/ Travel & Leisure

What’s your go-to source for gardening advice?

Gardening book

Whether you’re a beginner or someone who’s owned and looked after a garden for years, there are always questions that crop up, so where do you go to for advice?

From identifying a pest that’s attacking one of your plants and what to do about it, to working out how and when to prune your plants and knowing how to get the best from your soil type, there’s always something you need to find out about when it comes to your garden.

In these instances, do you hot foot it to your local garden centre (which we found preferable to DIY stores when we secretly tested staff on gardening problems) or do you thumb through a gardening encyclopedia?

Maybe you ask a gardening-loving friend or relative, hope your issue crops up on a gardening TV show, or simply rely on trial and error.

Helping hand

Realising that even the most seasoned gardeners need easily accessible and reliable, comprehensive advice, Which? Gardening has created a new online helpdesk with the answers to over 100 common questions.

Most of these have been inspired by real-life issues our team of experts have been asked to solve over the years.

All you need to do is type in your problem in the search bar and you should be directed to an article where you’ll find the advice you need.

We’ll also be adding new articles every week, making it a fantastic resource of gardening knowledge.

So far, we’ve had questions ranging from which plants to grow in a small garden (we suggested low-maintenance shrubs such Euonymus fortunei) to whether a wisteria could be causing subsidence to the foundations of a house (we decided it was unlikely as the house wasn’t very old, so would have decent foundations).

Legal issues

Occasionally, you might need some legal advice, such as what to do about a dodgy bag or compost you’ve bought or overhanging trees from your neighbours’ garden or nuisance noises.

If that’s the case, you’ll also find jargon-free answers to common issues from Which? Legal.

If you’re still stumped and you’re a Which? Gardening member, you can also email our experts your questions and you’ll get an answer within two working days.

Where do you go to for gardening advice? What do you think of Which? Gardening’s new online helpdesk? What other topics would you like us to cover?

Comments
Member

My father used to be my one-stop source of gardening advice and gave me plenty of practical help too. One of his tips is to look at other gardens nearby to see what grows well in the local soil and climate. My biggest mistake was to hold on to a large number of roses that were prone to disease and pests when the simple solution was to replace them.

Member

We bought the Reader’s Digest Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants and Flowers many years ago and constantly refer to it for information. It’s a real gardener’s bible – plenty of used copies around. The most interesting way to then learn is to try things for yourself, and grow as much from seed as you can; it is very satisfying to see black specs of dust and dried up stuff turn into flowers, vegetables and fruit.

Member

I have that one and also their Encyclopedia of Gardening and they are excellent reference books.

Member

Membership of the Royal Horticultural Society brings a full monthly magazine and the right to ask them horticultural questions. You can also access their massive website. And support their works. You do get free access to the three gardens they own and have recipricol arrangements for other gardens . It is a charity. It costs £54 a year.

Please note that Life Membership is restricted to 100 years max.

If you want a more earthy approach dealing more with produce then Garden Organics is another charity with a large database. It provides a full magazine every six months. Membership is either £33 or £51 if you join the Heritage Seed Library.

There are commercial gardening magazines but I am not aware it they provide an on-line database or a guaranteed response to queries.

If there is no internet connection or you prefer browsing to solve problems then the RHS has had published a series of large books covering pretty much everything. The Garden Expert series by Hessayon is very much smaller but much loved.

If you go to any good second-hand bookshop you can normally buy gardening books very cheaply. The only things that change in gardening really is the chemicals you are allowed to use – and that has changed remarkably in the last twenty years.

Most people would be astonished to learn that they can currently buy a bottle of a well-advertised pesticide than can kill up to half-billion bees.

Which? Conversations might be a useful place for a discussion on gardening related matters. In France from 2019 many chemicals will be banned for private gardeners and local authorities are already banned from using them. The effects on the gardening staff by the constant use was a major concern.

Gardening Which? does do a nice magazine. However they do need to do something regarding the advice on expanding hoses where the warning against needs to be on both pages.

If they are covering hoses why not mention the recent unkinkable design made in the UK?

Member

I would strongly support a Conversation to discuss the problem of gardening chemicals. The RHS provides a list of the more recent ones that have been banned: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/Profile?pid=820 It is disappointing that the list does not include products that were withdrawn earlier in their sheds. Take calomel dust as an example. It was withdrawn about 15 years ago. One pack of this contains vastly more mercury than any compact fluorescent lamp.

Chemicals that are effective at controlling pests and plant disease are not specific and will also harm beneficial species including bees, the example given by Patrick T.

In theory, recycling centres should accept chemicals and dispose of them appropriately but I am not convinced that this is done properly.

Member

“CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury (around 5 mg), which is approximately 100 times less than the amount of mercury in an oral thermometer and roughly the amount that would cover the tip of a pen.”

There is a move to restrict sales of domestic pesticides and weedkillers in their fully-diluted form only to prevent the dumb public from using them incorrectly. Anyone who has bought fully-diluted products will know the extortionate cost. Perhaps washing up liquid will only be sold this way – ready to fill the bowl and wash your pots – in 100 gallon containers? It is a pity that some have such a poor concept of our intelligence.

Member

I suspect that the high prices of ready to use domestic pesticides and weedkillers is partly due to profit margins but if the increase in cost cuts down use there will be an environmental benefit. I don’t think it helps to refer to the ‘dumb public’ but there is little doubt that garden and household chemicals do present dangers. I was particularly glad to see paraquat banned because of the incidence of respiratory damage, but acute toxicity was only one of the problems.

Perhaps the best approach is to grow plants that flourish without use of pesticides. Back in the eighties I sprayed my roses in a not very successful attempt to control black spot and greenfly. A botanist pointed out that some roses are less susceptible and bought me three as a birthday present. That proved very successful and I gradually replaced the other roses over the next few years, starting with the ones that were worst affected. My father was impressed because he had struggled with the same problems for years. If the grass has a few broad leaved weeds, there is no need to treat the whole lawn, since a pinch of weedkiller or a quick squirt with ready-made weedkiller is all that is needed to keep it weed free. A daisy grubber will remove some weeds without using any chemicals. Fruit and vegetables are more of a challenge but simple crop rotation and selection of varieties that are more resistant to pests and disease will help.

Member

“I don’t think it helps to refer to the ‘dumb public’ “. The vast majority are far from dumb, perfectly capable, and I don’t like to see regulations being framed as if we all were brainless. Life is full of possible dangers that we all, generally, cope with – from crossing the road, not sticking knives in toasters, to reading instructions om how to use products.

As for my lawn, it is a mixture of grass, moss, clover, weeds and it never sees any weedkiller – a weeding too;l easily lifts out dandelions and thistles in their early stages. But it looks decent when I mow it, and it is green.

Compost is one area Which? regularly examines. However it does not seem to look at – or at least mention – the composts that professional growers and nurseries use. They will have a better insight than anyone into what is good, I would have thought, since their businesses depend upon good growing media. Are the products available to all the public, and what are they?