Getting Started in Gardening
For people who enjoy plants and gardens, and for people working in horticulture, one big question we ask is “how can we get more people interested in gardening?”
For us the reasons to do so are obvious. It’s enjoyable being outside in the fresh air. It’s rewarding to watch the plants we grow do well and thrive. It’s an outlet for creativity with something that will never be finished. It’s a chance to do something good, not just for ourselves, but for wildlife and the wider environment as a result.
But still, it feels like not enough people are turning to it. Is it because it’s seen as hard work, a chore, outside housework almost? Is it because people feel they just don’t have enough time to maintain a well-planted garden? Or is it because there can be a kind of worry or fear that comes with looking after plants? Where do I plant them? How much should I water them? Do I need to cut them back and if so, when and by how much? There seems to be so many different rules for different plants. I can’t remember all of this!
In the end, what it amounts to is confidence, or a lack of in this case. The answer is to try and get into a certain mindset and understand that gardening is a journey, not a destination. We all start as novices, but if you can build a framework in which all your gardening practices can fit within, then you will find that confidence will grow quickly.
This is where Beth’s ethos comes in. Right plant, right place is so simple and, in a way, so obvious. But it can help be the framework for any new budding gardener, young or old. The concept of working with nature and not against it is something that is rewarding for the soul as well as the direct results of having beautiful borders. Before deciding on what you want in your garden, you must first establish what you’ve got. The size, aspect and soil conditions are factors that are not easily changed, and to achieve the most from your space, you need to fully get to grips with what you have. Once understood, you can then begin the process of discovering the exciting possibilities of the plants you can grow.
The Gravel Garden in June; the planting has been chosen specifically to cope with the poor, free-draining soil and little rainfall.
Beth, along with her husband Andrew, dedicated much of their lives to understanding where plants come from in the wild, and by doing so, were able to work out how to get the best results in their own garden here in Elmstead Market. Plants are all adapted in different ways and have different characteristics to cope with the conditions they are given in the wild. Some must cope with hot, dry conditions, whilst others must be adapted for cooler, wetter climates. Exposure to sunlight plays a big part. As most of us with small gardens will know, shaded areas are almost a given. And it’s being able to use this invaluable information for making sensible decisions on our planting choices that have helped gardeners, not just in this country, but all over the world with achieving their gardening goals and aspirations. Although knowing the palette of plants you can grow is one thing, putting them together to create a pleasing picture is another altogether.
Beth and Andrew in the early 1960's observing plants growing in their natural habitats.
Plant design and pleasing planting combinations can be achieved, again, by working with principles that Beth used and developed over the years. As gardeners, we rarely get it right first time, and Beth would be the first to admit this. But if we can consider all the factors that make a good planting scheme, then we stand a much better chance of getting it right perhaps second or third time, if not first. Take into consideration the seasons, what will the plant look like throughout the year. Does it have attractive seedheads after flowering? After it’s cut back, can I have bulbs coming up around it to add new interest? Remember that flowering is usually for a relatively short period, and that the foliage will be seen for a much longer part of the year. Consider plant shapes, domes, verticals, height, groundcover etc. The more these can be contrasted the better. Think how the shape and texture of a grass differs from that of a domed, evergreen shrub. Of course, all this can seem complex and hard to navigate, requiring a certain amount of plant knowledge and understanding. But remember, gardening is a process and confidence will come from doing and learning.
An example of extending garden interest into winter with grasses and seedheads.
What I know and have learnt, is that being able to work with Beth’s ethos underpinning everything I do, has enabled me to practice gardening with a heart-warming confidence that I’m not sure I would have got anywhere else. To me, the principles and ethos make sense and I hope that others over time can enjoy the same experience. Over the past few years, we have developed our Beth Chatto Plant Collections that aim to give new gardeners that initial bit of confidence to get them started. Each collection contains twelve plants suitable for specific conditions, with each plant doing a different job within the design aspect too. We hope that by starting with something that will give positive results from day one, we can help nurture and grow the next generations of gardeners.
Starter Plant Collection including rudbeckia, aster and molinia.
So maybe the answer to the question is that we all need to actively encourage, teach and give confidence where we can. And if demonstrating and practicing Beth’s gardening principles help, then I think we can all become better gardeners together.
Jacob Pettersson- Plants Team Manager