Photo of a garden with the sun shining through

How to Know Your Garden

If you’re a beginner and want to start your own garden but don’t know how to start it, you most likely need more information about how to know your garden. Both your garden and plants have unique characters. Your garden is influenced by a set of factors which in turn decide which garden type or plants are best suited for your plot. Similarly, plants need particular conditions to thrive. They may be able to survive in less than ideal conditions or adapt over time but you won’t see them in their full glory unless you really know your garden.

‘How to know your garden’ seems like a vague term. Essentially, this means what conditions your garden provides for its prospective inhabitants and whether those inhabitants will like these conditions or not. Not just that, these factors also decide what type of garden you can create here, how much soil improvement will be needed, whether you will need to prune any mature trees/shrubs to allow more light, how much and how often you will need to water, etc.

These factors are ignored often but take care to assess these and you will be the most fabulous gardener.

Here are the basic things you need to assess to get to know your garden and decide which plants will thrive where:

Light

Photo of a garden with the sun shining through
A gorgeous summer afternoon in my West-Facing Garden

It is not enough to say that you need to know your garden’s aspect. Whether it faces South, West, North or East, numerous other things decide how much light it gets. Looking up the pros and cons of each of these aspects is useful. But do not forget that you need to assess mature shrubs, trees, surrounding boundaries and the general amount of Sun your area gets.

Temperature

An aerial view of a Sunny Garden in London
Early Spring, bird’s eye view of my garden

When I first started gardening, I bought French Lavender (lots of it!) and planted it out just before Autumn. It was wiped out soon. I had no idea about the basics of gardening and hadn’t done my research. I was living in Bristol back then, a warm city overall, and thought I could protect this tender variety somehow. Boy, was I wrong!

This is one of the basics when getting to know your garden. It’s therefore critical to look up the extremes of temperatures, temperature variation, and timings of the first frost. In addition, your garden itself may have a microclimate of its own depending on how sheltered it is. For example, Inverness (the breathtaking capital of the Scottish Highlands) has some areas at the base of the valley. These areas have their own microclimate and are suited for a plant profile different than those higher up. Make careful notes of these before you begin designing and planning the plant combinations.

Soil

A gardener planting a bulb in loamy soil
The ideal soil: Loam, luckily in all the beds in my garden.

Plants prefer different types of soil. For example, Lavender will do well in well-draining, poor or moderately fertile soil. It loves chalky soil (ie alkaline) in general. On the other hand, Roses won’t do well in that kind of soil unless fed regularly or some very robust varieties are chosen. Hydrangeas in chalky soil will look rather unhappy with yellowing leaves. You’d either have to make the soil acidic or think of another plant. The importance of your soil type cannot be stressed enough when you’re getting to know your garden.

Wind

Dark, Windy skies
Dark, windy day.

The wind intensity and direction will influence what you can grow. Constant winds in one direction will force the plant to grow in that direction, like sideways/bent trees along the coast. If you have an exposed site, it will be difficult to grow sensitive plants such as Japnese Maples since these live in sheltered areas.

Water

Stream in the forest
A beautiful stream in a park in Dublin

Various factors determine the moisture levels in your garden. The type of soil you have, how much rainfall you receive and what time of year this happens are the main ones. You will also have to assess different parts of the garden to see if any areas are shady and thus damp. This will help you decide what kind of plants would do well here.


I will be writing detailed posts each of the above factors so stay tuned. It’s a lot to cram into one post. Once you have these basics sorted, find out how to design a garden on a budget and things to you need to consider for the design.

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