Nope not the super cool HBO series, but the need to replace and rejuvenate horticulturally speaking. Kind of scary if like me you moved into an awesome garden and then realised you need to keep it going by doing more than a bit of watering, weeding and pruning.

Doing this means taking care of:

  • Planting more stuff – obviously…
  • Taking out plants that have had their day or keeled over completely
  • Planning seasonally
  • Looking after your soil

And as a footnote, also making mistakes, because that is not the end of the World. I sometimes think that getting things wrong is the only way I learn anything. Last year I cut a huge Euphorbia in all the wrong places and got no flowers for a season on that plant. It was a shame because it’s a good one, but it’s back in action again this year so no big deal.

If you don’t know much about gardening all of this can be a bit daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.

Planting More Stuff

One of the trickiest things I found is how much the garden changes season to season. When I go out with bags of bulbs in September or October the garden looks completely different to how it will be in Spring and often I end up digging up bulbs already in beds in order to put more bulbs in, which is annoying!

Last Autumn I put about 100 bulbs in fairly random places and now we are in Spring and they are flowering I’ve been labelling lolly sticks with a Sharpie and pushing them into the bald bits of beds that could do with some colour. Fingers crossed they stay put. If so I will have a handy guide of where to plant my bulbs this Autumn.

Aside from running around with lolly sticks it’s also a great idea to take LOADS of photos. I might not be able to remember that many plant names, but photographically I’ve got the garden mapped in a lot of detail month by month so I can see what pops up each year and work out how to supplement what I have. I can also work out what has disappeared and can decide whether to replace it like for like or try something new.

In terms of planting more stuff‘ you can fill up your garden very broadly speaking with shrubs, perennials and annuals. For a complete beginner you can have a lovely garden and don’t really need to know that much. If you want to start a garden or have just bought a house with a garden that you need to take over and haven’t done this before, then do it. Jump straight in with both boots. The sooner you start planting the better because plants take time to establish and mature. Also you absolutely don’t need to remember that much or any of the Latin names. I’ve got a Japonica that I call ‘sticky sticky pom pom.’

Back to shrubs, perennials and annuals:

A shrub stays put in the border and will give you a nice shape, colour and interest all year round. I have a soft spot for Hebes as they look great and never give me any trouble.

A perennial plant comes back every year… unless you kill it (just kidding). That saves money and time planting. Lots of perennials last many, many years. I have loads of plants here that are back every year doing their thing with no sign of giving up. All I have to remember is where they are and how big they get, so I don’t plant something right next to them which gets engulfed or overshadowed.

Annuals are a one year hit. Sow them, enjoy them, repeat every year. I go for the easy, peasy bang for your buck seeds like Pot Marigolds, Sweet Peas and Poppies, occasionally branching out to others that take my fancy. You can sow direct in the border or bring on as seedlings and plant out. For seedlings all you really need is a window sill that gets sunshine and some pots or trays with seed compost to have a go at this.

There are loads of exceptions, rules and caveats of course (like biennials* for example), but I think worrying about that too much causes more bother than it is worth if you just want to have a garden and are starting out.

*For example Foxgloves: they put out leaves the first year and then flower the next. Foxgloves are fun because you can spot the new ones in leaf in their first year, dig them up and move them around. I potted up a load of these last year and then planted them out in the borders after Winter where I fancied having them. This is handy for example if you spot one growing somewhere less than ideal. I found one that would be having a fight with a rosemary bush so I moved it to a sunny spot where it can be a star. When moving a plant give it loads of love. Treat it to a handful of compost and lots of water as it will be in shock.

When choosing what you want to grow, first check out your plot and watch the sun. If plants like full sun, they will be depressingly lack lustre in shade. Is your location at the cooler end of the scale or particular wild and windy? If so adjust what you want to grow to suit those conditions. You can talk to neighbours and look at local gardens to give you an idea of what loves to grow in your area.

Also figure out how much time do you really have and how much you want to spend. If you are feeling tentative about doing too much then just choose one small border to claim for you own and put in a few things to dote on whilst you build your confidence or until you have more time.

Taking Out Plants

Plants can last a very long time, just look at Grandpa Wist (our octogenarian Wisteria), but this little chap pictured below right looks like something I found at the back of the Aga, so I think is probably at the end of his fabulous perennial life cycle. So rather than this being a bummer, it’s an opportunity to add something new. I can phase him out and plant something else. This plant is right at the front of the border so I’ll have a mooch about the garden centre and maybe online and find something that I like, that will suit. When I dig this out I’ll have a look for any little pieces that have some root and pot up as many little bits as I can and give them some TLC for a few weeks with lots of water in a nice spot outside the kitchen to see if any will establish by themselves. You never know and I love freebies!

