Gardening Tips and Guides for Beginners
When you buy a house the chances are, that you will also take on a garden. The house and garden together make one entity—the home. If you take a pride in your home, it is logical that you should also want to take pride in your garden. Your garden is yours and yours alone; you may do with it what you wish. You may leave it to become a wilderness—in which case it will probably reproach you as might an undusted living-room, or you can try to make it attractive—in which case it can become a rewarding hobby.
There is of course, a middle road. The making of a garden that gives the maximum of pleasure with the minimum of effort, and that is probably what most people want, right?
There is no mystery about gardening. There are no secret, rustic incantations to make things grow.
Successful gardening is simply a matter of deciding what you want to do, finding out how to do it, and then doing it, preferably in the right sequence of events, and, also preferably, at the right season.
Gardening Intel: An Introduction
This website is not a comprehensive treatise embracing the whole of horticulture. Its aim is to show every gardener, whether keen or reluctant, how to achieve a garden that is colorful and fruitful with the minimum expenditure of time, money and effort.
No matter whether the garden is a pocket handkerchief plot or a couple of acres, whether it is an established garden or merely the bare earth the builders left behind, the articles available on this website give you all the information you need to turn it into something attractive. If the simple, practical advice in the articles is followed, even the most unpromising site can be turned into a place of beauty and enjoyment.
It is often said that what the keen gardener is striving to do is to recreate an earthly paradise. In other words, attempting to create his own private Garden of Eden. And in this age of noisy machinery, jangling phones, whirring computers, aggressive competition and frayed nerves, there is indeed a need for some such dream. Perhaps that is why gardening is now one of the most popular hobbies of all.
But there are other reasons too…
You see, a garden can be more than just a background to living. It actually can be a challenging and rewarding pastime. Apart from the pleasures of growing flowers larger and more colorful than your neighbor’s, there are also the rewards of growing fruit and vegetables both cheaper and tastier than those you can buy in the stores and markets.
Gardening is indeed all things to all men.
Designing a garden is a fascinating occupation but it calls for a lot of patience and while it is sometimes excitingly rewarding, it is often frustratingly disappointing. Very few people can choose what they consider the ideal site for a garden, whether it’s an existing garden or merely a rectangle of land left by the builder, or a sea of mud and lumps of brick and concrete.
Most of us have to live near our work and acquire the house that is available and within our means. The exceptions are the retired people, who may be able to live where they choose, but the majority of us have to come to terms with what we’ve got and a compromise must be reached between the ideal and the reality. It’s no good pining for a garden of rhododendrons and azaleas, unless your soil is lime- free, nor striving after superb roses and delphiniums if you have a light, acid soil.
What Sort Of A Garden Do You Want?
If you are young, with small children, a garden that can be played in without causing too much damage will save a lot of heartbreak and scolding. Balls don’t always go where they are hit or kicked, and broken glass and smashed tulips will result in tears. Much the same applies to animals.
Little children love sandpits, climbing frames and swings, and while these may not improve the view from the house, it saves mother a lot of worry if she can watch the family at play. If there is space for a terrace this is always worthwhile. You can have meals outside in the summer, a place for a pram or even a play area when the grass is damp.
Gardening Recommendations for Older Senior Citizens
On the other hand if you are retired, you must face the fact that at 85, you won't feel energetic as you do at 65 and a lot of mowing, hedge trimming and fiddly weeding will be tiring chores. After all, gardens are for relaxing, so think ahead and aim for more flowering shrubs and plants that need no staking. Consider a raised flower bed that will save kneeling. A small greenhouse is also recommended and will provide hours of happy occupation.
Building a Boundary for your Garden
The boundary of your garden is probably the first consideration. It may already exist. If not, it can be a wall, a fence, a hedge or just wire netting. To inherit a wall is wonderful. To build one is costly because to be of real value, it needs to be at least 2m/6ft high. However, there are so many marvelous plants that will grow up a wall or under its protection.
There are a number of composition blocks on the market from which it is possible to construct a highly decorative and very satisfactory wall at less cost than using bricks. And the great advantage is that it requires no maintenance! From the gardener's point view, a fence is probably the next best thing. It doesn’t take up a lot of space, it is easy to fix things to and it keeps out the next door weeds. Though it will need a certain amount of maintenance and will not last a lifetime.
Hedges make delightful backgrounds to herbaceous borders but they have disadvantages. They have to be kept cut and they tend to grow around 24-36 inches wide. Weeds lodge at their roots and they take a lot of goodness from the soil around them. A wire fence is fine if you don't object to your neighbors’ weeds, cats or children’s toys coming through, or if you don’t mind a lack of privacy. Plants can grow close to it and climbers trail over it so that in summer, at least, it will be more or less invisible.
