Grow like a pro

Top gardening tips from our expert gardens manager

Top gardening tips from our expert gardens manager

Updated 30 July. Following government guidance, the castle and gardens at Hillsborough Castle are now open Thursday-Sunday. Please read our visit information.

Get the compost right!

As all professional gardeners and horticulturists know, the key to good growth of crops or garden plants is what you grow it in – from soil in your garden, to compost in a pot, or even just water.  Your plants need water, air, nutrients and support to ensure optimum growth. 

Add 15% of perlite – a volcanic material which helps maintain water – to your compost, or a water retaining jelly (not too much though) to make sure they’re getting enough to drink.  For nutrients, 6 weeks after you’ve used your multi-purpose compost, introduce a liquid feed of a slow release fertilizer to make sure your plants are getting the nutrients they need to thrive!

A Hampton Court Palace gardener pots seeds in the potting shed, early spring 2020. Showing a full pot of soil topped with small seeds

Put a saucer in your hanging baskets

Ever wondered why councils and parks departments only need to water their baskets a couple of times a week, when you have to do yours every day?  The secret is a sump in the bottom of the basket, or trough that holds water.

You can make one too in you own basket. After you have inserted the liner, if you are using one, put an old saucer, ceramic or plastic, or even a plastic lid, at the bottom to retain water, reducing the rate of drainage whilst not drowning your plants too much by over-watering.

Summer bedding flowers close up, including yellow Helianthus, 17 July 2017.

Keep it clean!

Practicing good hygiene is more important to us all now than ever – but it’s a vital technique for a gardener too.  It will help you control pests and disease in your garden.   

My top tip is to always wash pots before you reuse them, in a dilute disinfectant. The easiest way to do this is to fill a large bucket with your disinfectant solution and submerge all your pots in it for a day.  You might need a brush to remove the most stubborn bits! Afterwards – leave them in the sun (if it appears!) to dry.

The Glasshouse Nursery. Showing Garden and Estates team member Stuart Birnie working in the Nursery. Stuart is seen planting seedlings into a tray.

Water regularly

In spring and summer, when plants in pots and containers grow most rapidly, they will need lots of water are growing rapidly they need lots of water, especially if it’s windy!  As a rule of thumb, if the clothes on your line are drying quickly, check your plants too – they might also be losing moisture rapidly!  Use water from a rain butt if at all possible, but if you are using a hose, be gentle, and be careful not to simply wash compost away from the surface of your plant so water simply cannot penetrate.  If you have a large number of pots, you can set up an irrigation system on a timer, but do make sure your plants aren’t being over watered. By watering regularly you prevent the plants from getting stressed which can affect their growth.  

Hillsborough Castle from the top of Yew Tree Walk. A paved terrace surrounded by summer planting in flower beds is in the foreground.

Quick tips

  • Buy the best quality secateurs you can afford - they will last a lifetime.
  • Clean and oil your secateurs regularly
  • Disinfect your secateurs as you move between one plant and the next in the garden to stop spreading disease.
  • Clean and oil all your garden tools regularly
  • When buying garden tools, chose ones of the right size and weight for you. If they are too short, they might hurt your back, and if they’re too long they might not be efficient.  Many are now available with adjustable handles.
  • Invest in the right tool for the job e.g. spring rakes are needed for grass but useless for soil. To prepare a seed bed, you need a fixed head rake - a small 30 or 40cm head will work well in a small areas.  If you want to prepare a lawn, invest in a landscape rake.

Claire Woods, Gardens Manager, Hillsborough Castle and Gardens.