All-purpose idiot's guide gardening thread

Having never grown anything since mustard and cress in primary school and always avoided having to get my hands dirty, I've finally decided to have a go at gardening. I'd really like some practical tips about how to go about this. Are there any very patient gardeners out there?

I thought I'd start with potatoes. I've got three potato bags off Amazon and later on I'm going to get some seed potatoes and bags of compost from the garden centre.

My next thought it is 'What could possibly go wrong?' because in my experience something undoubtedly will - and everything is going to shrivel and die, get the plague, be attacked by zombie insects or go the wrong kind of green. I'm really excited about this and want to do it right. I feel like a child with a new toy. Any useful suggestions about about what mistak4s not to make, useful web sites, books, resources?


  • My mother and her husband planted a load of potatoes in their garden a few years ago. Nothing grew. So the next year they dug it over nad laid some nice turf and had a lovely lawn.

    They spent the next 3 years picking out thousands of potato shoots coming up through the grass.

    So, I don't know... Patience and low expectations?
  • I'd like some grass tips if anyone knows about such things?

    The summer turned my garden to desert. And now it's a muddy patchy mess.

    Do I just Wang a load of seed everywhere and hope for the best. Or do I need to stab it or dig it or something?
  • I have very little experience of gardening, but one tip that's peculiar to this neighbourhood that you probably won't find in a general gardening book is to be careful about what you treat your soil with, as some treatments (ones that contain bonemeal or fishmeal?) can attract foxes, causing them to dig huge holes. We had a repeat offender in our back garden last autumn. I don't know what my ol' mum put down in a particular corner (she has dementia and sometimes has little recall of what she did a few days ago), but foxy was digging holes about 18" (45cm) deep!
  • Thanks for kicking this off @joust and @Scruffy .

    Next question I suppose is: Homebase, Wickes, Alexandra Palace or the garden shop in Crouch End for supplies?
  • joust, I don't know much about gardening but aerating the soil (especially after its been compacted by rain etc) is very helpful. I got some stylish spiked overshoes which were fun to tramp around in. Then chuck on some ready-made mixtures of different grass seeds and fertiliser. Worked for me (for a bit).

    Krappy - snails and slugs. A veritable plague.
  • Everybody has their own solution to slugs and snails. One person I know swears by crushed eggshells. Mrs K (for she is the head gardener here) favours beer traps. I consider this a scandalous waste of beer.
  • How much do you actually want a lawn? Grass doesn't support much wildlife at all, and is a pain to maintain. Consider setting out some paths (which could be grass) and seeding wildflowers and ground-creepers like Creeping Jenny instead- you'll get a carpet of colour and lots of bees and birds.
  • Tomatoes are foolproof. Put some seeds in a grow bag and Bob's your uncle.
    Peas and beans are easy, need a lot of water and tall canes to grow up.
    Chard, cavolo nero and kale are no problem.
    All salads are simple, as are herbs - except coriander and basil.
    Strawberries grow easily in pots or in the ground if they have plenty of sun. Birds love them though - use nets.
    Courgettes and pumpkins grow everywhere.
    Unless you want mint absolutely everywhere, plant it in a pot, not in the ground.

    In my allotmenting experience you just need to dig some decent compost into the soil before you plant and make sure you have turned the earth thoroughly. We've grown all the above with no problem. Water when the soil looks dry, stuck your finger in to test. Water morning and night on hot days. Follow instructions on the back of seed packets, except for tomatoes. Do what you like with them they are hardy as anything.

    You can deter slugs with crushed eggshells but they are determined buggers.

    And yes, plant some wildflowers round the edges. Lavender is brilliant for the ecosystem. Sunflowers are fun, birds love them when they are dying off, you can watch them eating the seedheads.

    Good Luck!
  • Crews Hill is the place for your supplies
  • I read something once about growing fruit and veg which was a very good point: don't plant things which are cheap and/or easy to buy in the shops. Salad is a good one to plant as salad can be quite pricey but it's apparently easy to grow, and you have loads of fresh, cheap salad if you grow it.
  • This is a great thread about gardening (or not gardening) for insects. I think much more positively about my small patch of chaotic weeds now:
  • That's a great thread. "Manicured lawns are for sociopaths" - quite so. We need seeds and nectar, not tiny leaves of little interest to any wildlife. Mow once, in late August/early September only and let the wildflowers take over.

    It also make the great point that we should prioritise native species, which co-evolved with our native insects and birds, but that some non-native species are also great and fill ecological niches that our native plants may not.

    The ecological collapse we are facing is an existential threat. If you have a tidy lawn then you are actively helping to fuck things up. Do less work, save the planet - win win.
  • So. Chitting seed potatoes dilemma. I've bought seed potatoes, and I'm going to let them sprout before planting. But as usual, there's scope for misunderstanding. When it says on the packet, basically, "put the potatoes eyes-up in egg boxes or wooden trays with 1in of soil and leave in a warm place" does that mean soil in just the wooden trays, or soil in egg boxes too? Are my baby potatoes going to shrivel and die if I put them in egg boxes without any soil? Should there be a comma there?

    This is the problem for a novice gardener - and better copywriting required! *Sigh*.
  • I think the only commas you'll need in your garden are of the winged variety.
  • My spuds will win prizes
  • A nice man called Monty will help you out at 8.30 tonight on BBC 2
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