The largest area of any garden is usually the lawn. It is very much simpler to mow in straight lines so a simple rectangle makes for least work, but it is also rather dull and a pleasantly curved edge to the grass seems to make the area look larger. The thing that really makes for hard work is a lot of little beds cut into the lawn or single trees and shrubs that have to be mown round.
Ponds in the Garden
Everyone is fascinated by water and a garden with natural water is a delight, but small ponds have drawbacks. A toddler can fall, hit his head on a stone and drown in a few inches of water. If this is not a problem, there are many charming plants for a water garden and the sound of a little, bubbling fountain is very pleasant on a hot day. For fuller details of water and its uses, check out this article.
Building Garden Rockeries
Rockeries are a very popular garden feature. They can be extremely beautiful, especially in spring, if they are well constructed and designed to fit into the contours of the garden. The bad thing about rockeries though is they can all too easily become a jumble of any available rocks and stones, piled together with no thought as to the strata of the rock, nor the need for leaving suitable areas for planting.
If you want a rockery, it is best to consult someone who really knows or make a careful study of it before you start to build. I’ll tell you the basic information, which is covered in this article.
Weeding a rockery can be a problem. Roots get wedged under rocks or entwined with a spreading mass of rock plant. A peat garden built of peat blocks might be a simpler alternative, and it offers a wonderful opportunity for growing a wide variety of fascinating and unusual plants.
Planning Your Garden Layout
A vegetable garden, however small, is a very good idea, even if it only produces lettuces and herbs. With a large family and a small garden, unless you are prepared to give up most of the ground, it is hardly worthwhile attempting to grow more than salad crops and herbs. Still, two people can grow enough for their needs in quite a small space. Having decided on the type of layout you want, don’t be too impatient.
Make quite sure you know which parts of the garden get full sunshine and which areas are shady and, if possible, whether you have any frost pockets. Your house will probably face at least partially south, so that the area opposite the house will face north and will not get so much sun. You will want shade but site any tree you plant carefully and make sure that you know how big it will grow.
A weeping willow charmingly delicate when young will all too quickly develop a twenty foot spread and a silver birch will grow to 15m/50ft. There are plenty of small trees to choose from. Evergreens and conifers, used sparingly, give color in the winter and there are many very attractive dwarf varieties of conifer in all shades of green.
Shrubs are labor-saving and carefully chosen will provide color throughout the year. If they are planted in groups, 'bays’ can be left for herbaceous plants, bulbs and annuals. It is an excellent idea to go round any gardens in your district that are open and look at what your neighbors grow successfully.
One can get good ideas from other peoples’ successful planting and owners and gardeners are usually only too happy to share their knowledge and experience. Wherever possible buy from a local nursery or garden center as the plants will have been raised in similar conditions.
Make sure that you know the maximum size of what you are buying and remember that plants don’t grow very much for the first two years, but that then they will suddenly get big. It’s so much easier to add new plants than to decide what to dig up and the gaps can always be filled with bulbs and annuals.
When planting a garden there are a few points worth bearing in mind. Straight lines look horrible unless you want a totally formal and immaculately kept garden or go in for carpet bedding. Groups of flowers of the same kind or of the same color make a far greater impact than single blobs of color, and three plants triangled together will not only support each other, but if one fails to do well the others will help fill the gap.
Blue and mauve are colors that will fade into the background and can give an impression of depth, while white and yellow flowers 'come forward’ and will shine against a dark background. Color combinations are very much a matter of taste and while no colors in nature can be said to clash, some are certainly more effective together than others.
If you can imagine the colors of the rainbow i.e. violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red carefully graded into each other and forming a circle, you will find that any color will blend well with the colors next to it and make a splendid contrast with the color diametrically opposite. Think, too, in terms of seasons.
A group of spring flowers will look much more striking than a patch here and there, and a small area devoted to winter flowering plants will be much more noticeable than peering for little bits all over the place. A small conifer, some winter flowering heathers and a plant or two of the lovely green Helleborus foetidus will give color on dark days and last well into the spring.
Daffodils are a joy. We can’t all have orchards full of them, though where possible they look best coming naturally out of grass. Keep them in loose clumps so that grass or soil shows between them. They will look much prettier than in a solid yellow mass. Don’t be afraid to plant your early flowering plants and bulbs at the back of a border. The other plants will not have grown big enough to hide them and when they are over, you won’t be left with an untidy patch in the front.
