New Vegetable Garden: How To Get Started

From the Middlesized  Garden YouTube channel, we’re going  to talk about the basics of gardening – you may  be a completely new gardener or you may have a   new garden or perhaps you’ve had a garden for a  while and you haven’t yet got involved with it – and  even for quite experienced gardeners, it  can be helpful to go back to the basics,   so i’ll be interested to know if you agree with  me as to what those are, so do leave a comment   in the description below.

I’ll put more resources  in the description below along with time stamps   so you’ll be able to find out more about each of  the things that I talk about. If you’re new here   the Middlesized Garden uploads weekly with  tips, ideas and inspiration for your garden   and if you want to see the videos when you open up  Youtube tap the ‘subscribe’ button – it’s absolutely   free – and if you want YouTube to tell you when a  new video is uploaded tap the notifications bell.

Several different friends and family have moved  into a house with a garden for the first time   this year and they’ve rang me and asked ‘what  shall I do?’ And the first thing I’ve said is   ‘do nothing’ – take a chair out into the garden and  sit there and see where the sun falls and look   at what you’ve got and what you like and what you  don’t like.

Move the chair around the garden – even   in the smallest garden, it can look very different  if you sit by the house and look out at the garden   or you take the chair to the end of  the garden and look back at the house.  Make a list of what you’ve actually got – lawn,  terrace, path, trees, shrubs, a shed, greenhouse  –  what have you already got and then make a list of  what you want from your garden – do you want it as   a place to entertain friends? is it going to be  a family play space? do you want to grow veg? Is it important to have flowers all year round? Once  you’ve got a goal in life, you can aim for it and   that’s why it’s really important with your garden  is to decide what your goal is and aim for it.

Then the first practical thing I would suggest  is learn to identify your weeds. If you don’t know   what weeds grow locally to you, ask a knowledgeable  friend or pay a gardener to come around the garden   with you for about an hour maybe two or  three times over the spring and summer   and then take a photograph of the weeds on your  phone or find some other way of identifying them   and, when you see them, weed them out.

I’d suggest  doing it by hand unless you’ve got a really   large garden -I personally find that weed sprays  just drift a bit too much and they tend to kill   off plants that you really want. There is a new  attitude to weeds at the moment, which is that   actually they are wild flowers and a weed  is only a plant in the wrong place – and, for   example, Jack Wallington, author of a book called  ‘Wild About Weeds, designing with rebel plants’   would say that actually weeds grow very well  in your garden, they’re beautiful, they attract   wildlife and that we should be more tolerant of  them.

And I think this is a very good approach, but   until you can decide which weeds you want in your  garden, you’ll need to know which are considered   weeds – so this is why I would say ‘start by learning  how to identify them’ – and I would suggest weeding   them out, because the longer you leave them in, the harder they are to get rid of, so if  you do decide you want to get rid of them, it will actually be much harder at the end of the  year than it is at the beginning of the year.

Many people worry that if they let their gardens  get weedy, then that will infect their neighbour’s   gardens with weeds but that factor is relatively  small – weeds are blown in on the wind or dropped   as seeds by birds from actually miles around – so don’t worry about that too much, and also   if your neighbor’s garden is weedy, don’t  feel that that’s what’s causing your weeds.

There’s a video about the new approach  to weeds in the description below and   also my no-nonsense guide to weeding your garden.  The next thing to work out is ‘where is the sun?’  and ‘how much sun do you have?’ In theory all gardens   will have at least one sunny border, one very shady  border and two part-sun, part-shade – but of course   gardens can be irregular shapes, they don’t  necessarily run north to south or east   west.

However, you can’t really change the aspect  of your border you could perhaps make a sunny border   a bit more sunny if there’s a tree in it and you  cut it down, but if you cut a tree down in a shady   border (a north-facing border in the northern hemisphere) – you’re actually not  going to create much more sun, so it’s important   to see where the sun falls in your garden and how  long it’s there for.

