04 Aug GARDENING TIPS FROM A NOVICE − CELIA’S URBAN BEE HAVEN
My passion is interior design, it’s what I do every day, thinking and working out how to change spaces and places. It’s a process I love and understand. Of course, there are occasional surprises, but usually after careful planning and building, the end result is pretty close to what was designed and then the space is set.
That’s why I love gardening! The ground work is the same. You put in the hard work often on a blank canvas and prepare the space, but nature is random and doesn’t always do exactly what you expect and the end result changes constantly! It’s a great process to observe and since I’ve had my own garden, I love watching the variations the seasons bring.
Over the years I’ve rented in London, I have been lucky enough to always have some outside space. I’ve invested lots of time planting pots and tending other peoples’ gardens that I didn’t even own, but when we eventually bought a ground floor flat with a large (for London standards) garden, that’s when I started to get a bit obsessed. I might even admit to watching the odd Friday night episode of Gardener’s World. And, while I’m not going to try and impart any great wisdom to you, I would like to share my naive learnings from starting a garden from scratch just 4 years ago.
When we started out there was some major landscaping to do, but with the help of a gardener friend and some labourers, we hauled 10 tonnes of earth through our house to create a more useable decked area directly outside our living room with a stepped grass and paved area to the rear of the garden. Raised beds down either side are easy to maintain and concentrate the planting to greater effect.
We were lucky enough to inherit an apple tree, pear tree and quince tree in the garden and although I always thought I would have a very architectural garden, all grasses and angular plants, I decided it would be nicer to use these the almost ‘cottage garden’ cues from the three trees and keep the plants soft and leafy through most of the garden, with the more angular plants and grasses towards the back.
I was, and still am, really passionate about bees and other wildlife so I knew I wanted lots of bee-friendly plants and flowers, plus just to confirm my new granny status, heaps of lavender! You can use the handy RHS guide to planting for Bees to help choose the best plants, however in my limited experience I haven’t had much success with the wildflower packs which actually thrive in bad soil (stoney and dry), which I now know is not my garden.
At this point it was really helpful to have someone on board who knew about plants. Seonaid, who wrote a spring gardening article for Ladyland last year, and runs Sprout Up in South London, came to assess what plants I already had in the garden and recommended some new ones. She then gave me a care plan for the all the plants which has helped out massively.
I then free-styled trying plants in different places, watching how they got on, digging them up and moving them to a different spot if needed. I’ve come to realise that gardening is definitely a long game and much of the hard work happens in autumn and late winter to prepare for the spring and summer. I chose one area which was going to be a mini veg patch for my kids, but that was a a total failure for many reasons including masses of snails I couldn’t control and in one night 5 sunflowers we had carefully grown from seed were razed! So I repurposed it and it’s now a thriving herb patch which I love, there’s nothing like mint on hand for whipping up a Ladyland Garden Punch!
I have quite a bad memory so when things start appearing in the spring I get completely surprised and over excited! I’m lucky my garden is south facing (meaning we get sun all day) so most plants thrive, I also believe we have good soil, although I can’t confirm this scientifically, we do have a lot of worms. Plus Seonaid has advised me to add mulch at least once a season to keep improving the soil, so I’m going to try and keep this up.
Here are some other key learnings from the last few years:
- If there are tiny plants popping up everywhere that seem to be doing really well and you don’t remember planting them, they’re probably weeds.
- Pull up weeds (see above) as soon as they pop up otherwise they spread like wildfire. If you catch them in spring you then shouldn’t need to do it as much throughout the rest of the year as your plants grow over summer.
- Lavender in my experience only does well in a really sunny spot, I have various types and the one that is most reliable is the good old English variety, not the fancy ones which seem to die or become twigs!
- Keep mint contained in a pot or sink, even if planting into a flower bed, because it spreads like mad and will take over.
- Sounds obvious but gardens and pots need lots of water, more than you think. Ours has only done well over the summer since I started watering all the time − a little and often seems to work better than leaving plants to dry out then soaking them. Like children, plants love consistency!
- Small garden centres are often more helpful than larger chain ones like B&Q and can offer really good advice on what to plant where, or try the online plant shop Crocus. They can also help you design your planting scheme.
- Most plants need to be trimmed back in the autumn to get good fresh sprouts the next spring.
- Get out there, have patience and a trial and error approach, you might surprise yourself!
Finally, if you want some inspiration on garden design I’m obsessed with Gardenista where I constantly envy all the gardens.
Photography: Emma Scott-Child, Celia Richardson