If you love tiny, unusual plants that are such fun to collect, keep a special place where they can all grow together, otherwise they get lost and dug up or overtaken by larger neighbors. If the site on which your garden is to be made already has some natural feature e.g. an old tree or a mound or hollow, leave it, if possible. It will look much more attractive than something ‘contrived.’ An old fruit tree may not produce much fruit, but the blossom will be lovely and a Clematis montana or Rosa filipes will romp through branches.
The Advantages of Growing Your Own Vegetables
As the population continues to rise in almost every part of the world, the necessity for increased food production becomes obvious. The price of vegetables in shops and markets is a further great incentive to gardeners to grow edible crops instead of cultivating almost exclusively ornamental subjects. Beyond these motives, there is the question of freshness and flavor, experienced at their best with produce newly harvested from your own garden.
In addition, the vegetable grower can select his own varieties, choosing those subjects which he and his family like, and those having nutritional and vitamin values. It is no more difficult to grow the best varieties than those of poor quality. By careful planning it is possible to obtain a continuous supply of vegetables throughout most of the year, particularly if care is taken to store the right crops for use in mid-winter.
There is also a great deal of satisfaction to be gained from eating fresh food which you have grown yourself. There can be very few people who do not eat some vegetables, for apart from those that are eaten raw, there are others that can be canned, frozen, boiled, stewed or fried. We use various parts of vegetable plants including roots or bulbs, stems, leaves, seeds such as garden peas and broad beans from the pod, and fruits—notable examples of the latter being cucumbers, sweet corn and tomatoes.
Superstitious Beliefs about Vegetables
A number of vegetables are natives of widely separated parts of the world. Potatoes, sweet corn and tomatoes come from South America, onions originated in Egypt, radishes and soybeans were known in China centuries ago, carrots are said to have come from Greece, while the lettuce was known to the ancient Romans.
With such examples of the background of some of our popular vegetables, it is hardly surprising that many stories and superstitions have arisen, some of which make interesting reading even if these days they sound a little farfetched. We can mention only a few beliefs once held by many people.
Silly Beliefs Regarding Onions
Some people claim that onions are capable of remedying a range of health symptoms such as headaches and earache. The method for addressing the former is to slice an onion bulb in a half and then apply it on the patient’s forehead. As for the latter, an onion needs to be well roasted beforehand. The heart of the roasted onion is then removed and then placed directly into the patient’s ear. The truth is, the heart of the roasted onion did not remedy the earache–chances were, it was the warmth that helped.
When it comes to treating baldness, there was this old Oxfordshire suggestion that some raw onion juice should be applied directly onto the balding patch. Of course, this suggestion is simply way off and a person with hair loss disorder should not even bother giving it a try.
And that’s not all…
Apparently, people of centuries ago even used onions to put the holy fear in witches! What they did was hung a bunch of onions on their doorways. Another silly belief concerning onions is that in the old says, girls were encouraged to consume large amounts of raw ones in order to better their chances of finding a suitor. This belief is very funny, especially when you consider that onion has a rather unpleasant scent. How on earth it was associated with bringing about feelings of love, I cannot begin to fathom.
The Rhubarb as Remedy and Decorative Piece
One of the most obscure vegetables in the world is the rhubarb, which was once regarded as a fruit. Chinese people in the 27th century BC made use of it as remedy for various ailments. The rhubarb has been used for many centuries, but people only started growing them for cooking in around the early 19th century. According to a number of really old gardening literatures, the rhubarb was grown for ornamental reasons. Its tall spike of whitish-yellow flowers was regarded as its most desirable characteristic.
Silly Beliefs Regarding Potatoes
When potatoes were first brought into Europe, people of that time did not include them in their everyday diet. Instead, potatoes were used to feed livestock. At the time, some people actually refused to consume animals which had been fed potatoes. These people believed that potatoes are a source of fevers and leprosy, and those who ate potato-fed livestock could easily be infected by the aforementioned illnesses.
The consumption of potatoes eventually became widespread thanks to King Louis XVI of France. He was one of the first persons to popularize them. In fact, King Louis XVI didn’t just consume the potatoes, he also instructed his gardeners to plant them in large sections of his garden because he was fascinated by the flowers that bloomed from the potato plants.
During the Napoleon Bonaparte era, it was said that love potions were conceived using potatoes! There are tales floating about of Josephine who consumed a love potion, in addition to numerous single women at court in search of a suitor.
