about one species or family and then they die!

You are never to old to start gardening, nor are you too old to learn easier and simpler ways to enjoy your gardening.
Bending and kneeling may get a bit harder as you age but there are ways to overcome these restrictions like padded kneelers with good handles.

Tools as You Age

  • You are not going to double dig acres of ground so get a spade to suit. A small stainless steel blade will not over tax the muscles but still get most jobs done at a steady pace.
  • I have very useful forks and a trowel on long handles. They are easy to obtain and save your back. You can also fashion your own dibbers and gadgets
  • A two wheeled barrow is lighter for pushing than a traditional one wheeler.
  • Use large pots and containers to reduce watering and put them on casters for moving around.

Book Cover
The Illustrated Practical Guide to Gardening for Seniors: How to Maintain Your Outside Space with Ease Into Retirement and Beyond by Patty Cassidy from Amazon

Easier Gardening as You Age

  • This new American book shows how easy it is for seniors to carry on gardening, into and way beyond retirement.
  • It looks at different kinds of homes and the gardens they provide, assessing the location, local climate and soil type and evaluating problems such as arthritis and loss of balance.
  • The book also outlines the importance of taking care of your body, summarizing the safety issues, what to wear, warm-up exercises and equipment to make the garden easy to access for unsteady feet or wheelchairs.
  • Included is a directory that profiles the many planting choices available, each with a difficulty rating and a hardiness category.
  • Gardening for Seniors is packed with projects, garden plans and step-by-step sequences.
  • Easier gardening will appeal to active gardeners in their early retirement through to those with more limited abilities, showing how, by adapting garden activities and the tools employed, the joy of gardening will remain undiminished.

Plants and Planting as You Age

  • Avoid fast growing shrubs that need pruning and regular spraying. I prefer small rhododendrons to roses for this reason.
  • Aim at your senses placing plants where you will get the best reaction from those you have in full working order.
  • Design and implement your gardening to impress others and they will stop and talk. Easier gardening can still recognise you are up for a challenge despite your age

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