When I first became a gardener my friends were dubious to say the least. After being extensively educated beyond any seeming usefulness to turn to a practical occupation seemed bizarre to aspiring young professionals. More recently as my cohort has grown older, I find myself being quietly solicited for advice on all manor of garden problems. These include how to tackle weeds, how to establish a lawn and what type of tree would be best to screen them from the neighbours. Whatever question I get asked there is usually a specific answer I give but I always try to add a bit more general advice, so here are some of my principles to pass on to new gardeners.
My first piece of advice is simple and straightforward. You don’t need to know any Latin or worry that you don’t know any. The system for naming
plants in Latin was invented to provide a universal language for botanists to communicate when Latin was the lingua franca of the European
intelligentsia. Latin names describe characteristics of the plant or honour a person or place and help classify it with relatives that share similar
characteristics. All this can be pretty useful but is not vital. All you need to know is what will it do, how does it grow and do I like it? The rest is down to trial and error.
Speaking of trial and error I have lost count of the times I have heard people complain that they are put off gardening because they have killed this or that plant. Well…so what I’ve probably killed hundreds. Talk to any experienced gardener and the list of fatalities will be that extensive they might deserve their own memorial. Gardening is a series of experiments and sometimes you succeed and sometimes not but each result informs the next attempt and narrows the possibility of failure.
Bearing that in mind, my next piece of advice would be not to take unnecessary risks, don’t take on too much or expect much initially. Pots and raised beds are all the rage and seem like an obvious place to begin but the best place to grow plants is in well prepared and tended soil. Whilst it may seem tempting to fill a pot with rich compost and attractive showy flowers the effect can be transient and difficult too maintain during holidays. Raised beds do save a lot of back ache but I still maintain that soil is the best teacher for novice and experienced alike.
My final tip is to plan, plan and plan again. All gardening should be two thirds thinking and one third doing. Take your time (it is the only thing
that comes free) and consider what demands you are making on your plot and upon yourself. Things grow literally and figuratively over time so it is
worth considering what you want to grow and how it will behave in relation to its neighbours. I have read in many gardening books that you should observe your plot for a full year before taking action. When I made my first garden I ignored this advice completely and paid the price for it when I had to spend more time than I had, moving things around and undoing my hard work. In the end things still seemed unsatisfactory. With my current garden I have advanced more slowly and am a lot happier for it. I have planned on paper and in my mind but have not been afraid to change things around if they suited me better. I have also tried to make lists of plants that I am interested in growing and seen as may of them in other people’s gardens as possible. After all the best mistakes to learn from are somebody else’s whilst you can take credit for your own triumphs! Whatever you do don’t be afraid to get stuck in!