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Gardening for all: max garden, min budget

Written by Flora Gardiner

Here we are in June - no doubt complaining of heat and lack of rain! This being England, I’ve not discarded my bed socks but changed to ones without fleece lining. The bed gloves stay on, so too the wool toilet-seat cover (I’m practising for winter). Whilst on the subject, one of the best ways of keeping heat in (or out) of a room is lining curtains with ‘blackout-thermal lining’ which performs both tasks and is available online. Why now? These things are often cheaper in summer, as are heaters. I bought an expensive coal-effect fire at half price in July. Send in ideas for saving energy and we’ll share notes in September.

Journal

For any new gardener, I recommend a journal. I use A5 soft-back blank books, £4-£7 from a supermarket. At the front, I write notes from TV garden programmes; names of plants, recommended books or gardens, cultivation notes for plants I intend growing. At the back is my daily ‘to do’ diary. This includes weeding, watering, feeding, ‘to buy.’ This gives, over time, a personal record, as well as a pleasant read for dark winter evenings. It is fun to research the Latin names of your favourite flowers; one or two at a time is enough. This improves your confidence and is easier than you might think.

Herbs

If you kept windowsill herbs over winter, transplant them to a border or deep bed. Use a trowel or fork to divide them into clumps. Woody Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme prefer gritty, fairly dry soil. Soft green herbs like basil, parsley and coriander prefer moist, rich soil. Parsley and coriander tolerate shade, whilst rosemary, bay and sage prefer full sun. With deep beds you can plant like-with-like. For growbags, simply drag the bag half into shade! The trick is to research where your plants originated and copy the conditions.

Projects for late summer

  1. Herbs & Half-Hardy Annuals from seed
  2. Taking cuttings

Herbs and Half-Hardy Annuals from Seed

Buy the following (cheaper from supermarket, home bargain or DIY store):

  • Pack[s] of herb seed (those you eat regularly) e.g. parsley, basil, coriander.
  • Pack[s] of half-hardy* flower seeds.
  • Small bag of seed compost (around 10 to 20 litres)
  • One A5 seed tray without holes (fill with water & lower the plug tray into it)
  • One or two A4 module (plug) trays (each with 40 compartments)
  • clear plastic strawberry punnets or similar

*'half-hardy’ are plants that do not tolerate frost and are sown early to mid-June. These can be annuals or perennials. Perennials live several years whilst annuals set seeds and then die.

TV gardeners sow full trays (A4 size), but this is far too much for a beginning gardener. The golden rule is, how many plants do you need? Often I’ve sown too much seed then had to discard hundreds of budding plants to prevent hours of potting and watering!  Either use an A5 seed tray, strawberry punnet or egg box. Sow seed thinly according to pack instructions. Strawberry punnets with their tops make excellent propagators. When seeds show two leaves (the ‘seed leaves’), carefully separate each plant into a module. Module trays are easier than open seed trays, as each plant forms a plug from the root-ball and can be easily potted on thereafter. Do not touch the stems as these are fragile. Many gardeners wait until true leaves* appear before potting on, but I have had success with both methods.

*seed leaves of all plants look similar and arrive first. The ‘true leaves’ are the ones that look typical of its type and grow after the seed leaves.

CUTTINGS

Whole books are devoted to taking cuttings from shrubs (e.g. woody plants, small trees, roses, clematis). For new gardeners, it is more fun to experiment in summer and autumn. Some will live, some won’t, but through experiments and writing findings in your journal, you will become successful. These are the basics. Just have fun walking around your garden (or someone else’s) and see what you like, then take or ask for a few cuttings (3 to 5 is a decent quantity). Basic requirements:

  • Small tub of hormone rooting power (not liquid – it stinks if it goes off!)
  • Very sharp knife e.g. craft knife, secateurs, pen knife
  • 3 - 5 cuttings of each type
  • 3½” (9cm) pots (or a narrow border in an out-of-the- way bed)

Image 1. Take shrub cuttings - label them straight away

Image 2. Trim the bottom at an angle, under a bud. Trim the top square, above a bud. Trim off most of the leaves. Dip stems into hormone rooting powder.

Image 3. Pot up and label. Keep indoors or a grow house.

By cutting the bottoms at right angles and the tops straight (or the other way around, if you prefer), you can tell which way the cuttings came off the original plant. No cuttings grow upside down! Remember – trim below a bud at the bottom and above a bud at the top. Trim off most of the leaves; you need a few for transpiration (allowing water to the roots) but not too many as the plant must focus on growing roots. Dip the ends in hormone rooting powder (purists might not use it, but I always do). Then, using a pencil or stick to make a hole if the stems are soft, push them into a small pot of gritty compost.  Keep this indoors or a grow house until new leaves form, then pot on and transplant next March. They say square pots are better but I haven’t find this so. If cuttings are large, cut a V slit in an out-of-the-way part of the border and plant them in that – remembering to water them. 

SKILLS LEARNED

  • Keeping a garden journal and a planting record
  • Sowing, potting on, transplanting
  • Taking cuttings from shrubs
  • Beginning to familiarize Latin names