All the dirt on gardening: Jeanette's Green Thumb

Coming from a family of gardeners, where only my sister would not know one end of a plant from another, I can safely say that it is all trial and error. My parents were very competitive in the garden. They always tried to outdo one another with their vegies to the point of obsession. However, while this competitive spirit would deter most offspring from ever digging in the dirt for fear of becoming egotistical and aggressive over our toil in the soil, my brother and I are both very keen gardeners. So this blog is going to be about pointers I’ve picked up along the way. There is so much information to share that it is hard to know where to begin.

I will write about getting started. And this may seem pretty mundane to those who already have a green thumb.

Before rushing out and buying plants, think about what you want to achieve, how big your yard is, where the sun is in summer and winter, and of course your physical ability. Start small. There is no point in digging up half your yard and then suffering for the next month from aches and pains due to the exertion. Also consider a raised garden bed if you have difficulty with mobility. If you only have a balcony, think pots or styro boxes for your garden. Also consider joining a community garden where the pickings are shared with the volunteers.

Once you’ve worked out what you wish to achieve and it is in place, you now need to decide what to plant. Do you want flowers, shrubs, vegetables, herbs? Is your garden for perfume, shade, or to produce edible crops. In choosing plants consider what your temperatures are like. Mine is warm temperate with no winter frost here in the Illawarra. If you live in Tasmania, unless you can create a microclimate that is warm, don’t even think about growing paw-paws. I learnt a lesson with tamarillo as when I put one in, it died. I put another and another and they grew to a certain height then carked it. Even though I’d raised the bed, the soil is just too clayey and they developed root rot. Maybe it was where I put it as I’ve had success with other fruit trees that the books say are susceptible to root and collar rot. I also gave up on roses because our humidity caused black spot. We cut down two nashi pear trees as our climate isn’t cool enough and th e pears were small and horrid. So know your climate and your soil.

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When starting a new garden build it up by digging in compost and manure (unless it is a native garden in which case you may need to eliminate the manure). Let it sit for a couple of weeks before planting so that you don’t burn the seedlings’ roots. I know this might sound common sense, but only plant what you enjoy eating if you want an edible garden. I have been known to grow vegetables that I hate, just to see if they grow. And believe me they do grow better than anything else in the garden. Peas, beans, pumpkins, corn and anything with a largish seed are better planted directly into the ground. Check the packet on the best depth for planting. Beetroot seed is better soaked in water for a day before sowing. And don’t forget to water your seeds or seedlings (my biggest hurdle).

I know all this sounds a bit much for beginner gardeners. My motto is “if unsure, Google it”. I am by no means the world’s best gardener, far from it, but it gives me pleasure. There is nothing quite like eating a tomato from your own garden, making jam from your own fruit or picking flowers you grew.

Tell us, do you garden? What plants, veges, herbs or flowers do you grow?