Episode 03 - mini-series Show Notes & Advice

mini-series episode 3 | beginner's guide to essential tools and plants for starting in the garden

episode description

This episode is all about starting out as a gardener and how to get your head around it all if you are starting from scratch. Sarah and Arthur share 5 top tips for success and talk about plants that are easy to grow, the importance of ‘right plant, right place’ and why cut-and-come-again plants are perfect for beginners. They also share their favourite gardening books, with lots of ideas and inspiration and the essential tools every beginner needs to get started in the garden. 

in this episode, discover...

  • Sarah and Arthur’s top 5 tips for starting out as a gardener
  • Their must-have plants for sun (dahlias and fennel) and shade (hellebores and hydrangeas)
  • Why sweet peas and parsley are Arthur and Sarah’s favourite cut-and-come-again plants
  • Books to read and gardens to visit for more inspiration and ideas
  • The essential sowing and growing kit for beginners

products mentioned

5 top tips for starting out as a gardener

1.   Decide what sort of garden you want

Sarah’s priorities when she started out were:

  • Colour
  • Production – Sarah loves produce and harvesting things.
  • Easy to maintain – Sarah was working as a doctor in Charing Cross Hospital when she started her first garden and couldn’t be out gardening all day.  

Arthur’s priorities included

  • Colour
  • Wildlife friendly – he is especially keen on flowers with nectar-rich open centres for pollinators.
  • Easy to maintain – increasingly Arthur loves permanent plants like perennials, and hedges – it is important to look at your boundaries and the structure and bones of your garden.

2.   What do you want to grow?

On a piece of paper pin down the plants you like and want to grow, your favourite flowers and veg – being realistic – some plants you like may not grow well in our climate.

3.   Look at the space you have

Go into your garden or outdoor space and assess it. Working out your aspect and light levels will save you time and money – a sunflower won’t grow in shade but a foxglove will, so good to establish whether you will be growing in full sun or dappled shade.

4.   Check your soil

Dig a spade into your soil to see if it is heavy clay or nice and loamy – certain plants suit different soil types. Gardening in pots offers a lot of control over soil type and a lot can be done to improve soil.

5.   Focus on getting a few plants that work for your soil and aspect

Must have plants for sunny spots

·       Bronze fennel – Arthur chose this because it’s easy to grow and loved by birds. Keep cutting back and it reshoots with fresh foliage – lovely with tulips.

·       Dahlias – Sarah says that for a beginner a dahlia will just keep giving. You will need to stake and tie if over 60cm. For more information listen to episode 34 delightful dahlias.

·       Cosmos – one of the first flowers Sarah grew for cutting. In her first trial at Perch Hill she had a m2 patches of 12 different varieties of cut flower. In the cosmos trial, Cosmos ‘Purity’ won by a league, producing 50 buckets per sq m over that summer.

·       Cardoons – an alternative suggestion from Arthur that he recommends growing for beautiful tapestry foliage as well as goblets of nectar for bumblebees. Will be fine in pots or borders. Harvest and dry to use for Christmas arrangements.

·       Sweet peas – lovely, quintessentially British and easy to grow in rootrainers in March, planting out in April/May – listen to episode 49 all about sweet peas .

Must have plants for shade

·       Hellebores – for beautiful flowers and leaves that look just as lovely in summer. They come back every year with gusto, even in pots.

·       Ferns – Arthur likes these more their leaf form and the jungle-like fullness they offer.

·       Hydrangeas – Sarah adores ‘Limelight’ and ‘Incrediball’ for their huge flowerheads that also dry very well.

·       Nicotiana sylvestris ‘Only the Lonely’ – a rare and beautiful annual, related to the nightshade family, scented and very happy in shade.

·       Acanthus mollis ‘Rue Ledan’ – Sarah associates acanthus with patterned roman pillars and the heat and sun of Rome, but this variety thrives in shade and doesn’t get mildew.


Nothing is more optimistic for a gardener than cut-and-come-again annual flowers and edible veg and salads. Harvest or pick on a Friday and by the following Friday you can harvest or pick again as has grown back – like an ever filling cup.

Arthur’s top C&C pick are sweet peas.

Sarah’s top C&C pick is flat leaf Parsley ‘Gigante di Napoli’ which she picks almost every day from just two sowings in March and September.

Recommended books

The Complete Gardener by Monty Don

Grow Easy by Anna Greenland – very handholding on how to grow veg.

Sarah Raven books

  • The Cutting Garden
  • Grow Your Own Cut Flowers
  • A Year Full of Flowers
  • The Bold and Brilliant Garden
  • The Great Vegetable Plot

Sarah’s books are full of planting plans, ideas and inspiration, all the different varieties and combinations she recommends and best methods of propagation.

The Flower Yard by Arthur Parkinson - following Arthur as he gardens through the seasons in pots. It is a beautifully visual yet personal and highly informative read on his love for bold colours, cut flowers and bees.

Growing from Seed by Graham Rice Christopher Lloyd – a bit outdated but a fantastic guide to sowing from seed and explaining the science behind it all.  

RHS encyclopaedias – well worth having to learn more about plants. Great for understanding height and spread so you know if the plant you are interested in is the size of giraffe or a mouse.

Visit gardens

Fantastic for inspiration, especially rewarding as you learn more, progress and start recognising plants. Take photos and notes of what you like and would like to try for yourself.

Essential tools

A good pair of florist scissors and secateurs

Garden trowel

Garden fork

Hand-held tools

Kneeler – a good one or knee pads

Springbok rake

Yard brush

Wheelbarrow or tub trugs

Folding saws

Hammer, twine or string in a tin

Flexi-tie made from recycled plastic

Visit the gardening kit section of our website to find these essential tools and more.