Easy ways to get started gardening
Time and space can be in short supply when creating your first garden, but don’t worry, we have tips and tricks to get you started in no time! From patios to balconies to raised beds to a simple window sill, we’ll show you quick, fuss-free ways to get growing your own veggies, fruits, and herbs.
There’s nothing quite like harvesting delicious crops you grew yourself! If you’re sitting on the garden fence, wondering whether or not to start a garden, let me show you just how easy it can be no matter what the space you have available to do so.
Here are three super-simple projects to get you growing! We’ll be splitting apart and potting up tasty herbs; planting up a container garden ideal for any patio or balcony; and, for those with a patch of lawn or ground to spare, starting off a new bed of productive veggies and salads.
1. More Herbs for Less
Herbs are a must for flavor and a burst of freshness – perfect for growing on the patio. But they’re also great on any sunny indoor windowsill, so even if you have no garden space, you can still grow herbs!
Here’s a trick. Buy a single plant from the grocery store and turn it into triple the pickings you get with one simple step. (See video.) Divide your store-bought herbs into three sections. Just get your fingers and thumbs in there and ease them apart. Now you need two extra pots and some all-purpose potting mix. Take the three clumps of herbs – one into the original pot, and two into extras and pot them up! Give them a drink and they’ll be on their way.
These are parsley, but you could also do this just as well with the likes of cilantro or coriander, and basil – any herbs that are grown as clusters of seedlings. See the video for some herbs which were separated and potted on just two weeks ago. They’re beginning to bush out nicely and can be picked in another week.
2. Veggies in Patio Pots
Many outdoor spaces are limited to perhaps a terrace, patio or balcony. Well, it’s truly amazing what you can pack into such a space, and there’s a literal abundance of fresh fruits, veggies and herbs that will grow in pots very happily!
Pots of strawberries are always going to be welcome and are less likely to get eaten by slugs than if they were planted in the ground. And, of course, you can grow just about any herbs in containers. But what about container-grown salads and vegetables? It’s still early spring, but the forecast looks mild enough for the coming week, so let’s plant!
Feel free to use a mixture of pots, as long as they have (or you add) good drainage holes in the bottom. That’s really important because, again, we want excess moisture to drain away so the roots can stay healthy. Of course, you could use just about anything that holds potting mix as a container – so long as it has holes in the bottom or you can make them if they haven’t.
The cheapest way to get started is to sow seeds but if you want to jump a step closer to harvest time you can buy plug plants instead (see video). Plugs give you a bit of a head start and skip the most precarious stage of growing. Of course, start seeds where possible, but there’s nothing wrong at all with using plug plants for that extra peace of mind.
Exactly when you start to sow or plant really depends on your location, but midspring is a great time to begin, as daytime temperatures warm up to coax our seedlings along. See the Almanac’s Planting Calendar by zip code or postal code.
Lettuce, greens, and peas in containers
Let’s begin with some salads, starting with these lettuce plugs. Use a shallow container for these, because lettuce roots don’t extend down very far. Almost all crops will happily grow in any all-purpose or multipurpose potting mix, so that’s what I’m going in with here. And now let’s pop out our lettuces… and get them planted. And finish with a good drink of water to settle them in.
You could, of course, just sow direct into the pot, and just scatter seeds very thinly over the surface. Try a mix of Asian leaves like mizuna and mustard, which will give a really pleasing textural contrast to those smooth and mild lettuce leaves. Then cover the seeds over with a little more mix and give everything a gentle water, too.
Finally, seeing as they’re ready to plant, it’s the turn of peas. Try a dwarf variety, which makes them ideal for container growing. Let’s pop them out and get them in. And, just to help them stay upright, some twiggy sticks.
Is it too strong a statement to say that gardening can change your life? I don’t think so! There’s a purposefulness about gardening: sowing and planting and picking the rewards that follow. This sort of stuff is deeply satisfying – and when you create the opportunity to grow… well, you do too.
