A small garden

Gardening for beginners: Know your plot

In the first part of our Gardening for Beginners series, we explain how to get to know your plot in terms of soil, aspect, exposure and more, before you start planting.

Whether you’re starting on your first garden or just want to tend a few pots on a patio or balcony, gardening can be daunting if you’ve never done it before. But don’t worry – our Gardening for Beginners series will give you everything you need to get started.

Advertisement

We’ll explain everything you need to know about the basics of gardening, including the different plant types, how to plant and how to look after your plants. We’ll also explain the basics of seed sowing, give advice on what to do when things go wrong, and even explain those tricky Latin names (which aren’t as complicated as you might think).

In this first part of the series, we’ll show you how to assess your outside space. Every garden is unique, with its own set of conditions, and if you can get to know these well, you’re well on your way to becoming a good gardener.

Although its tempting to rush out to the garden centre and buy lots of plants that catch your eye, it’s much better to get to know your existing garden first. Later in the series we’ll explain how to choose the plants that suit your garden.

But first, here’s how to assess your plot.

Every garden is unique, with its own set of conditions, and if you can get to know these well, you're well on your way to becoming a good gardener.

Soil

Good soil equals a good garden. Soil is not just dirt – it is made up of lots of organic matter (called humus) and is teeming with life. Soil is different in every garden, so it’s very important to find out which soil type you have. A simple test can also reveal your soil pH. Once you know your soil type and pH, you can look for the plants that will thrive in your garden. It’s a good idea to improve your soil by adding lots of well-rotted manure or garden compost.

Testing soil pH
Testing soil pH

Sunlight and shade

All plants need some sunlight to survive, but some need more than others. Some plants thrive in sunny spots, others prefer shade. Use a compass to determine the aspect of your garden from the house – north, south, east or west. In general, south-facing gardens are sunny, whereas north-facing borders are often shady. Light also moves around the garden during the course of the day and according to the time of year – take the time to get to know which areas are often in full sun and which are often in shade, as it will affect the plants you can grow. Buildings, trees or boundaries can all create shade, too. Read more about the types of garden shade.

Shade-loving ferns and hostas
Shade-loving ferns and hostas

Wind and shelter

Is your garden exposed or sheltered? Urban gardens tend to be sheltered and a few degrees warmer than those in more rural areas and as a rule, temperatures are a few degrees warmer in the south than in the north. Gardens near the coast or at the top of a hill tend to be windy; so are balconies. All of these factors can determine the plants that you can grow, so get to know yours intimately by spending some time in it at all times of the day. Discover 10 plants for windy gardens.

Bold magenta cosmos set in a backdrop of wispy stipa grass
Bold magenta cosmos set in a backdrop of wispy stipa grass

Moisture

Water is also crucial to plants’ survival and some parts of the country are wetter than others. If you live in a area of low or high rainfall, you will need to plant accordingly. The amount of moisture available in a garden can vary, too – south-facing borders or borders at the base of a wall tend to be dry, even after rain, while those in shade or near a water source are damper. Get to know the different areas of your garden by feeling the soil and observing the plants that grow well in different spots.  Discover 10 plants for moist soil and 10 plants for dry soil.

A colourful bog garden
A colourful bog garden

Temperature

Garden centres are full of plants that originally came from all over the globe, from arid deserts to tropical rainforests. Most will survive in our gardens given the right conditions. However it pays to know how cold your garden generally gets in winter and where the hotspots are in summer, so that you can plant accordingly. During cold weather, frost may linger in parts of your garden – this is known as a ‘frost pocket’. This can affect the plants you grow, too – discover 10 plants for frost pockets.

Advertisement
A frosty garden
A frosty garden

Look at the existing plants

Look at the existing plants in your garden and try to identify them. They an be a good clue to what grows well there. Don’t rush this, as they will come up through the seasons – many plants die back in winter so the garden can look very bare. It’s also a good idea to look at neighbouring gardens – this will also give you clues about what grows well in your area.

Wellies
A multicoloured flower border set against trellis and a pink wall
A multicoloured flower border set against trellis and a pink wall

Find out more