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Tips for an absolute beginner

(22 Posts)
NoManJan Thu 03-Mar-16 08:56:59

We moved into our house last summer, a week before our baby arrived and the only gardening we managed was cutting the grass!

Now DD is 7 months and I'm hoping for a nice summer so we can spend some time outdoors.

I'm unsure which way the garden faces but there's a rockery area at the back of the garden that is currently overgrown - snowdrops made a surprise appearance in the last month though.

I was planning to create a border around the sides of the lawn but not sure if this is wise for a newbie. I need something low maintenance but also that I can go potter around when I fancy.

Can anyone give me an idea of gardening must haves, tools etc? Also plants that are hardy and easy to grow.

Thanks so much

shovetheholly Thu 03-Mar-16 11:28:54

A border is a great idea! Maybe start down one side so it doesn't feel too overwhelming and then you can extend your ambitions as you get into it! And I'm sure you can get that rockery firing on all cylinders in no time.

The first thing I'd recommend is the DVD of Alan Titchmarsh's How To Be A Gardener. It really is a good introduction, and I don't even like the bloke!!

Work out what type of soil (clay, sand)/pH of soil (cheap test kits from the garden centre)/aspect you have as these will make a big difference to what you can grow. I realise this sounds complicated, but trust me - it isn't (the DVD explains it more I think).

Plan the shape of your bed - if you have some bright-coloured rope or even an old hose, it can help to lay this out on the ground and then go indoors and look at it. I find things look very different from my bedroom window compared to on the ground!

My top tip is always to sort the soil out first, so I'd add bags and bags of the cheap 4-for-£10 compost you get in the garden centre. Possibly some horticultural grit, too, if you have really heavy clay.

Then you can start planning! It helps to grab a bit of paper and write down the months of the year on one side. Then you can note down the plants you like and see where in the year you have gaps. Ideally you want a mix of spring bulbs, summer bulbs, shrubs (some evergreen - you don't want a leaf-free winter garden), hardy perennials and annuals. If you have fences, climbers can be great at covering these. Think about putting the tall things at the back with smaller things in front.

Choose colours, too - restricting yourself to a few favourite shades that really work together tends to look better in the end and can be helpful in narrowing down the field as you make a decision about which plants to buy.

Kit - to start of you need a spade and a fork - and it's worth investing a bit in these to get good 'uns that don't break. Orobably a set of hand tools too (trowel and hand fork), plus a cheap plastic watering can. Boots or wellies - and gloves are a must (Aldi do good cheap ones). A big plastic trug is a useful thing to have around, too. Later on, you may need secateurs, shears... and then all manner of other tools including the MATTOCK. You know you've been inducted into the gardening club when you've got one of those. grin

JapanNextYear Thu 03-Mar-16 11:37:03

The advice above is fantastic. There's lots of gardening videos on You tube too. It's very easy to spend a lot of money when you first start, so ask keen gardeners for cuttings etc and be a bit patient as they grow.

Bulbs are great - lots of impact for not much effort. Recommend alliums as, unless you have v difficult soil, they will come back year after year. IMprove the soil in your new borders as much as possible.

Google border ideas (it would be a good idea to find out which way it faces, sun in the morning it faces east, sun in the afternoon it faces west) - and then google 'west facing border ideas - sunny garden'. or whatever.

Picture of alliums

toomuchtooold Thu 03-Mar-16 12:30:49

Ooh, gardening with a little one!

Your DD will be big enough to enjoy eating fruit from the garden this summer/autumn. We had autumn-fruiting rasps (plant now, get fruit by September on the canes that grow this year, cut them to the ground once winter comes round) and strawberry plants in our old garden and our kids ate from them when they were toddlers.
Perennial herbs are good as well - rosemary, lavender if your soil's not acidic, thyme, sage, bay - plant and forget about, usually. (You can tell I like to eat from my garden, right?) I also have an overgrown rockery that I'm planning to put lots of herbs onto this year. Once it stops snowing sad

CruCru Thu 03-Mar-16 18:31:52

Stuff I can't do without:

Big fork
Little fork (handheld)
Large bucket for bunging weeds in
Scissors (I use these all the time)

Yes, yes, yes to herbs! Useful, look great all year and lots of them are great for bees.

I also love


One word of warning - I grow a lot of wildflowers in a section in my garden. This is okay because I supervise the kids BUT wildflowers are, on the whole, very poisonous. Particularly poppies and foxgloves.

One thing that was GREAT last year to do with the kids was growing sunflowers.

