At Work With: Alice Vincent’s Guide To Gardening

Discover how to get green-fingered with Telegraph journalist and author Alice Vincent’s essential guide to gardening, taken from her book ‘How To Grow Stuff’. Part of our At Work With series. 

Universal Growing Info


While I have managed to grow lots of plants in containers that have very little material added to improve drainage, all plants prefer pots that let excess water drain away and stop their roots from rotting. So if you’re growing in pots, it’s worth adding some stones, rubble or old bits of terracotta plant pot (known as ‘crocks’) in the bottom of them before you fill up with compost or potting soil, which will help the drainage. If you want to use an ornamental pot that doesn’t have any holes in the bottom, you can always plant into a plastic everyday flowerpot that does have holes inside it and hide this within your pretty container. If you are using quirky, unconventional containers to grow in, such as oil cans, get out the drill and make a few holes in the base.


Light And Wamth Is Important

Whether your first seedlings are just popping up, or you’re trying to make something from the garden centre bloom, all of the plants in this book like sunlight. So make room for them on bright windowsills and look for the sunny spots in your garden that they can make their home.



Many beginner gardeners will overwater plants out of love and concern, causing them to wilt (which can inspire more zealous watering) and die. If you’re unsure whether to water, stick a finger in the soil to check. If it feels damp, you don’t need to water. If it feels dry or dusty, you do.


Think About Your Space

Gardening books and pictures online will show beautiful troughs overflowing with flowers and foliage; this idyllic picture is possible to achieve with some varieties and some containers, but if you’re growing vegetables or herbs, expect a more gappy look, as they will need room to spread out and do their thing – namely, making delicious food for you. So, take a good, hard look at your growing space and be realistic about what you can get in there. if you’ve only got a balcony, you’ll need to get large containers to grow vegetables. (Make sure your balcony can handle the weight.) If you have only a windowsill, look out for dwarf varieties of plants. Even if you have a great big garden – you lucky thing – pay attention to which are the sunny and shady bits, and where space can be freed up that is best for what you want to grow.


Keep An Eye On Stuff

Growing becomes addictively rewarding when you start paying a little attention. Before you know it, you’ll be rushing out to tend your plants the minute you get back from work or a holiday. Try to take a look at your lot every day to see how things are doing – this, more than anything, is the best way to learn about your plants and what they need to grow well.


Win! One of 10 Copies of ‘How To Grow Stuff’ by Alice Vincent

We’re giving away 10 copies of ‘How To Grow Stuff’ by Alice Vincent, the no-stress gardening guide for beginners. For your chance to win, tell us what your favourite plant or flower is – and why. Good luck!


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30 Replies to “At Work With: Alice Vincent’s Guide To Gardening”

  1. Thanks for all your lovely entries!
    This competition has now closed and the winners will be notified via email.

    Many thanks,
    Monsoon x

  2. Anne Morrison says:

    I love hellebores! There is so much variety in colour from white to almost black, they are so delicate & grow well in pots on my roof garden I cannot wait for them to flower each year!!??

  3. I love jasmines, the take me right back to my nans garden in Balham in the eighties. The smell is so beautiful and they are so pretty. I’m yet to grow my own though. But I will be soon, once I know how to grow ?????????

  4. Simple roses in blush and peach hues… I would give correct names but I’m a novice only recently lucky enough to have a garden of own.

  5. A sweeping carpet of bluebells in a sun dappled wood. Fleetingly romantic.

  6. My favourite plant is lemon scented pelargonium, I love the way it smells and it’s delicate flowers

  7. My favourite plant is lavender. Probably quite an obvious one really, but i just love the variety of hues you can get from the flowers and foliage, its easy to grow, smells beautiful and the bees absolutely love it!

  8. Mickey Fitzpatrick says:

    I love the Gaura, it is so elegant and moves so beautifully in the breeze, certainly a must in my garden.

  9. Wendy Porritt says:

    By far in the lead for me is the wonderful Pilea Pepermioides; it looks elegant and refined but is amazingly robust and forgiving. An added bonus has got to be the number of babies these beauties produce during the growing season. These mini-me’s just need to be gently sliced off the mothership, left in water for a week or so, and voila! a rooted bonsai babe ready for planting up. The plant that just keeps on giving!

