I am getting to that age now where my mates – the same ones who have made fun of me since high school for being into gardening – are suddenly full of questions as they timidly get into growing things themselves.
As I have spent most of my summer sharing my top four tips for newbies with all of them, I thought maybe you also might find them useful, too. So here we go:
The secret is persistence
The number of times that I have been told by people that they are afraid of gardening as they once killed a plant… Well, guess what? I have killed hundreds.
In fact, when my botanical friends meet up in the pub, including some of the brightest minds at the RHS and Kew, guess what we often talk about?
The plants we have killed. You see, some plants just will die on you, but that’s the only way you really learn as a gardener. Trial and error. In gardening, there are no mistakes, only experiments. And with each one you get better.
Weeds are in the eye of the beholder
There seems to be a panic among new gardeners about accidentally pulling up “plants” instead of “weeds”. Well, here’s the deal. Weeds are plants. And an awful lot of popular garden plants can turn into weeds.
You see there is really no scientific definition of a “weed”, other than a plant growing where you have decided for it not to. It’s just a subjective cultural label.
Some, such as dandelions, daisies and clover, would be highly prized garden plants if only they were tricky to grow, being colourful, great for wildlife and edible, too.
So don’t get too hung up on them. In fact, rebrand the ones you like as “wildflowers” and you’ll never need to weed again.
Plant stuff in the ground
“It starts with a pot” is the name of an industry campaign that was meant to start young people growing. Except, growing in pots is almost certainly the highest risk and highest-input way to garden, even if public perception is often the reverse.
In the cramped confines of a pot, plant roots experience far wider fluctuations in temperature and water, and quickly run out of nutrients and root space.
And, of course, you have to buy the damn pot. Nine times out of 10, plants are grown in open ground in well-maintained soil will fair far better and need much less attention from you.
Say Latin names!
Don’t worry if you think you might get it wrong. Latin is a dead language, so there isn’t really a technically correct way to pronounce Latin names anyway.
In fact, botanical Latin isn’t really Latin, but a cobbled-together mix of Ancient Greek, Latin and a whole bunch of other languages to give us a universal naming system that helps avoid the confusing cat’s cradle of common names.
As it’s a global language, pronunciations are as diverse as the world has accents. So ignore the snobs. Give it a go instead of using common names, which can refer to any number of other things, and you are much more likely to get your hands on what you actually want.