*Updates April 2020
In this post, I am sharing my beginners guide to gardening. Now, I am no Alan Titchmarsh! However, I have been gardening for the past four years and I am starting to get better at it. Some flowers were sacrificed along the way and some rookie mistakes were learnt from. I have loved the reaction from you guys over on Instagram when it comes to gardening posts. The most common thing you guys are saying is that you would love to start gardening but you don’t know where to start or that you are gardening but struggling to keep plants alive. So, I have put together my beginners garden guide to give you some help. I get a lot of my garden info from watching garden programmes, I adore Monty Don and my Friday night is not complete without an episode of gardener’s world (I am aware not many thirty-year-olds live for gardener’s world on a Friday night but it’s my guilty pleasure). What I love about the garden is that it keeps me mindful, I can unplug the phone after work and go out for an hour or two and potter in the garden. There are loads of articles on how gardening can help with wellbeing and mental health and I can agree that a good gardening session leaves me feeling fulfiled and calm. You don’t have to have a large garden, you can use pots or raised beds to create your own little garden escape.
Every flower has its season
Perennial V Annuals
This was my first lesson to learn when I started gardening. I always wondered why some plants died and never came back and then others did. An annual plant will last for one growing season, you can plant these from seeds in early spring then plant outside after the risk of frost has passed, they will bloom and produce seeds before completing their life cycle. So, basically, these guys will die off at the end of the season.
A perennial plant will come back again each year. These are plants that will start to grow in Spring, they will bloom when they are supposed to and then they will die back to return again next year. If you are in the garden centre and you are unsure whether a flower is annual or perennial you can google it, I always do this in the garden centre. I personally like to spend my money on perennials as you can propagate these down the line and make more plants from the cuttings.
Now to totally confuse you, there are also some plants that are biennials. I recently learned this, as last year I thought I had killed my foxglove only to find out that it only flowers every second year. Sweet William is also a biennial and I feel guilty as I thought I had killed mine and I pulled it up and threw it into the compost thinking I had killed it. Lesson learnt!
When to plant
Gardening has thought me to be patient and to think ahead. If you want lovely Spring flowers then you will have to plant these around October time and likewise, if you want Summer/Autumn flowers from bulbs or seed then you will have to plant these around May after the risk of frost has passed. You can plant seeds in early Spring, however, don’t plant them outside until late May when the risk of frost has passed. You can keep the seedlings in the kitchen or greenhouse and then transplant into your garden mid-May. I adore Spring flowers, I love Hyacinths, Daffodils, Crocus, Tulips and this year I have some Aliums that I planted last October and I love these. This is just a rough timeline for when to plant, always check the back of the packet of seed/bulbs for more information.
Let the goodness go back into the roots
Care and maintenance
In my garden, I have a flower bed, some pots and a lawn. I recently extended my flower bed as the one I started three years ago is now nice and full. I treated myself to two new rose shrubs and I can’t wait to watch them grow over time. I find my lawn needs the most maintenance and I have been cutting it every two weeks now that it is Summer. If you watch my Insta stories, then you will know that I am fighting a losing battle with the daisies and the dandelions. I don’t like using any lawn feeds or weed killer so I have just left nature to it. I cut it every two weeks and I have recently left a wild patch of daisies in the corner for the bees to enjoy.
When it comes to maintaining my flower beds, I lay down some fresh mulch (bark) each Spring, this helps stop the weeds from growing up through the soil. I have noticed since having the bark on the beds that I don’t have to weed as much. I dig any remaining weeds up by hand. I then dead head any flowers as this can encourage them to flower again. Deadheading simply means removing dead flower heads from your plant.
When my plant comes to the end of its cycle, I let it completely die back before cutting it to the soil. So, for example, when my daffodils finish flowering I allow the stems to go yellow as this allows all the energy and goodness go back into the bulb for next year. I then cut away the old dead foliage.
When it comes to watering your plants, it can all depend on the weather. Ireland is notorious for having a very changeable climate. One minute it’s lashing, then sunny and sure then it snows. At the moment we are having a lovely warm and dry spell which means we have to water our plants more. I find pots and hanging baskets dry out the quickest and I give them extra attention, I have been watering these daily. I find nature looks after the flower beds and I only really have to water them during the summer. If the top of my soil in the flower bed is dry then I water them. Rainwater is best for your plants and you can get a large water drum to collect rainwater. You can then dunk your watering can into the drum and water your plants. Also, just because it has rained, don’t assume your plant doesn’t need watering, I find my hanging basket gets nice and big and the rain collects in the flowers and not the soil, so after the rain the flower is wet but the soil is dry.
My rule for watering is ” if the soil is dry then water the plant if the soil is moist then don’t water”.
When my plants are flowering I add some tomato feed to their watering once a week, I also add some Rose feed to the soil around the roses to keep the roses in good health and encourage more blooms.
Drainage, no soggy flowers
I have fallen victim to soggy pots and buckets and learnt the hard way about having proper drainage. Whether it is extra holes in your pots or mixing some stones into your soil, you need to consider drainage. If your soil is too wet and starts to flood then your plant can suffer from mould or worse die off. The root of your plant can rot if it sits in a pool of water. Make sure there is a hole at the bottom of your pot to allow excess water to escape. When my pots were soggy I decided to start from scratch, I removed the soil and the plant. I added extra holes and added fresh compost mixed with some stones. I then planted my plant in the pot and made sure I didn’t get too much rain.