NoManJan Fri 04-Mar-16 10:51:43

Thanks everyone for the absolute wealth of knowledge shared! I'm a bit overwhelmed and writing a list as I go.

Doing a border to one side is probably wise. It's a rectangular garden so should be easy to plot with some coloured string. I have popped a soil testing kit on my list also. I will check out Alan Titchmarsh's DVD too as it sounds quite handy. Thank you so much for your wonderful response shove

I've just learnt that our garden is faces S/SSW (I used the compass on my phone so I'm not sure entirely how accurate that is)

I absolutely love alliums Japan, good to know they're hardy. I had sweet peas on my list too as I heard they're easy to grow - not sure how hardy they are though. I will hit google now and get some inspiration.

toomuch Oh growing things to eat sounds like a BIG deal! I like the idea of growing fruit but is it a lot of maintenance? I love the idea of herbs, especially if they attract bees. It has snowed here today, I was planning on getting out in the garden tomorrow but it's not looking too likely now sad

I knew foxgloves were toxic but didn't know about poppies and other wildflowers. I will obviously keep an eye on DD in the garden but I probably won't risk these just in case. Sunflowers sound good fun, I remember enjoying growing them as a kid and seeing the birds feast on the heads. That's a great list too.

Is the best place to buy bulbs/seeds etc my local garden centre? I know you can order online and have seen quite big ranges in places like home bargains etc.

Thanks again everyone flowers

cestlavielife Fri 04-Mar-16 10:56:19

local garden centre will know what grows well locally

get a load of nasturtium seeds - very easy to grow; seem to grow anywhere and you/dd can eat the lowers

shovetheholly Fri 04-Mar-16 11:37:56

South-facing is ideal! It means you should be able to get loads of light and sun.

Garden centres can be very hit-and-miss. A good one is a place of rare wonder, beauty and excitement. A bad one will flog you things grown in continental greenhouses and unsuited to soil that will die on you within weeks. Unfortunately, both tend to be rather expensive. While this is worth it for the good ones when you have an established garden, it can make the cost quite prohibitive when you have metres and metres to fill at the start.

I definitely recommend the discounters as a strong alternative (Aldi in particular, but also Lidl, Morrisons, and particularly Wilkos who do all kinds of really good practical kit cheaply. Seeds, bulbs, shrubs, perennials, climbers, and even fruit you can get very cheaply from these places - we're talking £3 for a fruit tree in Aldi. If you get there early, the plants are excellent quality. I also highly recommend the Secret Gardening Club for more unusual plants. I've bought loads of stuff from them now, and everything I've received has been tiptop.

One of the main things to find out is when to plant things, because this makes a big difference. Right now, we're at the last chance saloon for planting bare root trees - these need to go in very, very soon or in the autumn, but it's a bit too early for many hardy perennials. It's too late for spring bulbs (unless you buy them flowering, which is expensive) - these go in during the autumn (check out J Parkers for them - they're brilliant). Many summer bulbs, however, can go in now.

Sweet peas - these are usually annuals. You plant the seed now in loo rolls or little pots, they'll flower in the summer, then they'll die. They are one of those plants where there is a proper 'official' way of sowing them which is a lot of faff - many people swear by just shoving them in the earth instead! If it all sounds a bit difficult, there are perennial sweet peas which are easier and less bother - these will climb through other shrubs quite happily and come back year after year. Some are scented too.

Fruit is very, very easy to do and worth considering if you like things like raspberries, currants, rhubarb, strawberries and have the room. Maintenance is minimal, and the rewards are brilliant. Veg is another story - in many ways, it's the biggest gardening challenge to get right. However, even then there are easier things, like courgettes and pole beans that have high yield and are just fun to grow. Pumpkins are also easy can be brilliant fun for kids - especially the gigantic ones.

shovetheholly Fri 04-Mar-16 11:40:24

Sorry - that should say, regarding sweet peas, that many people swear by shoving them straight in compost!

toomuchtooold Fri 04-Mar-16 12:05:06

Rasps are the easiest thing ever. We had a couple of the autumn-fruiting plants in our last garden and all we did was we literally dug a hole, stuck them in and ignored them except when there was fruit on them (at which point my DD2 would go and strip them like a bloody squirrel. I've never seen a child who could eat that much soft fruit that fast. I've seen her eat an entire 350g pack of blueberries in 5 minutes). Doreen and shove know the tricks to make them yield more but you don't need to do much at all.