Patio or balcony produce is particularly satisfying to grow because it’s so up close and personal, and it’s easy to keep a close eye on how your plants are doing. Keep your pots watered in dry weather – this may mean once or even twice a day in the hottest weeks of summer. Fruiting vegetables like tomatoes and peppers will also need feeding with an organic liquid fertilizer once they come into flower to give plants the resources they need to produce lots of tempting fruits. And don’t forget to resow or add to your patio pots from time to time, to keep the pickings coming!
Carrots, tomatoes, and peppers in pots
I’m also going to be sowing some carrots. And then, once things have warmed up, there’ll be patio tomatoes and peppers to be planted – but only after my last frost in a few weeks.
If you’d like more ideas for container growing like this, see our Guide on Vegetable Container Gardening.
3. Grow a Bed of Edibles
If you have some garden space, then the next stage is to grow delicious produce either directly in the ground into soil you’ve enriched with organic matter such as compost, or in raised beds. This, of course, does away with the cost associated with the potting mix used to fill containers, though of course you’ll need to fill the beds to begin with. And because roots can get down into the soil and explore, the only input needed to maintain your garden in tiptop condition – whether in-ground or in beds – is little more than an annual top-up of compost, which you can, of course, make yourself.
You can make a simple raised bed from old pallet collars, which can be picked up very cheaply – though you could easily make a bed from planks of wood screwed together at the corners. Pallet collars are great because they’re a lug-and-play way to get growing. (See video.)
Simply open the pallet collar up and position your raised bed so it’s nice and level, either by digging it in or building it up as necessary. Cover any weeds or grass with plain cardboard to smother and kill them off. Then fill soil, compost, very well-rotted manure or a combination of any of these.
Did you know: There’s actually evidence to show that time spent close to the soil actually lifts our mood by exposing us to feel-good bacteria within it. The dirt doesn’t hurt… it makes us smile!
Your raised bed should go in the Sun, but if it’s a partial shade, select crops that can tolerate a little shade, at least for part of the day. If you have our Garden Planner, you can select veggies for partial shade tolerance then drop those crops into the bed.
First in are some salad onions, which I sowed a bit earlier into this plug tray to get a head start. And now these radishes. These were all sown in clusters, and can go out together, as they are, but I’m leaving a touch more space between each cluster to compensate for the fact they’re in multiples. The same with these beets, or beetroot, which are going about a foot or 30cm apart. That might seem like a lot, especially when they’re so small, but it’s surprising how quickly put on masses of growth and fill out!
For me, growing at least some of the food I eat is important because I know exactly where it’s come from. I know the food I grow is grown in tune with nature – organically and in soil that’s shown some love. The result is unrivalled taste and great nutritional content – something lacking in much of the food grown commercially on increasingly overworked soils. It also gives me a deeper connection with the natural world. It’s hard to explain… I just feel happier and more contented seeing some of my produce travel all the way from seed to plate.
Okay, so let’s finish off here with a few direct sowings. These carrots here are a salad variety. They’ll produce sweet, finger sized carrots which will be one of the first prized pickings of early summer. Mark out a shallow row, or drill like this – and we need about a foot or 30 cm between the rows, which means I can get a couple in here. And then in we go with our seeds. Take small pinches at a time and sow as thinly as you can – ideally, we want no more than a couple of seeds every half inch or 1 cm or so. And then we’ll cover them over. Once the seedlings are up, we’ll remove some of the seedlings to leave a couple of carrots every inch, or one every centimeter.
And finally some spinach. I’m going to sow three or four seeds every 6in or 15cm – in both directions. Again, once they’re up I will thin the seedlings to leave the strongest at each position.
Let’s finish with a thorough watering to settle everything in and set the seeds on their way. And just because it’s still very early in the growing season I’m going to cover the bed with this row cover of fleece to keep the hungry pigeons off till the plants have found their feet and to keep seedlings snug should it turn cold again.
Getting the first home and garden-grown crops started off is thrilling! These are simple but intense pleasures! If you’re new to gardening, then explore our Learn to Garden area for more advice!