December 31st, 2009
I came into my garden when I bought my home, it was overgrown with weeds but the bare bone garden beds were waiting for me underneath. There are lots of things I have learned along the way! My garden diary was a real treasure and a useful tool on my garden journey. I began by drawing a plan of my garden. Then I spent a day watching how the sun affected my garden. Which were the shady spots? I noted down the ‘hot’ spots that got full sun all day long. Remember, morning sun is kinder than hours of burning afternoon sunlight. There are different plants for ‘garden climates’. Then I marked my different climates on my map & wrote the date at the top of my plan. Between midsummer and midwinter there is a big shift of direct sunlight from north to south. Direct rays from the sun may be completely blocked out in winter and you may need hardy plants that can cope with various conditions. So I did this each season and found it really helped me to understand my garden and what plants would work best in certain spots.
Another useful exercise is to check the natural drainage and dry spots. In dry weather, spend an hour or so one morning to give your whole garden a thorough soaking. After a full day’s sun, inspect the results by trowelling down a finger depth into the soil. If the soil is still moist, but not soggy, you will know that section has nice drainage. Note this in your diary also.
If you have plenty of shade like me, you can create a forest garden with bird’s-nests and other ferns. These plants do best in damp, shady conditions. They prefer a warmish, even temperature and they hate frosts.
If you are short on time, like me, forget planting seedlings. Snails and slugs usually get the lot and it can be very depressing. The same goes for bulbs such as tulips, tiger lilies etc. You wait for months and months for something to happen, and if you are lucky you get one blossom that lasts a week. Instead spend your time planting jonquils, freesias and snowdrops. These planted in tight clumps are very rewarding and easy! The only annuals that are worth all the effort are common balsam (also known fondly as busy Lizzies) and nasturtiums. But, I can sometimes not quell my natural urge to try some of those seedlings – they seem to draw me to them in the nursery. If you too seem determined you will need to use snail bait. Good luck with that then.
If you are just starting out you can’t go past good old perennials – such as pelargoniums, geraniums, roses, gazanias, any sort of daisy, red salvia, ferns, cannas or violets. These will flower season after season and need very little care. The scented pelargoniums are wonderful mixed with rose petals in potpourri. Most perennials are improved with light pruning after each flowering. Don’t let them get straggly.
The thing is to work with your garden and not against it. If a plant is where it is getting its needs met, such as shade or sun it will be a happy plant and grow well.