Want quick results in your garden? Or are you a patient gardener?

Gertrude Jekyll Garden, Lindisfarne
A hundred year old garden, designed by Gertrude Jekyll at Lindisfarne and restored by the National Trust

Most industry research tells us that today’s gardeners expect instant results, particularly if they’re new to gardening. Not a problem: if you have the money to throw at a garden, you can almost certainly achieve quick results, if that’s all you aspire to. Just plant or pay someone to plant big, expensive plants – lots of them – when they are all in bud and just about to bloom.

Whether the garden will stay the same for long without intervention is another question!

I’d go so far to say that an impatient gardener is a contradiction in terms. Nature can’t be rushed and isn’t easy to constrain. Those large plants may all be fighting with each other in just a few years – then what’s the plan?

If you are willing to take your time, savour the experience and buck the instant gratification trend, you can get better results, more cheaply – and you’ll develop a more intimate connection to your garden too.

Here’s seven gardening tips for those who can wait:

1. Plant with the seasons, not just before the peak of flowering

Most experienced gardeners prefer to plant in the autumn rather than the spring. Give it a try: it gives plants time to get established before they flower.

2. Choose long lasting plants.

Annuals are a great way to give a garden a quick lift, or to inject a boost of colour, but you’ll need to plant them all over again next year – and the year after that – to make the same impact.

Instead of running to stay still, plant with an eye to the future. By favouring shrubs and perennials – plants that will give pleasure for many years – rather than annuals, your garden will not be as floriferous in the early years while the plants are still getting established, but in two or three years time onwards, you’ll be reaping the rewards.

Of course, these are tips, not hard and fast rules: I confess to a fondness for some plants that tend not to last long in my neck of the woods, such as penstemons or perennial foxgloves. Plant whatever you love best in your own garden: a little of what you fancy does you good!

3. Grow from seed.

It takes time – and you may need to research and learn some new skills – but plants you’ve grown from seed will always be that little bit more precious and satisfying than shop-bought plants. You’ll often find you have a wider choice of varieties from a seed supplier too.

Growing plants from seeds brings you into closer contact with nature. Pricking out seedings and potting them on can be wonderfully therapeutic – if you’ve never done it, try it!

If you’ve sown a pack with a mixture of colours, and you’re looking for variety, I’ve been told that the more unusual seedlings sometimes germinate later, or may appear less sturdy than the others. Of course it’s largely pot luck, but by pricking out seedlings that have different characteristics, you can help move the odds of getting some of the less common colours and forms in your favour.

4. Divide and multiply plants.

When you’re in a garden centre or visiting a speciality grower, look for plants that can immediately be divided into several smaller plants. You’ll need to pot them up and wait longer before they reach a good flowering size, but you’ll have created a small drift of flowers in a couple of seasons.

You’ll soon start to spot large plants in your own garden that you can divide and move on – to a gardening friend if needed!  If your garden has a cottagey style, with a mix of spreading and less vigorous plants, by keeping on top of the more rampant ones, you’ll keep a better balance and prevent your delicate jewels from being smothered out.

5. Small trees often outpace big trees.

When buying trees, it’s tempting to think that the biggest one will always be best, if you have several of the same variety to choose from. They’ll certainly be more expensive, and more expensive means better, right?

Tree experts will tell you that larger specimens may have been growing in less than ideal conditions, constricted by their pots. Even when they’ve been grown in the ground, larger, more established trees are more likely to resent being transplanted more than younger ones.

Always go for a younger, healthy-looking tree. It will take a little longer to create the effect you’re looking for, but you’ll be amply rewarded for your patience.

6. New garden? Wait to see what shoots.

If you’re ever lucky enough to take over an established garden from a keen plantsman or woman in winter or spring, promise me that, no matter how tempting it is to rush headlong into digging and making ‘improvements’, you’ll spare a thought for those tender young shoots hidden below the mulch, still mustering the strength to emerge and delight you with their flowers.

Wait and give yourself the chance to enjoy your new garden in the height of bloom before making major changes. If you have the patience to let a whole year pass to see what plants each new season brings, so much the better. I’m confident you’re in for many wonderful surprises. There’s no point digging up choice, established plants just to put new plants in. Give your garden a chance to show you exactly what it’s made of first.

