Expert tips that will make you a better gardener
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Effective gardeners often rely on these tried and tested tips, returning to them regularly to keep their outdoor space in wonderful shape.
Caroline Thain spoke to gardening expert Kate Gould for her expertise. You’re welcome.
Knowing your soil and mulching
Kate said: “A healthy garden thrives on food and water. It might seem basic but feeding a garden from the ground up is so important. To do this you will need to know what soil you have and its pH, which you can test using kits bought in garden centres.
“Mulching and adding organic compost or manure in spring/autumn not only helps water retention but adds valuable nutrients for both the current and future years. The more organic you can be the better, especially if you are growing fruit and vegetables.”
“Much of gardening is ‘doing’ but the beauty of being in the garden is to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labours, so observing your garden - and keeping a diary of what flowers when - and what doesn’t look good in relation to specific climatic conditions is helpful”, said Kate. “A plant that does well one year may not the next and it is useful to know why”, she added.
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Buy good quality tools, look after them and tidy the shed
While there are no hard and fast rules about which tools to buy, great gardeners know quality tools help and stainless steel tools are superior to plastic ones. They needn’t cost a lot and if you buy better quality, it can save money in the long run as they won’t need replacing as often.
Kate advises: “A good gardener has clean tools and a tidy shed. Even if you have spent a long, hard day in the garden and are aching for a bath, cleaning your tools is not simply a dull maintenance thing. Tools pick up pathogens and diseases from plants, so ensuring they are cleaned and - if necessary - sterilised is vital. Oil any working parts and give shears and cutting blades a yearly overhaul. A blunt rusty blade is never good.”
Love and know your garden
Picking plants and produce you personally like to cultivate will help you feel protective over your garden and motivate you to nurture it. It will also spur you on through any mundane repetition.
Kate said: “Gardening is cyclical whether you believe in planting by the phases of the moon or not! As a gardener you will, year after year, undertake the same tasks at the same time and with experience comes the risk of an ‘it’ll be fine’ mentality.
“Borne out of experience, a job worth doing is a job worth doing well, particularly when dealing with living breathing things. Just because your garden is mature doesn’t mean you can step back from general horticultural husbandry - the more mature your garden, often the more care it requires if it is to continue to move forward and thrive.”
Put the garden to bed for winter
Kate said: “There are many ways to set the garden to bed for winter. Some people like to leave perennials standing. Others like to cut them down. Either works. Some of the best advice I was ever given was to garden according to your garden. Respond to what it requires rather than slavishly doing things by the book.
“If you live in a cold spot, leaving perennials standing may help them survive the winter, their stems and leaves protecting the crown of the plant. A shady sheltered garden in town may need cleaning and cutting down, to ensure there are no nooks and crannies for slugs, snails and other garden pests to overwinter in.”
Take pleasure in it, sharing space and produce with loved ones
The most important factor to remember is to enjoy it. This includes spending time alone and with friends/family - ‘being’ in the garden as well as ‘doing’. It also means giving away fruit, vegetables and cuttings to visitors.
Kate added: “Gardening should be a joy not a chore. There are always tasks you may prefer but something you just have to knuckle down to (and saying that I am now off to sweep behind my pots, my least favourite task but totally necessary)”.
Other healthy habits of successful gardeners involve being water wise (consider retaining rainwater in a barrel to use), weeding early and often to save it building up into a less manageable job and making/using compost.
You can find out more about Kate Gould’s garden design services at www.kategouldgardens.com.