Are you an unintentional plant killer? Healthista spoke to Hollie Newton, author of How to Grow: A guide for gardeners who can’t garden yet for her best tips on how to garden and keep plants alive
Lockdown seems to have caused a spark of interest in gardening with research revealing that 26.7 million Brits grew their own fruit, veg and herbs in the last year.
The research by Weleda revealed that over a third of us picked up a trowel to improve mental health and 62 percent say connecting with nature has had a positive impact on their mood.
Whether you’re the kind of person who can kill off a basil plant just by looking at it or you’ve simply always wanted to grow your own herbs and vegetables but never known where to start, Hollie Newton has written a book that could help.
Here are her tips for getting started gardening – from absolute beginner status:
#1 Grow what you want to eat
When Hollie started out growing vegetables on her balcony in London she was excited to grow them mainly because she was excited to eat them.
‘Whether a little basil plant, trailing tomatoes, or the excitement of homegrown purple potatoes, find something that you are enthusiastic about eating come harvest. Start with a little window garden of herbs or edible flowers outside your kitchen window.’
Take a look at what you are eating regularly. If you are a big fan of rocket or little gem lettuce then start with that. They taste much better coming from a garden than from a plastic bag.
For someone who wants results quickly start with radishes, they are reading for harvest four weeks after sowing.
#2 Water your garden at the right time
‘This sounds simple enough,’ Hollie explained, ‘But it’s often the thing that people forget’. A tip that she gave was to water the plants in the morning while you are making your tea or coffee.
Just remember to only give the plants the water that they need. She suggests sticking your finger in the soil to see if it is damp or dry to gauge how much water or if any water is necessary that day.
water the plants in the morning while you are making your tea or coffee
The best time to water your crop is when the temperature is cooler as to let the water sink in and not evaporate right off. When If you are growing herbs be careful of the timing of your watering.
Basil doesn’t like going to bed with wet roots so it’s best to water them in the morning. When it comes to planting the seed or seedlings make sure to give them a good thirty-second watering after planting to help them settle.
#3 Get the right dirt for what you want to plant
Multi-purpose compost from your local garden centre is an excellent all-around soil to plant in, or a good quality potting compost if you’re growing in planters rather than the ground.
For those of us living in the city without a nearby garden shop, online delivery is an excellent option. While it doesn’t truly matter what kind of soil you have it is best to make sure to not have too heavy of soil as it will not drain water.
Tomato feed is great for nourishing all vegetables not just tomatoes.
If you are finding that your soil is too wet, dig in some mulch or compost. If you are finding that the soil is too dry, dig is some mulch or compost.
Whatever your soil issue, mulch or compost will almost definitively solve the issue. For planting in beds, the best thing to plant with would be multipurpose compost, while if you are planting in a pot get potting specific compost.
Tomato feed is great for nourishing all vegetables not just tomatoes.
#4 Make sure the planters can drain water
Try to find some fun planters. Stick to things that make you excited to be growing. While speaking to Hollie she stated that she loves to find unique antique planters.
There isn’t a right or wrong planter to plant in as long as it’s big enough for your plant to stretch out and has a way to drain excess water, you will be good to go.
When planting in any planter it is best to put small rocks or a layer of pebbles at the bottom of the planter to aid with water drainage. If there isn’t a set drainage spot in the bottom of the pot, take a small drill and create one yourself.
It isn’t necessary to stick to planting on the ground either. In her book, Hollie has a guide on how to make a raised bed, how to grow vertically, and even how to use a ladder to set plants on.
#5 Use a bright sunny window or don’t
Sun. Something that many people take for granted when deciding where to plant and even what to plant. There are many plants that need direct sunlight but there are some who only need partial.
Hollie’s biggest tip here is to make sure to read the packaging to see what level of sun the plants need.
Before you set your heart on a certain place for a particular plant, take a few days and watch the sunlight in that area.
Different herbs and veg need different levels of sun, unfortunately, this is kind of a life or death situation for most plants. Carrots, for example, like natural sunlight but not too much. Basil loves full sun places, so a bright sunny window is perfect for them.
However, not all herbs need full sun bay tree, mint, rosemary and sage thrive off partial sun.
#6 Start off really, really small
It is best to start from seeds when beginning to garden. This erases the ability to kill the plant before it starts growing.
When planting veg such as carrots, make sure to separate and plant every seed individually, which prevents things from becoming unintentionally cozy once they start growing.
For carrots, it’s best to plant ten centimeters away from each other. Horseradish one full meter apart. When planting herbs such as basil use a medium sized planter and let the plant grow to fit the whole container.
It is best to start from seeds when beginning to garden
There is no gardening rule book that says you have to grow all of your vegetables right off the bat, or ever. Keeping plants alive is hard (for some of us).
Hollie relayed to start off small, ‘We’re all busy people. The more plants you plant, the more time they will take to look after. Start small so that you don’t become overwhelmed, accidentally ignore them, and end up crying over a dead beetroot’.
Anything like herbs, small atlas carrots or even tomatoes would be great ideas for beginning gardeners.
#7 Have unqualified optimism and patience
Rome wasn’t built in a day and your garden won’t be either. Be aware that some things, such as foxglove, will not flower the first year of growth.
Whereas others, sugar snap peas, will be fruitful a month after planting and last long into the summer as long as you take care of them.
Many herbs can be gardened all year round, lemon thyme and bay tree among others, as long as you are diligent with pinching the ends to ensure new growth.
Gardening isn’t like a cookbook, there is no recipe
‘You can’t possibly be perfect at gardening when you start out. It’s all about trial, error, and having a conciliatory cocktail when things go wrong. You won’t kill everything, so get stuck in and see what happens’ Hollie explained, ‘You might only grow a single really wonky carrot, but that wonky carrot will be perfect to you’.
Find something that you are passionate about and create that. If you really want to create a certain dish start growing those ingredients. Don’t feel the need to follow a recipe. Gardening isn’t like a cookbook, there is no recipe. Just throw things into the ground and see what sprouts.
Hollie Newton is a self-taught gardener. She is also one of Europe’s youngest Executive Creative Directors and one of the very few women in the world to hold this position.
Hollie started growing vegetables and fruit on her tiny rented balcony in an attempt to escape from the pressure of her job.
What started as ‘a few hanging tomatoes’ rapidly became a borderline obsession. On finally purchasing a forlorn wasteland of a back garden, Hollie started recording the process of transforming it into an Eden-like sanctuary, sharing her mistakes and triumphs as she went.
Proving unexpectedly popular with friends, the idea for the book was born.
How to Grow: A guide for gardeners who can’t garden yet
by Hollie Newton is published by Orion Spring in hardback.