It is bloody snowing here as well. I'm not impressed! Mind you I have grand plans of raising lots of perennial herbs from seed this year and I was going to start half of them inside so I could be doing that instead of eating biscuits and bracing myself for the kindergarten pickup in half an hour, aargh

shovetheholly Fri 04-Mar-16 12:46:41

Hahahaha too much. On days like today, it's hard to get that gardening mojo going, isn't it?

At least you have biscuits. I have just screwed up the quiche I'm supposed to be cooking for the inlaws this evening's tea (think eggmageddon). I am in a state of meltdown and considering moving to the shed at the allotment for the entire weekend, snow or no snow. The only thing that's stopping me is the sure knowledge of the number of spiders there are in there.

gardeningmum Fri 04-Mar-16 13:56:14

Low maintenance flowering shrubs such as Hebes and Lavender will provide some structure to the border. You could also plant some grasses and foliage plants such as Ladies Mantle. My favourite flowering perennials are the Geraniums as they have a long flowering season and don't get eaten by slugs and snails. They are not the same as the annual geraniums.

Have a look at for children's gardening

toomuchtooold Fri 04-Mar-16 17:23:07

shove I found a dead slow worm in the rockery last week! Bugger the gardening gloves, I'm getting shoulder-high gauntlets before I stick my hand back in there. They're not dangerous, but... yaargh.

What happened to your quiche?

comeagainforbigfudge Sun 06-Mar-16 12:55:38

Oooooh op can i tag along? I had my baby last summer and my poor garden has been neglected for so long. Currently attacking all over grown border at my back door. Its almost decent looking now. But i need to plan the rest.

We have grass but its a pain to mow and OH has major grass allergies comes up in welts so want to get rid of most of it.

Feeling sadly excited about the prospect grin

toomuchtooold Mon 07-Mar-16 11:55:52

* waves at comeagain *

Gardening with littlers around is brilliant. I remember in spring 13 my girls were nearly 1 and I used to give them the crab apple blossoms off the trees around our estate and they would play with them and eat them. It did sort of start a bad habit though with DD2, of being a bit too confident about eating stuff from the garden without asking. I'm putting in a lot of edible stuff in my half-arsed garden renovation (herbs, lavender, fruit bushes, nasturtiums, peas) and nothing toxic - although there are some pyracanthus and stuff that will give you a dicky tummy. At least that way the garden can teach her a lesson - to be careful about what you eat - without making her really ill.

comeagainforbigfudge Mon 07-Mar-16 12:35:46

Gosh i never even thought of that! Slaps forehead will check out that website.

I'm thinking keeping it simple this year
Just get beds in and plant bulbs. Although i do like the thought of herbs. Hmmmm. What to do, what to do

shovetheholly Mon 07-Mar-16 13:40:09

toomuch - I am jealous of your dead slowworm.

Blimey, there's a sentence I never thought I'd type grin. I've never even seen one in real life, let alone had them in the garden!

And hooray for all new gardeners!!

toomuchtooold Tue 08-Mar-16 16:35:52

Herbs! Herbs! Stick in a little rosemary bush at least - you can just forget about it and then next year it'll be big enough to snip from.

shove it is pretty cool. I just don't want to put my hand on one by accident! STILL waiting to get my overgrown grass cut, then it won't be so bad.

NoManJan Wed 09-Mar-16 15:55:30

Hello comeagain, glad my garden isn't alone in being neglected. I'm hoping nicer weather is on the way so me and DD can head into the garden.

The website you linked to gardeningmum is great - I think children's gardening is about my level right now.

Oh my, I googled slow worm...that was a shock. Definitely going to invest in some decent gloves as I'm not keen on creepy crawlies!

Can anyone tell me about hydrangea bushes? We have one in the garden which had blue, pink and purple blooms last summer. How do I care for this?

NoManJan Wed 09-Mar-16 16:03:03

Also, I had a mooch in Poundland today and noticed there's a range of Charlie Dimmock gardening bits and pieces... Has anyone picked up anything worth having?

toomuchtooold Wed 09-Mar-16 17:43:18

Oh I'd be interested in hydrangeas as well, as we've got three of them in the front garden. My in-laws pruned them in the autumn, left them to it, no idea what else needs doing :-)

comeagainforbigfudge Sat 12-Mar-16 17:01:49

I have them too. I hacked pruned them last weekend. Probably too early but if ive killed some of them then a lesson is learned (have 6. They were taking over a bit so i wont mind if they are slightly hurt wink)

My understanding is that you prune them either late autum or early spring so maybe need to leave them and see what happens?

Hoping for a warm day on monday so can get out and do some more tidying of existing flower beds

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