Top Ten Tips for Gardening Beginners

Getting started on the garden can seem a daunting task. As with any large project however, the garden design process is best tackled when broken down into more manageable stages. In this article, we share our top 10 tips for beginner gardeners.

Make a Plan

Our first tip for any beginner gardener is to have an idea of the type of look you’re trying to achieve and work from there. There’s a huge range of styles from cottage garden to contemporary, and tropical gardens to gravel gardens.

It really will pay dividends to work towards a specific scheme. This will avoid the garden looking like a hotchpotch of ideas with no unifying theme. Sites such as Pinterest and Instagram are fantastic for getting your ideas going and narrowing down what you like (and what you don't like!).

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Get to Know Your Soil

Understanding your soil type is really important when you're a beginner gardener. The soil type will have have a HUGE impact on how your plants grow. There are four soil types: sandy, clay, loam and chalk.

Most plants will not survive in the ‘wrong’ soil so it’s worthwhile having an idea before you start investing in plants. Simply collect a small handful of soil and add a little water so you can roll it into a ball. If the ball breaks down easily with some pressure then it is most likely a sandy soil.

The other element to understand when you're a beginner gardener is the soil pH. The blue Hydrangeas shown in the image are only blue because the soil they are growing in is slighlty acidic. Here in Suffolk, we are mainly on neutral - alkaline soil. However, there are small pockets of acidic soil in the area too which means that plants such as Camellia, Rhododendron and Magnolia can thrive. We also design gardens in Essex where the soil is notoriously clay based!

Assess Your Garden

As with the soil type, the amount of sun or shade a border has will have an impact on the plants that will grow happily. Shade loving plants such as Hostas, Ferns and Brunnera will scorch in full sun. Whereas those plants that prefer sun, will suffer and flower poorly in the shade. This is a really basis rule in the garden design rulebook so it's worth spending some time getting to grips with this!

As a guide, plants with large leaves tend to prefer shadier spots while those with narrow or small leaves will grow better in sun.

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beginners garden design tips Top Garden Design tips for beginners Suffolk Essex Top Tips for gardening beginners

Place the Large Plants First

This may sound obvious but it's easy to get caught up with the pretty plants when wandering around the garden centre. Instead, start with thinking about where a tree (or trees) could go first. When designing a garden, trees are an important structural element so we make decisions about where to place these very early on in the design process.

Bear in mind overhead cables and avoid planting too near the house. Trees are a fantastic plant for any garden; they offer a home and food for wildlife and will make the garden more interesting overall.

There are plenty of smaller trees out there if space is limited too. The tree in the image is an Acer cappadocicum 'Aureum' and would be well suited to a small garden. They are slow growing and easy to maintain.

For larger gardens, consider having a few trees. Trees are wonderful for creating interest through height. Additionally, they offer a retreat and food for wildlife.

Research Your Plants

Most garden centres will sell plants in 2 or 3 litre pots. This includes shrubs which will grow much bigger in time; some could be as tall as several meters high eventually!

Make sure that you know what the final height and spread of the plant will be so you can plant allowing for its growth.

Plant to grow, not to show!

In all of our Planting Plans, we draw up the plants to scale based on their mature spread. It's as critical to the expert Garden Designer as it is to the beginner gardener.

beginners garden design tips Top Garden Design tips for beginners Suffolk Essex Top Tips for gardening beginners  Fatsia and other shade loving plants at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show
beginners garden design tips Top Garden Design tips for beginners Suffolk Essex Buxus domes contrast with green grasses. Top Tips for gardening beginners

Avoid a garden of onesies!

Most plants work best when planted as a small group. If you buy just one plant, say a Lupin, it will soon get lost in your borders. And several plants of different varieties will create a fussy border.

Whereas several of the same plant grouped together will have a much bigger impact. If space, look to repeat these groups throughout the borders to create a much more stylish and yet naturalised look overall.

Give your Planting Structure

By 'Planting Structure' in a garden, we mean that you should ensure that you include evergreen (those which don’t lose their leaves over winter) plants.

We're a big fan of including ‘balls’ or ‘domes’ such as Pittosporum ‘Golf Ball’ in the borders. I’ll place them at intervals throughout the garden. This is a particularly important tip for beginner gardeners in respect to borders near the house where the view of the garden can be seen throughout the year.

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 Garden Design Suffolk Hertfordshire London Essex
beginners garden design tips Top Garden Design tips for beginners Suffolk Essex Top Tips for gardening beginners 
 Awkward Difficult Shaped Garden Plot Design

Consider How the Plants Will Flower

This is better know as creating ‘successional interest’ i.e. as the blooms of one plant are going over, the plant next to it is coming into bud. This ensures that you have beautiful planting throughout the year.

Include Scented Plants

The sweet perfume of a plant can be wonderful as you’re walking around the garden. Better still, find a scented plant and place it near your door so you can enjoy it each time you leave the house.

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beginners garden design tips Top Garden Design tips for beginners Suffolk Essex Top Tips for gardening beginners

Water, Water, Water!

In our experience, the main reason that plants fail is a lack of water. It can take a while for a plant to get its roots in and become self sufficient. With the long spells that we have without rain, it’s really important to get out and water to ensure your plants survive.

It’s best to do this first thing in the morning or last thing at night but never during the middle of the day. Small plants will need a little water more frequently whereas larger plants such as trees are better with a good soak twice a week. Don’t forget to water the roots, not the leaves.

We hope this article aimed at beginner gardeners has left you inspired. However if you'd like some professional help then do get in touch. We design gardens in Martlesham, Hintlesham, Colchester, Maldon, Lavenham, Woodbridge, South Woodham Ferrers and many other villages in and around Essex and Suffolk.