Lupins in the sun - pixabay
For some, the idea of developing a garden or green space may fill you with worry about what could go wrong. When gardening, it’s hard to seriously mess things up. Achievement can come in many forms.
Mark Emery against a background of yellow daffodils
Mark Emery, Thrive training and education officer, outside among daffodils

During one of my first experiences using a petrol mower, when working in a private garden, I managed to steer the mower straight into a floral display. What made this all the more impressive is that I went through the box hedge surrounding it. I took out a sizable chunk of that, as well as the many wallflowers and tulips planted within the bed.

What I learned from this (aside from paying attention when operating machinery) was we can correct any mistakes in the garden with a little time and effort. Within six months, the hedge was nearly back to its correct height. With some replanting, the bed looked as if nothing had happened.

We can correct any mistakes in the garden with a little time and effort.

Mark Emery, Training and Education Officer, Thrive

I sometimes allow myself to think of what would need to happen to truly ruin a garden space. I’m still at a loss to think of what, with a little patience and nurture, could not be put right.

We work with plants that have an inbuilt desire to grow. A daffodil bulb will still produce a flower if planted upside down. Tomatoes may fail to fully ripen one year. When you grow more next year, with a little thought and planning, they can do better. Until then, you can make a delicious green tomato chutney with this year's unripe produce!

If you have witnessed buddleia growing out the side of a railway bridge, you will know a plant's need to flourish is undeniable.

Masses of bright yellow sunflowers
Masses of blooming sunflowers

There are a number of things you can do to feel more confident when taking on gardening tasks.

1. Start small

If you’re new to gardening, it may be an idea to make the work you do as manageable as possible. Find tasks that allow you to get as much reward as possible for your initial effort.

Sunflower seeds have a high success rate. Set up some pots filled with good compost and put a sunflower seed in each. Or, you could try growing three different plants to find out which you find you are most able to work with.

Think about growing plants that you have a connection with. That could be herbs you enjoy cooking with, or a houseplant you culturally identify with.

2. Give it time

With many gardening tasks, whether seed sowing or creating a border edge, you may feel frustrated if the results are not what you hoped. But skills develop. The next time you do them, you may find another way that produces greater reward and more satisfying results.

I am naturally a very controlled person … once I do gardening in my own garden, there is a freedom about it. I start to just do what I fancy.

Ursula, Social & Therapeutic horticulture practitioner

3. Missteps can still bring rewards

Sometimes, it can work for the best when you don’t get around to a task.

If you find you fall behind on cutting back some of your finished summer flowers, don’t worry. They will offer some lovely structure to your garden over the winter and wildlife will enjoy the seeds and dead plant material. An unmown lawn is a great habitat for many insects. Ivy left unpruned provides valuable nectar for bees as winter approaches.

Nature is capable of survival without our interference. Outdoor spaces are not demanding of our attention all the time.

4. Every place has its thing

If you have an area of the garden that isn’t thriving, you might be thinking of giving up on it altogether. Before you do that, think about what plants may be best suited to that space.

An area of poor-quality soil will be perfect for wildflowers to grow. A spot that lacks sunlight will provide a perfect spot for ferns or hellebores. For specific advice, try reading seed packets, the internet or ask a friendly member of staff at a garden centre.

Fun fact

A study into rose pruning took place at the Gardens of the Rose, St Albans. Some rose bushes were pruned using secateurs and traditional horticultural techniques and others with a hedge trimmer. All rose bushes produced similar amounts of flowers.

5. Gardening is a journey

There will not be a day when you finish working on a garden and consider it ‘done’. Gardens are ever transforming. We can allow ourselves to move along with the spaces we work in and imprint a little of ourselves within them.

There is no final destination, but a continuous journey of learning and chance of accomplishment. No green space is set in stone (unless it’s a rockery!). Because of this, there is always opportunity for development and change.

Snake plant in a green pot on top of a grey wall
Snake plant also known as mother-in-law's tongue


  • Snake plant / mother-in-law’s tongue. It needs little water and can handle shade
  • ZZ plant / Zanzibar gem. It also needs little water. The leaves may need the odd clean


  • Sunflower. It lives for one year and offers plenty of impact
  • Fuchsia. It can be cut back hard every winter, or left to become a bigger shrub

In the veg patch

  • Radish. A classic veg to practice your seed sowing skills
  • Nasturtium. It spreads easily around the garden and you can eat the flowers

Help us continue to make gardening accessible for all. Make a donation to Thrive today. Thank you.

Make a donation

Sign up to receive gardening inspiration and tips to get the most out of your own gardening space, and improve your health and wellbeing at the same time