Advice to a new gardener

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It is no use asking me or anyone else how to dig… Better to go and watch a man digging, and then take a spade and try to do it.
Gertrude Jekyll
I love Gertrude Jekyll.  Not because of her beautiful colour co-ordinated borders but because of her straight forward writing style and practical approach.
One of my bug-bears when it comes to gardening is gardeners lack of confidence at undertaking quite simple tasks in the garden.  The times I have seen people, generally newish gardeners, on twitter saying should I sow this now, how do I sow, should I move this plant, should I prune it, what will happen if I do it wrong?  Well the obvious answer to that last one is that the plant may die, but what if it does.  You aren’t bumping off your elderly aunt but a plant and if that plant doesn’t have huge sentimental value to you then does it matter?  If the plant is unusual then really someone inexperienced really shouldn’t be allowed near it.  If you kill the plant you can get a new one.
I am a real believer in having a go.  You have nothing to lose.  A packet of seeds costs no more than a couple of pounds, read the instructions on the back and just do it.  If you think something needs pruning or moving, do it and just remember to make sure if it is dry to  water the plant well.  Christopher Lloyd, another of my favourite writers and very sensible, said that the best time to undertake a task in the garden was when you thought of it.
This really means that you should trust your instinct.  But how do you cultivate a reliable instinct, well by having a go!  If you spend your time relying on books and online advice and worrying about it you will never learn from your mistakes and you will never develop an instinct.  Certainly use books etc as a guide but you will soon find that the more books/articles you read the more they will contradict each other and you will enter a spiral of confusion.
So use your common sense, have a go, watch and note what happens and learn from it. And most importantly remember to enjoy yourself.
This is the latest assignment for Writing 101 – we had to choose a quote, any quote, as a prompt and write something.
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16 Comments Add yours

  1. Amy Sampson says:

    Love this. It’s not just true for gardening, the same goes for so many other things.

  2. Julieanne says:

    Yep, just having a go is the best way to learn how to garden. Books and online advice can be useful, but as you say it can often be contradictory advice. I recall a gardner once saying to me that you get 3 gardeners in a room and will get 4 differents pieces of advice. There is nothing quite like putting your and in the soil and just starting.

    Are you enjoying the writing assignments?

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Julieanne
      I am enjoying the writing assignments, it’s helping me re-engage with the blog

  3. annincumbria says:

    I hope your getting as much pleasure writing as I am reading 😀

  4. Ogee says:

    This is perfect. Of course, asking questions and looking up when you fall flat on your face can be a good thing…but don’t let fear stand in your way!

  5. hughcassidy says:

    Nicely written Helen -laughed out loud at the ‘you aren’t bumping off … ‘ part !

    Great advice for newbies- just have a go, and enjoy yourself …

  6. susurrus says:

    It’s a thought provoking post and a great quote. Your advice made me smile because it’s so apt – if it dies, so what? That’s my attitude too.

    But I do think we can sometimes underestimate the effects of having gardeners in our families or neighbourhoods – and the general ease of getting plants sold in the UK to grow in the UK. I agree that the best approach is to try then observe what happens. But in parts of the US, a surprising amount of people have only ever experienced their families growing grass and meat ball shaped shrubs and not everything sold there will grow, strange as that seems. I can understand them failing to grow a plant they really craved and being anxious to get it right next time.

  7. Alison says:

    Yes! It’s not rocket science or brain surgery. It’s a learning experience and it’s meant to be fun! You chose a good quote.

  8. AnnetteM says:

    A good article – well written with sensible advice. Gardening is one thing where you really need to get your hands dirty – literally. Your garden is unique and, as you say, you won’t find all the answers in books or online, Having done Blogging 101 and 201 and Photo 101, I might give Writing 101 a go next time. Have you found it useful for a gardening blog?

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Annette
      I am finding Writing 101 useful in the sense that it is getting me out of a rut, having blogged for 8 years I was going through the motions and needed a bit of a shove. It is giving me a bit of confidence and courage to just write about whatever rather than worrying about it being related to gardening. I suspect I don’t want to feel constrained to write jus about gardening but I know most of my readers read my blog because it is about gardening! What did you think of Photo 101

  9. nanacathy2 says:

    That’s just how I garden, you give me confidence in my approach being married to someone who consults the internet for every task.

  10. Yes indeed, when in doubt, take a deep breath and dive in… Clearly Gertrude Jekyll didn’t believe in mystifying the straightforward…

  11. This is exactly how I feel. In my garden I see people hesitating to buy a packet of seeds for just 1 euro! I always say, what do you have to loose? Maybe it is the disappointment that it will not thrive, or they can not live with failures. I love an experiment and the garden is crowded with plants.

  12. This is absolutely true about many things. Most of us want easy fixes. Sometimes you need a nudge in the right direction but, the best learning is by doing. Trial and error and all, with all your errors you know what doesn’t work!

  13. hoehoegrow says:

    I agree that the way to learn about gardening is just to do it! Back in the day, gardeners had a couple of books, and other gardeners, to give them advice. Now, of course, with Google, blogs, videos,magazines etc new gardeners can be bombarded with advice.

  14. Matt @ Garden59 says:

    I hope you’re enjoying your writing your 101 posts because I’m enjoying reading them. This one is spot on for me, because this is exactly how I like to garden and to learn. I like to get stuck in and try things, learning from my mistakes as well as my successes.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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