What you really need to know about gardening advice – The Middle-Sized Garden


December 15th, 2019 Posted In: Garden trends & design, Gardening know how

Gardening advice isn’t just about finding out the facts. It’s not just about how to do things – like prune roses.

It’s about finding your own gardening style and adapting it to your own micro-climate. And then feeling comfortable about it, even if things aren’t perfect.

After sixteen years, I’ve only just worked this out. It would have saved me a great deal of puzzlement if I had understood it before.

I started thinking about this because I was tagged in a YouTube challenge called ‘Three things I’ve learned this year’ by Sean James Cameron. His YouTube channel Sean’s Kitchen Garden covers vegetable gardening both in your own garden and in allotments, with lots of handy tips.

So what’s the most important thing to learn about gardening?

It’s that there are usually several ways to do things. Take pruning roses. You can prune them with secateurs or with shears. Or even with a strimmer.

I did a test once for my regular YouTube garden tours. I have a row of Cecile Brunner roses, which flower again if you prune them in summer. So I hand-pruned five plants with secateurs. Another five – the other end of the row – were hastily chopped with shears.

A close up of my Cecile Brunner rose on its second flowering after being hand pruned with secateurs around three weeks earlier.

Both sections of the row of roses had an equally good second flowering. But they flowered differently.

The hand-pruned ones flowered earlier and were a little more open. The roses trimmed with shears flowered about 10 days later than the hand-pruned ones. The plants looked a little more dense and hedge-like.

The middle-sized garden compost conundrum…

And take compost, for example. You can do compost the easy way or the fast way. For the easy way, you just throw all your garden greenery into a bin and you wait a year or two to let it rot down.

Or if you’re prepared to take time and trouble to get your composting ‘right’, you can compost alot more garden waste and get alot more free compost. But you will have to pay attention to what goes into your compost bin, the proportions and the turning.

It’s your choice to decide which works best for your personality and your garden. People get evangelical about what you can put into compost, sending off cross emails to bloggers because they’ve suggested putting fruit and veg peelings in. (Yes, I’m baffled, too.)

It all goes to the heart of why I call this blog ‘The Middlesized Garden.’ Most gardens generate a huge amount of green waste. The best thing is to compost it.

But compost takes a long time to break down unless you compost properly. So in a middle-sized garden you either need lots of compost bins or you need to take care to get your composting right. Often there isn’t room for lots of compost bins.

So if, like me, you’re an ‘easy composter’ and you don’t have much room for lots of large compost heaps, you’ll probably still have to take some of your green waste to the tip. A big garden can compost the way its gardener wants to compost.  A very small garden has relatively little green waste for compost. A middle-sized gardener has to make choices.

And your micro-climate affects which gardening advice to take

And also the same goes for climate. The Middlesized Garden is in a surprisingly mild microclimate for Britain because we’re close to the coast. Friends just five miles inland get far more frosts than I do. And others, who live on the coast in Whitstable, get fewer frosts.

The middle-sized garden in frost

A recent beautiful frost in the middle-sized garden. It’s all the more appreciated for being rare.

So it’s not surprising that some gardening advice works slightly differently for each of us, even though we’re technically in the same climate zone.

I first realised this when watching one of the Impatient Gardener’s delightful garden videos. She’s in Wisconsin but has Lake Michigan literally on her doorstep, which she describes as ‘having a block of ice just behind my garden.’ We did a video together about these variations in winter gardening. I’m in the mild end of temperate gardening and she is at the sharp end of cold winters, but we grow many of the same plants and flowers. You will probably be somewhere in between.

So you need to ‘own’ your gardening mojo

This doesn’t happen immediately. It will take a few years before you realise that you’re a gardener who loves colour or one who is always a bit late doing things.  But it is worth knowing – from the start – that there are different sorts of gardeners. And that if something seems difficult, then there may be other ways of tackling the issue.

I love self-seeded flowers, for example. And I have lots, because I’m always a bit late with the weeding.

Self-seeded plants and weeds

This mix of self-seeded plants and weeds looks lovely in June. By October, this bed is a mass of bindweed. Ah, well, you can’t have everything…

When I write about this, some people obviously feel guilty because they’re very efficient weeders and therefore they don’t get many self-seeded plants.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that you can either be good at weeding or have beautiful self-seeded plants. It’s time to stop feeling guilty and own up to it.

So rather than following gardening advice exactly, I think learning about gardening is more about finding out what sort of gardening makes you comfortable and valuing that. We self seeders get behind with the weeding, but have lovely surprises.

And you weeders have beautiful, happy plants, which aren’t having to compete with weeds and self-seeders for nutrition. Plus the pleasures of a tidy and well kept garden.

I don’t feel so embarrassed about my weeds now. But that doesn’t mean I think my way is the best way, it’s just the best way for me.

And by the way, if you’re a ‘super weeder’, I suspect you probably spend less time weeding than I do, because you stay on top of it and don’t let the weeds get out of hand.

Where to find gardening advice?

If you want to know the ‘correct’ way to do things, start with the RHS. They have very useful monthly advice tips, and information on individual plants.

Then pick up short-cuts and variations by following blogs like this. Have a wander around the internet to find bloggers gardening in your micro-climate or whose temperament matches yours.

YouTube is also a good source of gardening advice because you can see how things are done, quite close up. For example, you’ll find quite a few different ways on how to prune lavender. Or how to move a tree fern. The Middlesized Garden YouTube channel.

What are the other two things I learned this year?

They’re in the video here:

Good presents for garden loving friends…

I’m often asked for recommendations, so I’ve put together useful lists of gardening books, products and tools I use myself on the Middlesized Garden Amazon store. Note that links to Amazon are affiliate so I may get a small fee if you buy through them, but it doesn’t affect the price you pay.

For inexpensive gardening presents, see my choice of good presents for garden lovers.

Pin to remember

And do join us every Sunday morning for gardening tips, ideas and inspiration. See ‘follow by email’ below. The Middlesized Garden will now be taking a break until January 2020, so I hope you have a lovely Christmas and a happy New Year.

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