Starting a flower bed
I am really lucky as my neighbours also love their gardens and they often propagate their flowers and give to one another. When starting a flower bed it can be costly as buying plants from the garden centre can be expensive. Do ask around and see if someone in your area is an avid gardener as I know every now and again they might thin out their flower beds and they’ll give you some of their dividings or let you take cuttings. I had to dig out my first flower bed as it was full of rubble and stones. The surface was uneven and it had patchy grass. The top layer of grass was removed and then the soil underneath was broken up. Bags of compost and bark were then added. For my second flower bed, I used the “no-dig” method and I raised the flower bed. If you just search “no-dig flower bed” on Youtube then you will find loads of videos. I used a liner, compost, fertiliser and mulch to layer up my flower bed. You can use whichever method you find easier, I did, however, use more bags of compost and bark on the raised bed compared to the first flower bed. Most garden centres have offers on their bags of compost and bark, just be mindful that the larger bags are quite heavy but they guys in the garden centres are helpful and will help you lift them into your car. The last thing you want is to do your back in when lifting in the garden.
In my flower beds, I have plants that will start flowering from early Spring until late Autumn. So, no matter what time of year there will be something flowering in my beds. The only time my beds become empty is in Winter when everything goes to sleep in the garden. For Spring, I have Snowdrops, Crocus, Daffodils and Tulips. This year I got really fancy and planted some double-headed tulips which look like peonies. When my Spring plants die back then the Summer ones start to appear. This year I planted some Aliums, they came up for the month of May and are starting to die back now in early June. I have some Rose shrubs, Foxgloves, Lupins, Geraniums, Hostas, a lily and some Poppies in my Summer bloom. Around July my Dahlias start to bloom, I love Dahlias as they blossom until almost October if you deadhead them often and the bees love them. I also have a gorgeous orange flower that flowers around August time, I cannot think of their name but I planted it from a bulb around two years ago ( I think they might be Coneflowers). Around September time I start to see the Cyclamen come out, these are great as they come back each year and mine spread in my flower bed. They hate to be over-watered though, so keep an eye on them in the wet Irish Winter.
I love a cottage style of garden, however, you might like a more structured type of garden and want to use more evergreens, shrubs, hedges and trees. My dad was more of a hedge gardener and loved trimming box and hedge into shapes and loved trees, whereas I am the opposite and love more of an ornamental garden with lots of blooms.
Planting a plant or bulb
It might seem simple to some but when I was starting out I often wondered if I was planting correctly. I would often dig a hole that was to shallow and it would result in an unhappy plant. Have a read of this article for basic planting tips. I dig a hole that is wide enough and deep enough for the roots of the plant and then I plant it into the ground. I make sure to water it well after planting.
When it comes to bulbs I just follow the instructions on the packet. Some bulbs might need to be planted deeper or far apart than others, just follow the instructions and you won’t go wrong.
Propagation and taking cuttings
Now, I haven’t tried this but it is something I am going to do this year and I will let you know how I get on. A lot of my plants are taken from cuttings given to me by friends and neighbours but I have yet to try it myself. Just know that you can get cuttings, seeds and divide plants to save yourself some money and grow your garden each year. Keep an eye on Gardener’s world as last year Monty showed how to take cuttings and take seeds from plants. You can also check out Youtube for videos on how to do this. If I have success with propagating I will do a separate post on this.
Birds, Bees and Insects
When it comes to the garden I welcome all creatures, I even have a visiting Hedgehog. I feed the wild birds and in turn, they eat the insects, the bees love the flowers and I try and attract Butterflies too. Every gardener dreads the slugs, for me, the visiting hedgehog is taking care of the slugs but I also use Eggshells and I try to deter the slugs over killing them. You can place things around your flowers or vegetable patch that the slugs don’t like the feel off. I let nature do its thing in the garden. I check my plants for disease and pests often and step in when needed.
I like to feed the wild birds as I love watching them in the garden, however, I know some people worry about attracting rats and mice, I have never had this issue but if you do see signs of rats or mice then stop leaving out the food and get help with your pest problem. Also, another concern can be cats, if you follow me on Instagram you will notice I have a lot of cat visitors as well as my own fur babies. My area has a lot of pet cats and a large cat community, most of them have bells on their collars to help the birds fly away if they get chased. It is only natural for a cat to want to hunt a bird or chase the bees. I would say twice in the almost 5 years of living here I had incidences of finding a dead bird/mouse. Most domestic cats are too well fed and lazy to go out hunting, I know my girls are. However, if your cat is bringing its prey home more often then ditch the bird feeders to prevent any more casualties.
I hope you found this post useful, whether you have a balcony for a garden, or a large space to transform I hope this post gave you some basic tips to get you started. Do share your garden tips in the comments section below, from slug tips to your favourite flower I would love to hear. You can also catch some of my other garden posts here.
Thanks for reading,
You might also enjoy these plant-related DIY projects that you could try this year
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