Archive | Novice Gardeners Advice and Pointers

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

Winter Soil Tips

Soil in Winter

  • Winter is a time for rest for both the gardener and the soil. Some gardeners dig over their soil and leave it in ‘big clods’ for frost to break it down into a tilth. I prefer a mulch method and letting the worms do the digging.
  • Remove any perennial weeds and hoe off remaining annual weed seedlings.
  • Do not walk on wet soil to avoid compaction and squeezing out air from the soil.
  • Don’t walk on frozen ground.
  • Keep soil disturbance to a minimum.
  • Add organic mulch to improve soil drainage.
  • Add garden compost or soil around leeks,  sprout plants and broccoli to reduce wind rock.
  • Most fertiliser application can wait until spring but  add Lime to your vegetable patch.
  • Gather fallen leaves and rot them down separately to form leaf mold.
  • Protect special plants from excess wind, rain and water-logging with some with shelter.
  • Root our any weakling plants that you are not going to try to cultivate next year.
  • Have a good therapeutic tidy up, clean and renew paths and leave the garden looking smart.

Support Tips for Gardener’s Plants

Great big flowering Dahlias need some good support early in the season. A walled garden helps but these 4 by 4 canes with string every 12″-18″ add that bit extra. When the plants leaf-up and start to flower they will be heavy and liable to damage without support.

Young trees sometimes called ‘whips’ need support and the ability to flex in the wind. These angled posts are ideal with a support about one third the way up the young stem. After 3 years they should become self supporting. The angle keeps the support away from the roots. Continue Reading →


Grandchildren and Gardening

Book Cover

Gardeners are keen on offspring in the garden when they come from their own propagation. That may not always be the case with grandchildren except in controlled circumstance.
Grandma saw a youngster eating a slug and rather than be critical asked ‘what does that taste like?’ After a pause the kid replied ‘worms’.

Safety of Children in the Garden

  • You can be too prescriptive about musts and don’ts. Commonsense is crucial and grandparents can help teach that to the kids.
  • Garden tools can be very sharp and need to be used correctly, carefully and kept under your supervision.
  • I am prone to leaving items in the garden to trip over and rakes can jump up and hit the unsuspecting. Now grandkids are visiting I am tidying up before after and during the visits.
  • Learning by experience will cover stinging nettles, irritating sap, prickly roses and some other plants to avoid. A warning or two (hundred that is) will still fall on deaf ears – I still get stung and pricked!
  • Not everything belongs in a child’s mouth but  most plant matter will not cause too much harm. However look out for poisonous seeds, Laburnum, Monkshood and anything you grow that you know to avoid eating.
  • Water is seductive and ponds dangerous. I know you will put up protection near open water and remember water and electric tools don’t mix

Keeping Grandchildren Amused

  • If you get rostered into child minding on a regular basis it is worth setting up regular garden related tasks the kids can get involved with.
  • Get them kitted out with waterproof clothes.
  • Don’t push too hard it may put off the next generation of Throwers and Titchmarshes. We may find routine gardening fun but kids may need a bit extra and activity changes every 20 minutes or so.
  • Gardening has lessons for all of us and the kids have a lot to learn from you and your garden or open air classroom.
  • There are lots of lists of easy to grow plants from large easy to handle seeds like sunflowers, Peas and beans but they take ages (eons in kid time) to show life much less crop. The old standby mustard and cress are more reliable.
  • Plant pots, containers, baskets and boxes are all small areas where kids can have there own ‘patch’ so to speak.



Basic Gardening Tips

Three Helpful Gardeners

Plants want to survive, they do not set out to annoy gardeners !  All a gardener needs to do is to help plants to fulfill their ambitions of life and procreation.

As with humans and animals Mazlow’s hierarchic of basic needs applies in the garden. Physiologically water, warmth, food and rest are crucial. Safety needs such as security and a place to live, reproduce and grow plus a bit of esteem or love will help.

