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Let’s go outside

So you want a nice garden but think a magnolia is a paint colour and a weed is an illegal substance. Fear not, there’s hope for you…

Everyone wants a beautiful outdoor space to enjoy once the sun is shining, but for many people, the thought of tackling their overgrown, unfriendly looking garden can fill them with dread.

But if you take each job a step at a time, you’ll soon be the proud owner of what can be seen as an extension to your living space. So, where do you start? Firstly, you need to sit down and work out what you like about your garden and what you dislike, so you can decide which bits to keep and which bits to change and adapt. Next, think about what you want your garden to end up like and what you intend to use it for. For example, if you want it for the kids, there may not be much point in filling it with pretty flowers and shrubs. Perhaps keep these to one side and leave a large space that you can then design for the children. Also, consider whereabouts in the garden you get most of the sunshine as this will help you to plan the different areas. Once you have mapped out in your head which areas to focus on, it’s time to tidy up the areas you want to keep.

This is obviously one of the main things that can make a garden look unkempt and untidy. However, it really is simple to uplift your outside space by just getting rid of these nuisance plants. You can pull out as many as you can using a small hand fork and your hands (wearing garden gloves of course), and for any that are difficult or too time-consuming to take care of by hand, you can get a spray-on weedkiller that will do the job for you. Next, uncover any paths or stepping stones that may have become hidden before cutting and trimming back overgrown hedges, rose bushes and shrubs. Obviously, if you haven’t done this already, mowing the lawn and trimming the edges using a lawn trimmer will make the garden look instantly tidy. Celebrity gardener Charlie Dimmock says: ‘Weeding is no sweat if you don’t wait till the weeds have grown so big you need to take a fork or a trowel to them, instead of whizzing through quickly with the hoe. ‘Weed regularly and then sit back and enjoy your summer garden.’

Put the pressure on
Wash down any outside window sills and give them a coat of paint if necessary before getting your hands on a pressure washer to blitz dirt away from slabs, tiles or concrete. You’ll be amazed at the difference this makes.

Plan and prepare for planting
Many people know nothing about plants and flowers, but still manage to keep a pretty garden. The secret? Choose, easy-to-grow varieties that are simple to maintain. However, before you start, everyone’s favourite gardener Alan Titchmarsh, says it is also crucial that you understand the conditions in your garden. ‘Before you can grow anything, you need to know what sort of conditions you have. Then you can choose plants that are suited to them. Don’t waste money on plants that will hate your environment. Find out what sort of soil you have, how much light there is and what the prevailing weather conditions are.’

  • Hostas These little gems need a little sunlight but don’t mind the shade either. They will grow anywhere and are very low-maintenance.
  • Aloe If you’re not one for watering plants often and want just more than flowers, choose aloe. It likes outdoor sunshine but will also thrive indoors.
  • Camellias These colourful plants will serve you well for several years if shown just a little bit of care. Just be sure to plant them where they won’t be exposed to the scorching sun for too long as that will damage them.
  • Geraniums There’s no wonder why geraniums are one of the most popular flowers around. They are slug resistant and low maintenance. 

The top six summer garden tools
Make light work of gardening by choosing and using the right tools for the task. Here’s our guide to the essentials, and what you might need them for…

Whether you have a few pots or an acre of land, caring for your garden requires the correct tools. For small gardens, the basics – a fork, spade, trowel, hoe, secateurs and watering can – may suffice, while for larger gardens, you’ll need to add shears, pruners, a rake, hosepipe and a wheelbarrow to the list. And, if you have a lawn, a lawnmower.

1 Forks and spades
Hand forks are very useful in confined areas and are ideal for lifting small plants and loosening soil when weeding. A standard fork, with a long neck, allows you to use your foot on the top of the metal prongs for better leverage and deeper digging when lifting larger plants from below their roots. Hand forks from £5 to £10; standard forks from £7 to £40.