  10. Sharon Wood says:

    Sweet peas are my favourite bloom, easy to grow from seed, will crawl up even the tiniest gap in a fence, all the beautiful colours of the rainbow – including some varigation and a scent that will fill a room; what more can you ask for?! & that’s before I mention if you pick them as they appear, they grow more beautiful blooms for you to pick! Bliss!

  11. marie johnson says:

    Roses at home, roses at my nans, roses in my mum in laws garden and now roses in mine !!!

  12. Ellen Langton says:

    I love chive plants. I have several.I like to watch them sway in the breeze. The flowers are so pretty and elegant. They are bee friendly and also good for sharing or exchanging with friends and neighbours.

  13. Favourite! So difficult to name one but must be the giant allium. Related to my onions in the veg basket. Amazing, surreal and totally addictive. I found them first in a garden in Fort Augustus

  14. Jenifer Melia says:

    For me it’s the Sunflower!?From the very young to the very old how can you not smile when you see a sunflower! From a tiny seed grows an enormous plant which brings sunshine & sheer joy into my garden & my life.

  15. I love the simple daisy. They are an often overlooked flower but they remind me of long lazy days as a child, playing in fields and making daisy-chains.

  16. Patricia Josephine Porter says:

    Loving Sansevieria for a house plant right now and so beautiful and very easy to care for.

  17. Esther Poole says:

    My fav are the yellow courgettes now coming through for the first time this year. So satisfying to be growing my own vegetables now – particularly when you can’t find them in the shops!

  18. My favourite plants are house leaks (or sempervivum). They seem impossible to kill and grow in pretty spirals. There are lots of different types. You can forget to water warm and they love poor, grainy soil conditions. I love the fact they have little babies too!

  19. My favourite is fittonia – beautiful coloured veins in the green leaves. It’s also my favourite because it’s the first plant I ever bought for myself – now I have two of them, and two succulents too! I’m still learning but I love it.

  20. Alice Flanders says:

    Purple peonies are my favourite flowers ?

    1. So many to choose from! I love all lavenders, a wide variety of dailias, my magnolia tree (which flowered this year), flamingo tree for its lovely colourful leaves, my olive tree which sits proudly on the patio, and I adore the different orchids (which I have dotted around the house).

  21. Peter Visnyovszki says:

    My favourite plant are herbs, thyme and oregano in particular, because they not only bring good taste to the meals but they enhance room and garden scents in an unmistakable way.

    I hope my entry for the book is valid as a comment.

  22. Priya Gossain says:

    My favourite is a gerbera. Beautiful flowers in vibrant colours. Perfection! ?

  23. Molly Broughton says:

    My favourite plant is my Croton plant, I got him 5 years ago as a house warming present for my first flat. I’ve been told it’s rare for Croton plants to flower, however ‘Oliver’ (yes I named him) has flowered numerous times over the years. I’m currently travelling Asia and have seen so many large Croton plants that I can’t wait to get home and move him into a bigger pot to see how big he can get! He’s beautiful and I just love the way his leaves start out a rich green and then slowly turn to a deep red. You can’t get better!!

  24. I love lilies because I think they always look very classically beautiful.

    I occasionally hate them as a result of their errant sticky pollen.

  25. Purple Oxalis! Beautiful and I delicate, I love that it has the ability to seemingly come back from being dead.

  26. Nasturtiums are my favourite. They are beautiful to look at, delicious to eat & are useful deterants to stop the slugs & snails chomping on my allotment vegetables! All round great plants.

  27. Great tips, and I definitely agree that growing becomes addictive! My favourite plant is my tomato plant which is my first attempt at growing in my newly-acquired garden. It’s not the biggest or most beautiful but it is the best feeling when all your hard work and dedication pays off and you are rewarded with tasty treats! Can’t wait to grow more inside and outside the house!

  28. Alex Holdsworth says:

    I’ve just discovered Zamioculcas and am loving how green, shiny and tropical the leaves are!

  29. My favourite flower is snow drops, they are beautiful, a sign of spring and remind me of visiting my grandparents – their front garden was a beautiful display of these white beauties.

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