If you're new to gardening and have decided this is the spring to sink a spade into your first flower bed, you may be thinking: "Yikes, where do I start?" Well, I'm here to help. I remember my first experience with gardening, almost 15 years ago, poking around the yard of the older home my husband and I had just bought, wondering what was going to come up.
Back then, I didn't know a forget-me-not from a columbine. I learned by digging in, as I'd had some practice in my mother's garden while growing up, but I had no grand plan, just raw enthusiasm. In fact, I moved plants around so much that my husband joked my perennials ought to have come with wheels instead of roots.
So don't worry if you don't have a solid plan for your garden yet – most gardens evolve. Once you've learned a few horticultural basics and discovered what appeals to you, you'll have a better idea of the sort of garden you want to create.
The first big step is choosing the proper gardening tools. In fact, well-made tools can often make the difference between frustration and enjoyment, so invest in quality ones, which are usually carried by specialist suppliers.
Spade and shovel
• A spade has a narrow, long, squared-off blade for turning soil and marking planting holes; a rounded shovel with a long handle is ideal for planting trees and shrubs.
• Look for forged metal heads and handles that fit securely into the shaft.
• Hardwood handles should have a varnished finish, fit comfortable in your hands and not feel too heave.
• Optional: a digging fork to break up soil clumps,
• A small shovel-like hand tool with a sturdy grip; useful for planting annuals, transplanting vegetables and container gardening.
• A stiff-tined metal one for leveling soil and removing small stones, plus a fan-stlye rake to clean up fall leaves.
Running shears, or secateurs
• For light pruning and cutting back perennials. Look for a bypass model (which has a curved blade that passes by a fixed base), forged steel blades, a strong spring and comfortable handles.
• Lopping pruners have longer handles and bigger blades for cutting more substantial branches.
• A standard hoe is perfect for small weeds.
• For mulched beds (where soil is covered with a layer of wood chips or straw), use a weeding knife that you push into the ground close to the weed's stem. This will loosen the soil so you can pull out the weed – roots and all. I swear by the Japanese Farmer's Knife from Lee Valley Tools.
For moving stuff around
• A wheelbarrow or garden cart will spare your back when hauling soil, pots and plants.
For creature comfort
• A gardener's kneeling pad is more comfortable than strap-on kneepads.
• Lightweight, good-quality gardening gloves.
• A gardener's tool belt to hold hand tools and seed packets.
• Sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.
Books for beginners:
The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch, Workman Publishing Company, 688 pages, softcover, $26.95.
What Grows Here by Jim Hole, Hole's, 256 pages, softcover, $19.95.
Clueless in the Garden: A Guide for the Horticulturally Helpless by Yvonne Cunnington, Key Porter, 200 pages, softcover, $21.95.
Gardening for Canadians for Dummies by Liz Primeau, Mike MacCaskey, Bill Marken, John Wiley & Sons, 456 pages, softcover, $29.99.