Any border that has six hours   or more of full sun is called a sunny border and  plants that need sunny borders will thrive there. Borders that have maybe three to six hours  of sun are called partly shaded and you can   probably experiment with what plants do well there.  If your border is north facing in the Northern hemisphere, and/or has a high wall   or fence it’s going to be a very shady border – but  don’t despair, a shady border can be the best and   most beautiful part of your garden and there’s  a blog post in the description below with more   about that.

There are a number of plants that do  really well in shady conditions and also they tend   to grow more slowly and weeds grow more slowly, so  a shady border can be wonderfully low maintenance.   There’s a video below with a north facing garden  which is mainly in shade, which is absolutely   charming so take a look at that as well.

So  once you know which parts of your garden are   sunny and which are shady and which are partly  shaded, you can choose the right plants for that   amount of sunshine, because it really does matter  to put the plants in the places they want to go.   Plants will forgive you an awful lot, but they  won’t really forgive you the wrong amount of sun.

One thing you will see on many lists of ‘basic  gardening tips’ is that you should test your soil   and if you’re good with instructions  and kits and jam jars and things like that,   it is a really good piece of advice because you  will find out exactly what your soil is made of.

But the fact of the matter is that  most gardeners don’t test their soil – they learn which plants do well by trial and  error – I’ve often said one of my favorite   sayings is gardeners learn by trowel and error – by  just planting things and seeing what goes well. The easiest way to find out what sort of soil  you have is probably just to ask your neighbours.

There can be patches of different  soil, particularly in larger gardens  – for example, at Doddington Place Gardens which is  largely on clay soil, they discovered in the early 1920s   that there was a big patch of acidic soil and they’ve  created a acid-loving garden with rhododendrons and   azaleas and all sorts of things that thrive in  acid soils, but which don’t usually thrive around here.

But in smaller gardens you’re less likely to have  those little patches of unusual soil. However, there   is one basic tip about soil that you do need  to know – whatever your soil is like, you need to   mulch it and what that means is that you layer an  inch or two of garden compost, well-rotted manure   or mushroom compost on it once a year – often in  autumn or you can do it in spring or really you   can do it at any time.

What this does is it feeds  the soil, it helps suppress annual weeds and it   gives the soil the nutrition it needs so that it  can feed your plants. So testing your soil is not   a must-have, it’s an ideal but – you know, don’t beat  yourself up if you don’t want to test your soil.

However, what is a must-have is watering – you need  to know really whether your climate in your garden   is basically damp or dry and once again you can  check this out on Google, you can discuss it with   neighbors – for example, I live in Southeast England,  which is very dry in the summer and I really find   that plants that do well in ‘well-drained soil’ or labelled ‘drought-resistant’ do very much better in my garden   than a lot of other plants.

It’s important,  of course, to have facilities for watering   and a tap within reach – a hose that can reach your  borders will make a great deal of difference.   And also you can add water butts, you can put  these so that water that runs off your roof   goes into water butts or the roof of your sheds –  but a word of warning – a small water butt is not   going to last very long in a drought.

If you can  get two large water butts together or even three   running into each other, you’ll be able to build  up a reasonable supply of water and you’ll be   able to use that for your watering. It is a good  idea, however, to plant drought resistant plants   if you have very dry climate and there is  a video about that in the description below,  because actually water is quite an expensive  resource and it takes time to water, so really   although you will have to water things like veg, I  would suggest planting your garden so it has the   right amount of water naturally if you can.

So how  much time do you have? This is important because   people sometimes are a little bit sneery about  low maintenance gardens, but the fact of the   matter is that if you have a busy life, you really  do need a garden that doesn’t need too much work.  Some plants need more work than others.

The low  maintenance plants are trees, shrubs, perennials,   ornamental grasses and bulbs. Most of these will  only need attention once or twice a year and all   plants do need some attention, so really there  is no such thing as the ‘no maintenance garden’!   I think it’s helpful to define what each of  these is – we all know what trees are.