If you have some plants that look completely dead but you aren’t sure, then there is no harm in leaving them be for a while. I had a shrub like that a couple of Winters ago that I left to make sure. Eventually I pulled at it and it came away from the ground with ease. It doesn’t hurt watching if you are ever unsure. I have quite a few shrubs with frost damage at the moment but I can see buds and have seen this happen each Winter now so I’m confident that they are OK, just a bit frazzled. Aren’t we all!

Frost damage, ouch, but I reckon this will sort itself out…

For any messing about you have to do with larger shrubs, be careful March to August as this is when birds are nesting. We have tonnes in the garden here at the moment and are trying out this cute little nest pod. We took out a large shrub in the Winter and to replace the feathered real estate hung this little pod close by.

Planning Seasonally

The garden will obviously look different in each season. This can be slightly challenging in terms of planning.

Click either side of the arrows to watch the. border change from early April to the height of June.

There is so much information out there, but actually the thing to remember is: its your garden. The plants that you love and that love your garden are particular to you and your garden. I kind of know what works here now and feel like it really is my garden. The cool thing is that the amazing gardener who built this garden told me that he also didn’t know much about gardening when he moved here. The entire walled garden was actually a vegetable patch, a helluvah veggie patch! He transformed, learnt and loved his garden as the seasons went by. That is the thing about gardening. Just do it and you become a gardener and you really don’t need to know that much. You just need to get to know your garden.

For planning seasonally this is where photos are really handy. You can see what the garden looks like in Spring and then project forward to Summer and then likewise (with the bulb example) project backwards from Autumn to Spring to see where everything is.

Here are some handy tips to plan a border:

  • Make a list of what you would like to grow. Choose plants that will stand in the garden all year round (shrubs), then plants that will look awesome seasonally (see table below for some ideas). You might want to plan some pots too if you have a patio area.
  • Plan to plant only as much as you are keen to look after or have time for. Plants do need watering at times! I’m watering a lot at the moment as we are having a dry snap and stuff does keel over if you don’t bother. It takes a while to get around everything, but if you zone out and listen to the birds singing it isn’t a chore.
  • Before planting anything out in the garden check what you have for: how much light it needs, how hardy it is, how big it will grow. Make sure it has space and is in the right spot.
  • If you are planting seeds then everything you need to know is on the back of the packet. For example, when to sow, inside or out, how big they will grow, etc. If seeds don’t germinate right away, don’t give up. Try other tactics, perhaps a bit more warmth or a bit more water. Maybe soak them first and try again. It’s a bit of a game.
  • Put your plant(s) where you would like them to be in your borders and then stand back and check they look good.
  • If you are planting multiples then always go for an odd number and random placing as this looks more balanced and natural.
  • Don’t be afraid to move plants if you really need to. Many plants will tolerate being moved with lots of extra care and I follow some rough rules: Move outside of the growing and flowering season. Get as much of the root ball out as possible. Treat to some feed in the new spot and lots of water. Keep checking and watering.
  • If you are planting bulbs or tubers that don’t tolerate frost, then you may want to switch to an option that does, that is unless you are keen on digging these up, or dragging pots inside. For example Agapanthus are lovely in pots and there are frost resistant types you can source, so I would go for those as I just know I won’t get around to protecting them.
SpringCrocus, Snowdrops, Daffodils, Hellebores
Late Spring / Early SummerTulips, Alliums, Clematis (group 1), Foxgloves, Wild Geranium, Bearded Iris, Roses
SummerLavender, Nepeta, Echinacea, Sunflowers, Clematis (groups 2 and 3), More Roses!
AutumnSedum, Smoke Bush
WinterDogwood shrubs
Seasonal plants that are easy to grow and look after – just some ideas!

Looking After Your Soil

This is something I haven’t been particularly good at and I’m quite spoilt because the soil is already very good in most of the garden. However, this is the first year I mulched with any gusto. We have quite a lot of borders so it’s a lot of material to buy. We chose Strulch and a deal on lots of bags.

Mulch is usually just rotted down organic material so Strulch is rotted down straw with added iron minerals and that works very well.

There are lots of other varieties to choose from, but in a nutshell mulch is organic matter added to the surface of the soil to provide a barrier. This helps inhibit weeds, keeps in moisture and adds organic material to the soil that breaks down and improves soil health.

I actually used three different mulch methods this year. The first was the Strulch that went on as much of the big border as I could cover with our budget and focussing on the base of the roses and shrubs. Wear gloves and add a layer about 2-3 inches thick.

I also bought some bags of wood chip based mulched that I’ve used in some of the borders to inhibit weeds. This will be much slower to break down and looks pretty good.

Finally we have two veggie beds that we constructed out of sleepers last year. I covered these over late Winter with layers of black polypropylene sheeting that was left here after some plastering work. They were used to protect the floor. It’s a difficult material to recycle and pretty huge pieces but they fit perfectly and will last forever. I weighed them down with old bits of wood and bricks. There are no weeds in these beds now and they look pristine so I think I’ll do this every year.

Do you have favourite, failsafe plants that are great in a border for a first time gardener? Leave a comment!