Silly Beliefs Regarding Tomatoes
Brought to England sometime in the year 1596 from South America, the general public only started to consume tomatoes in the 18th century. Since tomatoes are categorized as part of the lethal nightshade family of plants (most plants from this family are toxic), people of that time believed that they were completely unsafe. As a result, tomatoes were grown as decorative plants—also due in part to their attractive appearance and aroma.
The identity of the person who first tasted a tomato in England is never known, but sometime later, a new belief was brought out. This time, people believe that tomatoes were responsible for causing people to become very passionate–for a short period of time of course. As such, tomato was termed “love-apple.”
Actually, a number of common vegetables were at one point in the past, were linked with elements of romance. Nine peas in a pod for instance, were regarded as an indicator of good luck. So if a single woman discovered a pod, she would simply nail it over her home’s front door. The first guy who entered through that door would end up being her spouse. Of course the woman’s male relatives were ruled out!
Silly Beliefs Regarding Cabbage and Lettuce
During the medieval era, the juice of lettuce was utilized in the creation of charms as well as love potions. Women who were seeking a husband would consume plenty of raw lettuce in the hopes of boosting their appeal. Cabbage was extremely well regarded by the Romans, and they even incorporate this vegetable in their rich mythology.
It is said that during Roman orgies, one could find several sizeable bowls containing raw wet cabbage leaves set on the table. The Romans would consume the leaves in between bouts of joyful wine consumption. The reason the Romans did this was because they thought that the cabbage leaves had the ability to soaked up the fumes emitted by the wine, which means they would be able to go back home minus the alcohol on their breath.
The Healthier and Cheaper Approach
To come back to more practical things we find in vegetables something more than luxuries—we find food of the highest order, from which may be derived strength and good health. Today more than ever before, there is an appreciation of naturally grown fresh food coupled with an urge for self-sufficiency and a 'back-to-the-land' approach. This in part, is a reaction against processed and frozen convenience foods. In addition, the cost of buying vegetables rises continuously and we are now in a ‘belt-tightening’ era.
One does not need to be a financier to notice the difference in cost or a gourmet to appreciate the difference in taste between freshly harvested crops, and those that are wizened through having been gathered days previously. Most vegetables lose at least some of their vitamins as soon as they are gathered. Therefore, the sooner they are eaten, the more beneficial they will be for health and a well-balanced diet. When growing for the table, large size is not the criterion as it may be on the show bench.
Giant Brussels sprouts, huge beetroot, carrots and leeks are less likely to be as tasty as smaller specimens gathered and eaten when young. Very often vegetables are cooked far too long and may become tasteless and lose their vitamin value, especially cabbages which are a natural provider of vitamin C.
Growing Veggies Originating From All Parts of The World
Fortunately there are now very many varieties of cabbages. This means it is possible to have a supply throughout the year by selecting the right variety and sowing at different periods. It is pleasing to realize that while everyone cannot travel to far distant places, we can grow vegetables originating from all parts of the world.
While they may have been raised in greatly differing conditions from those in this country, a number of them are outstanding in growth and flavor. As we shall see in detail later, east meets west in the garden, through Japanese cucumbers, onions, winter radishes and melons.
From China come mung beans, Chinese mustard, Chinese cabbages such as ‘Pe tsai’ which are first class as a salad crop, or can be cooked like ordinary cabbage but with much less of an unpleasant ‘cabbagey’ smell.
The range of vegetables from the United States increases annually. Green celery, lettuce ‘Salad Bowl', tomato 'Big Boy’, various large pumpkins and squashes are all proving to be worth growing. Whether you grow the very new subjects from far distant places or rely on well-tried favorites, it is advisable to plan the garden so that gluts and shortages are avoided.
This means not only sowing little and often to spread out supplies, but making sure to grow certain items which will keep or store well. Whether or not vegetables are being stored for winter and spring use, the way the crop is harvested is of importance both for the actual plant, as well as the portion being taken off the plant.
Vegetables and Their Original Names
As the result of official trials by experts from many countries, it has been decided that identical varieties of vegetables, known and grown under more than one name, must now be known by their original name. This means that some names we know so well are now not offered in seedsmen’s catalogues. This does not indicate that these favorite varieties have been discarded or are unsatisfactory, but simply that they are now offered under the name originally given to them.
For instance beetroot ‘Showbench’ should now be catalogued as 'New Globe’, lettuce ‘Sugar Cos’ as ‘Little Gem’ and Brussels sprouts ‘Continuity’ as 'Early Half Tall’. Although the loss of some favorite names will be regretted, it will avoid the possibility of growing two or more varieties of the same vegetable under different names, only to discover this when the crop matures.