Caption: Constructing the garden in my old house
Caption: July after sowing everything in March
Caption: My currrent garden, with lots of flowers and my greenhouse in the sunniest spot

There you stand, the tingle of spring on your skin and the seed of an idea sprouting in your mind: you want to start a garden. If you have let this thought escape, you will likely have been met with a barrage of well-meaning advice. People have likely listed their favourite plants and told you to dig them all over, not to dig them or cover them with weed membranes, or never use that awful weed membrane. The information out there is conflicting at best and, at worst, overwhelming.

As an ecologist, I have studied plants and their interactions with nature. I have tried to weave this into my gardening, too, and along the way, I have had plenty of opportunities to practice. As an average millennial, I have moved house too many times to count. I have started more new gardens than I care to remember. But along the way, I have honed my technique, and nowadays, I can confidently say that I can start a garden in a day.

The thing with gardens is that they are—and should always be—a journey. DIY programs on TV that roll out cookie-cutter gardens for people in desperate need of some outdoor space fail to recognise one thing: gardens are transient. They are subject to seasons, weather, changing needs, and, of course, the dreaded garden pests. That being said, starting your garden journey needn’t be arduous.

Getting Started

When starting a new garden, vegetable patch, or allotment, you must first decide how you want to use the space. Whether you really like holding big family barbecues or your kids want to play football, your outside space must reflect the needs of the users.

The next thing to consider is your budget. Gardens can be done on a budget, but it takes more time. This can be wonderful if you are happy to sit and let nature do its’ work, filling your garden year after year with surprises and joy. If you have a decent budget, you can consider doing some hard landscaping and buying more mature plants, which will have a more instant impact.

Next, you must assess the conditions in your garden. You might be well-acquainted with them, but if not, spend some time outdoors. Doing some weeding is an excellent way to find out how you move around your garden, where the shady spots are, and what the soil is like. If you’re unsure what the light will be like in your garden, you can talk to your neighbours or try to work it out roughly. Do this by finding out which way your garden faces and then working out what will cast shade on your site. Don’t forget that the sun will be much higher in the sky during summer than in spring, spring, and autumn.
Lastly, work out what you like. With this, I encourage you to trawl Pinterest and Instagram, open books and visit other gardens. Get to know what excites you, and if you’re unsure, leave your options open when designing your garden.

Designing your garden

Sketch your garden. This can be precisely measured or just rough. Hard landscaping will take more than a day, and you will need an exact plan; otherwise, you can get away with drawing it roughly.

In your garden, you will need:
- Somewhere to sit (this is essential, even if it’s just somewhere to perch)
- A plan for how you will move around; this can be a path, but it doesn’t have to be.
- Somewhere for plants, this can be borders, beds or containers.

You might also want:
- A shed: this is essential if you have gardening tools that need housing. Place your shed somewhere easily accessible but otherwise not valuable for planting space, such as a shady area.
- A water butt: this will help keep watering costs to a minimum. Choose somewhere near a guttering downpipe or next to something with a roof to collect water from it.
- A compost bin: This will help you recycle nutrients in your garden and reduce costs. Place this somewhere sheltered, away from the house. Compost bins are a good use of spaces where you would struggle to grow plants.
- A greenhouse: this is great if you want to raise some plants from seed or if you want to keep plants that need protection in winter. To get the best out of your greenhouse, put it somewhere with as much sun as possible. Make sure it is well-anchored so it doesn’t get damaged.
- A pond: This is the best thing you can do for the wildlife in your garden, and it will help you to balance your garden ecosystem for natural pest control. You can build a container pond or have a pond sunken into the ground. Build your pond somewhere that won’t get in the way and won’t pose a risk to people moving around your garden. Building ponds under trees isn’t recommended as they fill with leaves in autumn and become more challenging to manage.

There are plenty of other things you might choose to have in your garden. Some you can add right away, and others will have to wait. So, you must plan where everything will go at the outset so you can work to that idea, although, of course, plans can always be changed!

My Garden

When I moved into an uninspiring newly built terrace house at the end of 2020, the garden was completely bare—an unloved patch of scrubby grass. I knew I wanted to grow vegetables and fill it with colour and flavour. In March 2021, I built some raised beds – with the sole aim of keeping my tortoise away from my vegetables. Unfortunately, my little shelled friend is an accomplished climber, and the beds did little to protect my precious seedlings. However, they created plenty of habitat for slugs, snails and woodlice. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t use raised beds for this reason.

