Gardening For Newbies – Getting Started

Buy a few, well-made garden tools to start with. Leave the more specialized equipment until necessary. You may then find you can borrow the particular tool, or rent it at an economical rate.

When buying tools, make sure they are strong but not too heavy for comfort. Equipment such as large watering cans and wheelbarrows can get unwieldy whn full.

Stainless-steel tools are initially expensive, but easy to clean and use and are very long lasting. All tools should be cleaned after use and stored in a dry shed or garage. If hung up, they are less likely to be stepped on or tripped over. Electrical and sharp tools must be kept out of children’s reach.


If you have just moved house and are faced with a rubble-strewn, barren plot of ground, or a mature garden totally unsuitable for your needs or taste, then garden planning on a large scale is necessary. On a smaller scale, you may have a garden you are quite pleased with but feel it needs improvement in the form of a new border, a change of planting scheme or a bit of additional paving.

Whatever the scale of the operation, the same factors need consideration. It is inadvisable to rush immediately to a nursery or garden centre and buy whatever catches your fancy at the time. Plants, paving and walling materials, garden tools and furniture are expensive. A few hours spent with graph paper, pencil and nursery catalogue will save you time, money and effort in the long run.

Take note of and record all aspects of the site as it exists. These include the actual size of the garden, contours and levels, views from it and to it from the house (both good and bad), vegetation, the sunny and shaded spots and the sheltered and exposed positions. Some will be immediately obvious as good points. Others, such as a badly drained, stagnant patch of soil, can be turned to advantage: for example, the creation of a bog garden.

After this site appraisal, list what you want from your garden. The garden needs of a family with young children — safety, indestructibility, total enclosure and amusement in the form of play equipment — would be diametrically opposed to those of a gardener who is a keen exhibition grower, and envisages his plot as a source of perfect fruit, vegetables and flowers.

It is important to have a good idea of how much time you are prepared to give to your garden. The idea of an immaculate lawn may appeal to you, but an enormous amount of maintenance and upkeep is involved. However a badly kept lawn is better than no lawn at all.

Similarly, raising your own fruit and vegetables needs quite a commitment of time, on a regular basis rather than in sporadic bursts of activity.

Not everything in the garden can be beautiful. Space is usually required for clothes drying, refuse storage, car and bicycle maintenance. Hard-wearing surfacing will be necessary in these areas, to stand up to constant use, and adequate provision should be made for it. Screening is useful for such situations, either in the form of hedging or walls or opaque fencing.

Screening is additionally useful for boundary demarcation, particularly if you want a bit of privacy. The minimum height for a feeling of privacy is 1.5 m (5 ft); anything less will leave you quite visible from neighbouring gardens.

Walls and screening offer additional advantages; they provide shelter and act as wind breaks, and also provide growing space. Not only can conventional climbers, such as clematis and honeysuckle, be trained up walls, pots and other containers can be bracketed to walls to allow for vertical gardening.

One note of advice: before beginning any boundary demarcation, particularly of a permanent or expensive nature, make legally sure that you have the right to do so. Planning permission from your local authority is necessary for the construction of a garage, the building of a new driveway off an existing road and the removal, or even the pruning, of trees in your garden which have tree preservation orders.

Do not lay out new paths if you have just moved house. It is far better to wait for a couple of months to see where paths naturally occur; worn-out grass between the kitchen door and the shed or vegetable garden will indicate the shortest and most convenient route. Unnecessarily curving or less direct concrete paths will be totally ignored.

In considering costs, the time-scale must be kept in mind. In general, quick results and instant effects cost more than having your garden develop over several years. This is particularly true if you envisage employing contractors for hard landscaping. Herbaceous perennials, shrubs and even trees can be grown from seed at a fraction of the cost of buying a mature specimen. However, this exercise demands enormous patience and it may be many years before they make any worthwhile contribution.

When making decisions on colour schemes, it is important to decide whether short, but spectacular, displays in spring and summer are the effects you want, or a more moderate display over the whole year. Except in the smallest gardens, it is a mistake to include too many colours, randomly mixed together. It is far better to have groups of plants, all of a single colour, although the garden as a whole might include many such groups.

Neighbouring gardens, nearby public parks and even woods give a clear indication of the types of plants most successfully grown in surroundings similar to your garden. It is sensible to take note of these plants.

The rise and fall of undulating ground can add interest and charm to any site, depending upon the scale involved. In small modern gardens, however, limited opportunities are available for changes of level, which are largely determined by existing features, such as buildings, roads, drives and neighbouring boundaries. Where changes in level are contemplated, these should be carried out in conjunction with drainage. Earth moving, which is usually costly and time consuming, is best kept to a minimum. The rise and fall of the land has a number of practical implications. Where slopes are steeper than one in three — the ground rises or falls more than 1 m for each 3 m travelled — walking as well as grass mowing becomes difficult. Where gradients are too steep for slopes or banks, steps, terraces and retaining walls become desirable and necessary.

When planning the layout of the garden, it simplifies the task if you have a predetermined idea of the character you want. Three broad styles are recognised — formal, informal and natural. Formal gardens are those with a regular, symmetrical arrangement of beds, borders and bedding plants. Informal gardens are less rigid in their layout and can combine lawns with herbaceous borders and/or shrubs, and perhaps make use of specimen trees. Wild or natural gardens are intended to resemble nature, and here the attention of the gardener is minimal.

When starting a garden for although the traditional English country garden is very beautiful, it may prove difficult to recreate in urban areas.

The first time, resist the temptation to obtain all the tools imaginable, some of which will almost certainly prove unnecessary. Buy a few well made basic items, and build up gradually as the need for different tools becomes apparent. Be sure that any tools bought are reasonably strong, but are not too heavy for the user.

Throughout the planning process, safety should always be to the forefront of one’s mind. Water, walls, machinery, chemicals and poisonous plants are all potential hazards. With young children and pets extra care is needed. Drives, paths and any other building work, should be carried out in a competent manner. Smooth, well laid surfaces are usually easy to keep clean, but potholed paths, or collapsing walls resulting from poor workmanship, can be dangerous as well as irritating.

When planning a garden always bear in mind the nature of the site and what you want from it. Isolate any problems and then carefully work out an overall garden plan.