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Stumped by gardening? Here’s ten easy things to try this weekend

weekend

It’s never too late to get into gardening: here are ten things for inspired novices to do this weekend.

1) Get to know your soil

Pick up a handful of soil and give it a squeeze – you’ll instinctively know if it’s good, and not just because it’s crumbly but sticky at the same time, with a sweetish smell, but because the plants in it are looking healthy (even if they are weeds). Anything too dry, or hard, or sticky or stony, or cloddy needs attention. Add manure or soil improver to very dry or sandy soils, and something dry and gritty (like sand) to very sticky soils. Pull up all the weeds and dig with a spade, levering the stuff up and turning it over, breaking it up by bashing it a bit, and then forking in any additions. It’s properly hard work but you’ll burn a vast amount of calories and end up with something fabulous at the end.

2) Plant ready-grown flowers

Go to the garden centre and pick some cheap bedding plants that make you smile. Don’t get bogged down with reading labels; these are temporary plants. Take them out of their plastic pots and rub the sides of the compost a bit, so that the roots know it’s okay to start spreading out. Dig a hole, a bit deeper than you think you need, place the plant in the hole, and replace the soil around it so there aren’t any gaps. Firm the whole thing down gently with your hands or a foot, and water liberally – daily in hot water. That’s all.

3) Sow some seed

If you’ve never done it before, prepare to be thrilled. Get some easy, large seeds (nasturtiums are a good one to start with), fill a container, like a window-box, with multi-purpose compost from a bag, water and push a few seeds into the soil – just a fingernail’s depth. Squidge the soil back over the seed and leave it somewhere you’ll be able to see it daily, and make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. Unbelievably soon, you’ll see shoots appearing.

4) Dig up what you dislike

If you’ve inherited plants that don’t make you happy, ask yourself what on earth you’re keeping them for. Yanking stuff out that isn’t right is just as fruitful and effective as putting stuff in – it’s all gardening.

5)  Prune

Most people in inherited gardens have overgrown shrubs which can be transformed by a judicious haircut. Identify the plant and establish the best time to prune, but beyond that, trust yourself and go at it, slowly and gently, stepping back after each cut to look at what you’ve done from a distance. Evergreen shrubs like box, privet, yew can be pruned into all sorts of wonderful shapes. Large shrubs that take up huge amounts of ground can be ‘lifted’ by chopping off all the foliage to leave bare stems, allowing you to underplant the space below with shade-loving plants.

6) Discover bulbs

Bulbs are an absolute gift to the new gardener; easy, virtually failsafe and providing the most marvellous of spring surprises. Start now, though, by getting some late summer flowering bulbs, like Crocosmia, or Gladiolus callianthus and sinking them into pots or a flowerbed for a stunning display when everything else in the garden starts to turn brown. Plant them at about twice their own depth, and make sure you plant enough. Abundance, always.

7) Grow something delicious 

Edibles, though rather higher maintenance than ornamental plants (only because you have to prevent wildlife from chomping at them) are hugely rewarding. At the garden centre, you can buy ready-grown baby fruit and vegetable plants, from courgettes and squash (great fun) to individual carrots (ridiculous, but also fun), which you just plonk into a pot or a bed and water. Again, treat these first forays as experiments – if you get a delicious cherry tomato, or a strawberry at the end, then go you. Harvest, enjoy and repeat until you’re an expert.

8) Sow pea shoots

Fill a wide shallow container with multi-purpose compost, water it, and cover the surface with peas (from a seed packet, not a bag of frozen ones). Cover with a bit more compost and watch them erupt out of the soil and turn into delicious, sweet-tasting pea shoots complete with curly bits. Once you’ve got the hang of these, you can move on to sowing mixed salad leaves and hearted lettuces – you’ll never buy bagged salad again.

9) Try a herb container

A herb garden is a great introduction to gardening. Buy a selection of soft herbs, like parsley, chives and basil from a garden centre (not a supermarket) and plant them in multi-purpose compost, in a container big enough to let the roots spread out a bit, keeping them watered and harvesting the leaves regularly. Have them nearby and get to know each one, like a friend, until the end of the season when it’s time to say goodbye. Evergreen herbs, like bay, rosemary, thyme and sage can be planted in more permanent pots because they’ll stick around all year.

10) Tidy

Most gardening isn’t pruning or digging, or sowing or watering – it’s actually tidying. But this is compulsive, meditative, happy tidying. Use a hand fork to remove anything that looks like a weed, and any over-large stones, and use secateurs or scissors to prune off any bits of plant that look dead, or dying or unwell. Don’t linger – do it fast and loose, and if you make a mistake and damage something, that sucks but it’s not the end of the world.