Meanwhile, make notes, take pictures, gather your thoughts. Once you have a better feel for the spirit of the garden, you’ll be ready to make improvements that will truly move it on and start to make the place your own.

7. Growing soil

We think of gardening as growing plants, but unless you also grow your soil – and prepare it thoroughly before you expect your new plants to live in it – you’ll hamper all your efforts.

You can buy compost mixes, but you can ‘grow your own’ soil too. Gather up deciduous leaves as they fall, and pile them together with any other left over greenery or kitchen waste. If you’ve been digging up turf to make a new bed for planting, just stack the old sods somewhere, face down, rather than throwing them away. Leave everything to rot into nutritious compost, perfect for enriching any type of soil.

If your soil is heavy clay, take the time to dig in plenty of sharp grit when incorporating your well-rotted compost. By caring for your soil, you’ll create a much more hospitable home for your plants.

Before you know it, you’ll discover you’ve made a welcoming home for worms too: these will almost miraculously appear, bringing new life to the soil.

As a finishing touch after planting, add a thick layer of mulch to help conserve water. This will eventually rot down too, and be dragged under by the worms, adding extra goodness.

If these tips resonate with you, you’re most likely a Slow Gardener, even if you’ve never heard of the concept before.

By slowing down and gardening more mindfully, before you know it, you’ll have a garden you know inside-out; you’ll feel a closer connection to nature; and it’s a bold statement, but I’m confident you’ll have a happier, more contented life.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


8 Replies to “Want quick results in your garden? Or are you a patient gardener?”

  1. I’m more busy these days than patient…just can’t seem to get it all done and that’s okay. You offer some good tips here. I’ve learned, though, that some people are born propagators and I’m not one of them. I guess I do my part the keep the local nurseries going. And that has its value too.

  2. Thanks for joining in, Marian. If propagating plants is not your thing, I’m sure from your inspiring and thoughtful blog that you have discovered many ways of your own to savour gardening and gardens. And I salute your support of plant nurseries.

    One of my favourite quotations about gardening is from a book called ‘Ferney’. I’m roughly paraphrasing: ‘a lifetime is barely long enough to get a garden right’. It’s like the saying ‘the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago: the next best time is today’. A garden is always a work in progress, always changing, so, if we enjoy the process, we’ve got a lot to gain by relaxing, going with the flow, letting time work in our favour for once.

    I was lucky to have parents and a grandmother who loved gardening and I learned about planting and propagating plants by squatting down at their sides as a toddler to watch. So perhaps it’s easy for me to say, but I would encourage everyone to try growing from seeds and dividing plants if they’ve never done it before.

    Some plants are tricky, or simply won’t live in your climate, so perhaps you were just unlucky, but others are very easy. You just need to give them half a chance and they’ll do their own thing and survive almost despite anything you do. Looking outside in the garden, I can see various plants escaping down the sides of pots, putting out tiny air roots, just asking for someone to give them a helping hand and move them along a bit!

    Cookery is far more daunting to me – my sweetheart recently described my painstakingly slow-cooked beef stew as ‘quite good for carrot soup’! It wouldn’t do for us to all have the same pleasures.

  3. I’ve read Ferney! Not a book likely to be forgotten. Re: propagation, my problem is I’m not good at nurturing small plants. I love self-seeders, though, who are good at taking care of themselves.

  4. Patient. I collect seeds and plant them. Two years until this year’s seeds bloom, sometimes three years. Then again I do this every year, so there are always some seedlings blooming.

    1. Glad to ‘meet’ you John. I can see from your blog that you grow and hybridise daylilies. It’s especially intriguing to grow new plants from seed when you know the offspring will be so variable. You never know exactly what you’ll get, but there are almost always some real treasures amongst them.

      I’m familiar with professional rose and hellebore growing nurseries – their seedlings are very variable too – but I’ve never visited a daylily farm or breeder. You’ve inspired me to add that to my to visit list. At least now I can look forward to sharing a little daylily happiness when you post pictures of your new seedlings as they flower!

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