Water Tips

  • Soil needs to be able to retain moisture. Extremely sandy or gravelly soil  needs to have lots of humus added perhaps in the form of compost. Tip. Improve the planting hole, make it twice as big and deep as you think you need.
  • Water needs to get down to the ‘drinking roots’ which are often deeper than the feeding surface roots. Water well to get deeper in the ground rather than little and often.
  • Fleshy leafy plants like salad and veg need more water than woody shrubs with fewer leaves to transpire.
  • A small plant pot holds a lot less water than a big pot. It dries quicker, gets hot faster and runs out of food sooner.
  • More houseplants drown than die of thirst. Roots can’t breath under waterlogged conditions.

Warmth Tips

  • Plants tend to be seasonal so consider what you grow and where.
  • Young leafy growth is more likely to be damaged by frost or strong winds.
  • Some roots will die if the ground freezes. A mulch may help.
  • Strong sun can burn shoots and leaves.
  • Hot, dry conditions will desiccate many plants and they can die. Shade a greenhouse in summer.
  • Many plants thrive on good light and dark can be very bad.

Food Tips

  • We all need food and plants are no different.
  • Photosynthesis converts sunlight into sugars for plant food.
  • Water draws food into chlorophylled  leaves for photosynthesis to start.
  • Soil in ‘good heart’ will contain food to be dissolved and feed the plants.
  • Extra food can be provided by granular or liquid fertilisers.
  • Excess fertiliser may encourage weak growth.

Rest and Safety

  • Locate your plants in appropriate surroundings.
  • If the location turns out to be wrong change it or get another plant.
  • Rest easy by sorting disease and pest with controls as soon as possible.
  • Remove competition by weeding.
  • Support plants that grow tall like sweet peas or are prone to wind damage like some perennials.
  • Beware of wind that can damage growth and rock plants to their roots


Windy Ridge


Growing all Sorts of Stuff

Book Cover

Why You Might want to Grow Edible Stuff

  • Food stuff is top of the list in Mazlow’s hierarchy of need.
  • ‘Growing your own’ to feed the family has been a priority for centuries.
  • Farmers, market gardeners and smallholders all contribute edible stuff as do allotment holders and the majority of gardeners.
  • Windowsills, greenhouses, conservatories and sunny sheltered spots can be used to grow tomatoes and salad crops for example.
  • Herbs add taste to many dishes  and  basil, mint, parsley, rosemary and chillies,  are all stuff you can grow quite easily.
  • Stuff called Curcurbits such as courgettes, squash, pumpkins and cucumbers are comparatively easy to grow with a bit of shelter and warmth.
  • Tasty specialties are now more commonplace but Pineapples were grown in special stove houses in the 17th and 18th centuries.

What Other Stuff You Might want to Grow

  • Man can’t live by bread alone so aesthetic stuff needs to be grown to feed the inner man.
  •  Flowers and decorative plants come in all shapes and sizes. Cacti, Holly, Ivy and poinsettia are seasonal stuff you can try.
  • Stuff for indoors includes a range of bulbs and windowsill plants. Old Aspidistra and other evergreen leaved plants have a reputation of cleaning the air. A reputation probably earned when we all had coal fires.
  • Growing stuff in a formal manner from a large landscape to a small Knot garden can be time consuming but rewarding.
  • Organic and environmentally friendly grown stuff has its own reward.
  • Forestry, heath and heather, parks and pleasure grounds all serve a visual or emotional purpose.

How to Grow Stuff

You will have guessed it – read the book!


Plunge Bed Success this Spring

Alpine house
I have reported before about the Alpine house at RHS Harlow Carr. Now we can begin to see the fruits of all the labours both in growing and display.

There must be 100 different plants on display many of which were in flower this week. I know the pictures are small but how many varieties can you recognise?

Just by observing the plunge beds regularly, I am picking up tips that I hope to be able to use in my own cultivation.

Alpine House Harlow Carr

See Gardeners Tips on Plunge Beds

Beginners instructions for building a plunge bed for growing Tete-a-tete narcissus from the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society.
‘To construct a plunge-bed dig a pit in a well drained piece of ground that will not flood – near a tree or hedge will be fine. A wooden frame, sufficient to hold the pots, on top of the ground will do equally as well. Place the pots in the plunge-bed or frame and cover them with soil/compost/sand to a depth of about 5cm. They can now be forgotten until the spring. A strong cardboard box stored in a dry cold garage or shed will do equally as well. Cover the pots in the same way as above and don’t let them dry out.’


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.

Continue Reading →


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.

Continue Reading →


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