2 Trowels
A wide-bladed trowel is good for digging holes for small plants or bulbs. Narrow-bladed trowels are good for very confined areas, such as a rock garden. From £5 to £10.

3 Hoes
Ideal for weeding and aerating the soil. There are several varieties but the traditional Dutch hoe is perfect for weeding between plants. It removes surface weeds while leaving plant roots untouched. The Dutch hoe should be pushed back and forth across the soil’s surface, with the blade parallel to the ground. The handle of the hoe should be long enough that you can remain almost upright when using it, therefore reducing back strain. From £5 to £30.

4 Rakes
There are two types of rake: garden rakes which are used for levelling and breaking up soil before you do any planting and lawn rakes, which are used to remove dead leaves from the grass and to scarify the lawn. Garden rakes have strong, metal heads with short, wide, rounded teeth, ideal for soil preparation and general garden tidying. Lawn rakes have light heads, so as not to damage young grass shoots, with flexible tines made from plastic, metal or wire, and all ideal for gathering up leaves, moss and other garden debris. From around £6 to £28.

5 Shears
Useful for clipping and shaping bushes and hedges and good for cutting thick shoots, as one blade tends to have a notch to hold the shoot in place.
From £5 to £35.

6 Hoses and watering cans
If you have a small garden, you’ll probably find a can sufficient for watering while in larger gardens a hose will make the job easier and less time-consuming. Plastic watering cans are lighter than metal ones, and just as hardwearing. If you have a greenhouse, invest in a greenhouse watering can which has a long spout, designed to reach right to the back of the benches. A hose reel with a handle or wheel makes the hose easier to move around. Make sure the hose is long enough to reach all parts of your garden. If you have a large number of plants, try a hose end attachment with a trigger-action nozzle to give either a jet or a spray. Hose from £15 to £90; watering can from £2 to £15.

Tone it up outdoors
Make the neighbours go green by adding colour to your garden
Rich, vibrant hues in your outside space will not only give it a personal personal stamp, different colours are able to give your garden different moods. They can also make the actual space seem bigger or smaller than it is. The good news is that you don’t need to be an expert gardener – it’s very easy if you know how…

Create the mood

  • Green and brown are the colours of nature so create a great backdrop.
  • As a delicate colour, pink will add a feminine touch to your garden. Pink roses are the obvious choice and teamed up alongside silvery-grey plants, they look even prettier.
  • If the garden is where you retreat to for peace and quiet, add blue plants or paint a garden building, such as a shed, blue. Too much though, and it may get too cold…
  • For drama, and to make lighter colours stand out, use black. Use sparingly though, or you could create a depressing atmosphere.
  • If you want the outdoors to laugh with you, add yellow using bright, sunny flowers such as sunflowers.

Gardening on a budget
It’s all well and good being excited about giving your garden a makeover and rushing off to DIY stores to buy the latest plants, paints, slabs and garden tools, but if you’re not careful and you don’t plan well, it could turn out to cost quite a bit of money too. If you set out with a budget in mind, it’s easier to decide on what you really need. After all, a lush summer garden needs more love and care than wads of cash thrown at it. Follow our fool-proof tips…

  • Don’t buy what you don’t need Things always look like good buys when you’re in a garden centre, especially items that are on sale. But if you really, really don’t need the wind chimes and family of gnomes, look away!
  • Shop around The same item can vary wildly in price, so shop around on the internet and try to buy an item that you need when it is on sale. When shopping online, also bear in mind shipping costs. If you can pick the product up from your local store, save yourself some pounds on delivery charge.
  • Don’t pay for compost if you can help it Many councils have schemes that offer compost free to residents so see if you can get some without having to pay. It’ll save you a small fortune over the summer period, but it’s usually on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Try and get second-hand tools Check your local newspaper’s classified ads to see if you can get used tools at bargain bucket prices. Or, you could use a hire shop, say for hiring a pressure washer for the day if you don’t want to buy one.

Pictures: getty images

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