Before constructing my raised beds, I mowed the grass as low as possible. I then covered it with cardboard. This helps suppress the grass and the weeds and breaks them down quickly. It adds structure to the soil and doesn’t add microplastics like weed fabrics can. Once I had added several layers of card, I watered it and covered it with a few inches of compost. As soon as this was done, I was ready to plant! I planted flowers and vegetables and later that year feasted on my home-grown food.

Preparing the soil

Many people struggle with preparing soil in their gardens, but the truth is, it couldn’t be easier. You need to start by assessing your soil. Does it regularly get waterlogged? Is it acidic, alkaline, or neutral? You can’t easily change what you have, but the conditions will give you an idea of what plants will work best in your garden. If your soil routinely gets waterlogged, you must add some drainage. This can be in the form of soakaways, drains, additional organic matter, or raised beds to create height and lift your plant roots away from waterlogging.

Once you have determined what soil you have and marked out where your beds will be, you need to add organic matter. Do this where you intend to plant. You might want to build some raised beds first, but this is an aesthetic thing and purely optional.

Almost all soils are depleted in organic matter. Depleted soil will not hold onto water well or become waterlogged easily and will not supply your plants with enough nutrients. If you want to combat all these problems, add organic matter. Do this in the form of a mulch on your beds. I recommend using compost as it doesn’t create habitat for garden pests. If your soil is heavy and sticky, use a compost such as Lakeland gold to add more structure to your soil. If you have light, sandy soils, consider something nutrient-rich, such as Double Strength, as this acts as a fabulous soil improver. If you want to plant seedlings or sow directly into your beds, I recommend using an excellent all-purpose compost such as Veg and Salad compost, as this will support seedling growth without overpowering them.
Refrain from digging your soils as this will further deplete them of organic matter, which is oxidised and broken down by the sun during digging.


Most annual weeds can be suppressed under cardboard or simply hoed out. More pernicious weeds, however, may need to be removed more forcibly. If you have brambles, they will need to be dug out. Thistles, doc, and dandelions all have long taproots and should be gently levered out with a long weeding tool as they can regenerate from their roots. Couch grass doesn’t usually back down when using weed suppressant, so I tend to pull it up, roots and all.

Nettles and bindweed can also be pulled up and should be regularly hoed to drain them of energy and stop them from growing. Mares' tails should be routinely hoed, too, but can be challenging to eliminate. With all these weeds, avoid digging the soil as you risk spreading them and allowing them to multiply from fractions of their roots.


Once you have given your beds a good dose of organic matter, it’s time to start planting! There are several ways you can add plants to your garden:

- Direct Sowing: Sow seeds directly into the bed. Do this with robust annual plants, and mark where you sowed them so you don’t accidentally mistake them for weeds. Annuals are wonderful for direct sowing.
- Sowing in a greenhouse or on a windowsill: Raise your plants using some seed compost and then plant them out when they are a few inches tall and robust enough to withstand light pest damage. Make sure you don’t plant tender seedlings before the last frost!
- Buying plug plants: Make sure to buy from a reputable source and avoid cheap plants, as they often contain systemic pesticides. Perennial plants will give you a show year after year, whereas annuals will bloom just this year and then die off. Biennials will grow in the first year and flower in the second, dying off after flowering. Perennials are, therefore, more expensive than annuals and biennials, but you get better value for money.
- Buying mature plants: This is a great way to get instant impact, but it can be expensive. I recommend doing a mix. Visiting a nursery regularly and choosing plants that are in flower at different points in the year is an excellent way to bring colour into your garden throughout the seasons.

When planting borders, try to use several different heights. You can put tall plants towards the back, with shorter plants at the front. Ensure that you are buying or sowing plants that will be suitable for your light and soil conditions. Don’t be afraid to move something if it doesn’t look right or is not thriving. Using a mixture of annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, seedlings, and plug plants is the best approach to creating full and fun borders.

The most important thing when creating your garden is to look after your soil. By adding organic matter and trying to reduce disturbance to the soil, you will allow the natural processes in the soil to work. This can help aerate and create drainage in your soil and release nutrients to your plants. None of this is possible without adequate levels of organic matter.

I have started a new garden, primarily for growing flowers, and am setting up a new allotment, which I will use for vegetables, fruit, and flowers. If you want to follow my journey, see me on @Sow_Much_More on Instagram or Sow Much More on Facebook.




About Me:

Becky is a garden writer with a background in ecology and botany. She has a keen knowledge of soil and spends the time outside her garden speaking and writing about natural gardening and soil ecology. Becky has a podcast called The Seed Pod and is active on social media as Sow Much More.


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