Shrubs   are woody plants. They have a woody stem that  stays above the ground all year round. Some   shrubs are evergreen and their leaves stay  on all year round and others lose their   leaves in the winter and very often those  ones have the most glorious autumn colors.   Perennials are plants that stay in the ground  year after year, so of course that’s quite useful   because they just come back in spring.

Once again  some of them are evergreen and stay on top of the   ground the whole time but others – like asters – disappear underground, although there may be   a sort of dead plant structure during  the winter, which can be really attractive. Ornamental grasses are probably the lowest  maintenance plants of all, and you will find   an ornamental grass for a damp garden, for a dry  garden, for a shady garden, for a sunny garden   and they look really good planted together in  clumps.

And bulbs – of course – daffodils, lilies,   nerines, tulips, hyacinths – once again you can  often plant those in year one and they will   still be coming back in year five with relatively  little attention from you. But the showstoppers in   the garden are the annuals and the biennials. These  are the ones with the blazing flower colours very often.

Annuals are plants that grow from seed in one  year, they flower and die by the end of the year,   so take something like a cosmos. I might plant seeds in my  seed trays in, say, March. By June I’ll plant them   out in the garden, I’ll keep deadheading them and  then at the end of the year, in maybe October,  I’ll dig them up and throw them away.

In very grand  gardens they’ll plant annuals maybe two or three   times a year in different beds because they have to keep  their borders looking great all year round, but of   course that is quite a lot of work. Biennials  do the same they just do it over two years.   I find it useful to grow a packet of seeds – just  one packet a year – of something really colorful   like cosmos or antirrhinum and then  use them to plug gaps in my border –   that’s not too much work, but having a great number  of bedding plants – which are annuals and biennials –   in your garden does mean you’re  going to have to keep replanting   and deadheading and quite often  fertilizing, because they they   grow very fast – and that is more work than just  having perennials, bulbs, ornamental grasses and shrubs.

But in the end it’s about what you want for your  garden and if you want a blaze of glorious color   then annuals and biennials are fabulous. So  what about tools? I’ve got a seven essential  tools video and blog post in the description  below but broadly speaking you need a spade   and a fork, you need a hand trowel and a hand  fork, you need secateurs and possibly loppers   and some kind of a weeding tool.

Traditionally  that’s been a large hoe, but i have a lovely hand hoe   which I really love and also I have a sort of  right angle something called – I think   a paving scraper or a patio knife – it’s absolutely brilliant for  getting rid of weeds and a bag to carry them in.   The Middle-sized Garden actually has got its  own carrier bag which I’m hoping people can use   for their tools and it’s got my favorite saying  gardeners learn by trowel and error’ and that’s the   first time I’ve tried doing anything like that,  so you can find that in the description below.

And then what about resources? One of the basics of learning about gardening is ask   other people for advice, visit other gardens –  have a kind of go-to for monthly jobs – something   like the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK and  all countries have their equivalent and they’ll have   ‘gardening jobs, month by month’ but I also think  it’s important to hear how real people do things   and that’s where the strengths of blogs and  Youtube channels like the Middle-sized Garden come   in because we’re real people and we make mistakes  and we tell you how we make our mistakes – and   quite often, that can help you work out that you’re  actually not following the instructions wrong, it’s   just a bit more difficult or perhaps a bit easier  than it sounded when you looked it up.

It’s great   to have a good basic gardening book as well and  I’ll put some of those in the description below.   And above all, remember that even the most expert  gardeners have killed thousands of plants – every   time I interview a top gardener he or she always says  that people should never worry if a plant   dies – quite often it’s not your fault, it’s not  because you did something wrong, it’s just that   something didn’t work out and that’s how nature  is.

So don’t feel guilty, don’t feel worried, just   try again.