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Garden blog 2023 - getting started

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22nd June '23

My partner Siobhan and I recently moved into our first "proper house" together, having previously lived exclusively in flats. The house has a small garden, which I've been getting really into tending.

It was a bit of a blank canvas when we first moved in - nothing wrong with it, but nothing spectacular either. We're still figuring out the direction we want to take it in long term - do we want more seating, raised beds, borders, trees? But over the last few months, and coming into our first summer in the house, I've been planting a few things, growing a few crops and just figuring out what works and how to create a really nice outdoor space.

As much for my own future reference as anything I wanted to pull this little post together with some progress pictures and lessons learned so far.

Patio area and container growing

We have a patio area leading directly out from our back door - it's a pretty functional space, flat and slabbed over, but it's nothing much to look at. Because this is where we'll spend most of our time when we're relaxing in the garden I really wanted to prioritise getting some greenery out there, which of course means lots of containers. I've picked up a few shrubs which we both personally really like (an Acer and a Wisteria to name a couple) as well as a few differently sized containers which I filled with compost and have been growing a variety of herbs and salad leaves. The shrubs mostly seem to be doing well but whether they'll continue to survive in containers (especially over the winter) I genuinely have no idea, but for now I'll wait and see. I have no problem replacing a few casualties next year if need be, and continuing to learn as I go.

Jumping back to the herbs and salad leaves, this was extremely successful to begin with and we enjoyed fresh salads for a good few weeks, but we found the plants quickly became old and straggly and weren't really continuing to produce useable leaves. In future I think I need to start sowing successionally - i.e. having new seedlings starting to grow indoors when one plant is approaching maturity so that these can be swapped out continually to ensure a consistent crop.

The other issue I've run into is slugs (I assume) munching new growth. Earlier in the season I started parsley, coriander and lettuce directly from seed in my outdoor containers and grew an absolute abundance easily. Now that we're into the warmer weather I guess there are just more bugs about, and I'm noticing that I'll plant some seeds, see a few young leaves poking through a few days later, and then the following day they're gone. As a result I've resorted to starting my seedlings indoors on a sunny windowsill and transplanting them outside once they're well established. I've heard slugs only tend to go for very young shoots, so hopefully this strategy will help.

Between the patio and my raised bed I'm currently growing lettuce, parsley, lamb's lettuce, rocket, basil, coriander and mint. As far as I can tell slugs aren't interested in the mint, basil, spinach or coriander as they're growing away quite happily, but the rest seem to be prime targets. I do have a big problem with aphids on some of my coriander, but I've been treating that with a safe for consumption bug spray which does seem to be working.

I can see salad and herbs being a big part of my gardening going forward, as the rewards easily outweight the effort given it's really just a case of planting some seeds and giving them a bit of water once in a while.

First raised bed

Besides all of the containers mentioned above, I decided to dig a raised bed into the lawn to provide a bit of a larger surface area for growing crops.

Other than couple of herbs around the edges, the main thing I've been growing in here are peas, which have been far and away the biggest success of the year so far. They're absolutely delicious just eaten raw, and every couple of days for the last week or 2 I've been going out and cutting a fantastic harvest. We've probably had close to 100 fully ripe pea pods from a relatively small number of plants, and as I understand it regular harvesting simply encourages the plants to keep flowering and growing more peas, so hopefully there will be many more to come as the summer goes on.

Maintenance has been relatively straightforward - I've been keeping the plants well watered during the hot weather we've been having, and feeding once a week with a tomato fertiliser (which I believe is perfectly suitable for all flowering plants).

Tomatoes in the hot house

Would I really be able to call myself a novice gardener if I didn't try (and mostly fail, it seems) to grow tomatoes?

I started these from seed on a sunny windowsill in March, potted them on, bought a little grow house to keep them cosy, and they've broadly been growing well. But I'm becoming increasingly convinced that I'll be lucky if I get even a small handful of tomatoes out of the process.

The main problem I've run into has been the weather - it has been unseasonably hot here in Scotland and, even more unusually, consistently very dry for a long period. As a result of this (and me not knowing what I'm doing) I inadvertently over-watered the tomatoes for a week or two which damaged the plants. This might have been just about ok but, having realised they were over-watered, I think I overcorrected and ended up under-watering them for the following couple of weeks. As a result a lot of the flowers which had been growing have completely died, and there were lots and lots of dead branches off the main stem. There are a few flowers further down the plant which have hung in there and are starting to grow some tomatoes, but these are few and far between.

One surprising upside is that I decided on a whim to try and grow a couple of the plants completely outdoors, just as an experiment - I doubt these would do much in a normal Scottish summer, but with the hot weather we've been having one of these is doing much better than the growhouse plants and has a decent number of nice healthy looking yellow flowers.

In terms of maintenance I've been following all of the usual guidance - regular watering, nipping off new growth between stems, a weekly feed once flowers started showing etc. Alongside everything else to do in the house and garden (and life in general) it's quite a lot to keep track of so, to be honest, given the likely lack of yield and the fact I don't really even like tomatoes that much (plot twist), they may not become part of my regular garden rotation. Lots of chillies next year instead I'm thinking! ☺

Pomegranate tree

One of our real success stories is our pomegranate tree. This was gifted to us 2 years ago as a very small sapling, but as an outdoor plant we didn't really have anywhere to keep it at the time. I managed to just about keep it alive on a sunny windowsill in our old flat and, when we moved to this house, I immediately put it out in the sunniest part of the garden.

Initially I thought I had made a huge mistake, as it immediately turned completely brown, all of its leaves fell off and we were left with effectively a big twig in a pot. But I know these things can recover, so I trimmed off all of the completely dead growth, tied it into a cane and waited. Lo' and behold a few weeks later we started to see the initial signs of fresh new growth from the very base of the stem, and a few more weeks on the entire stem is now completely covered in extremely healthy looking new growth. The plant's looking fuller and healthier than ever before with lots of shiny new leaves, and I feel really confident it'll survive now until I figure out somewhere to fully plant it out to grow on.

Other bits of planting

Besides all of that, up at the top of the garden we have a bit of a dilapidated patio which we don't really use for anything at the moment. Along the edge of this though is a little narrow bed of soil which I've tried to put to good use. At one end I replaced a completely dead and dried out old lavender bush with a nice little rose bush which I picked up for a few pounds and is absolutely flourishing. I also planted a small rosemary bush which seems to be doing well, and along the full remaining length of the bed I sprinkled wildflower seeds. To be honest I think the birds probably got most of them before they got a chance, but we're starting to see a decent number of wild flowers shoot up now, and it does really lift that part of the garden.

On the patio itself, we just have a couple of large pots - the star of the show being a large container of sweet peas given to us as seedlings by a neighbour which we've grown on. For many many weeks they didn't do a great deal, just growing taller and bushier, but over the last week or so they've come into full bloom and are looking great. We've started taking regular cuttings as, similar to edible peas, apparently this simply encourages more flowers.

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