Well, I am trying not to sigh and say OMG too much, I am basically loving this weather and very pleased to have an outdoor space to enjoy it. I was brought up in a flat with a communal garden in London which was fun and I have lived in a couple of flats since, but when we started a family, we made a point of buying a little house with a garden. We then moved to a bigger house, with a bigger garden, both very nice, but it is a lot of work to really get a garden, whatever it’s size, to where you want it.
My new garden is my pride and joy – I am very lucky in our new home to have inherited a stunning scheme at the front from a seriously obsessed plant lover. It is like a very slow firework display: from March onwards flowers and fruits in amazing colours and unexpected fragrances, pop up all over the place, with military precision – certainly not organised by me, but very much appreciated.
Our main task is cutting back the abundant foliage so that we can move around and picking the delicious fruits, including blackcurrants, strawberries, and raspberries. We are making jams, chutneys and crumbles and I am freezing small portions for winter smoothies.
The back, below, needs a little bit of TLC, past owners neglected the back garden, in favour of the front, which has a beautiful woodland outlook. It is more like a drying green with a whirligig and an oil tank, which we will move to create a pretty patio area.
I have had the great privilege of writing about gardens over the years and would like to offer some advice for making the most of your outside space.
A primary issue is budget: major garden makeovers are expensive. You are looking at similar costs to a new kitchen. All the garden designers I spoke to, including Susie Coupar, The Lady Gardener, Tracy Mcque and Nick Burton, all agreed with me that a professional garden design and makeover including the design, the materials, plants and layout might be at least £30,000 for a small to medium sized garden, plus vat. Obviously, it could be more or less, depending on the choices you make, but it is a major undertaking.
They all offer the possibility of just doing the design element. I think this would be an absolutely great thing to get done: your garden would be really transformed, but it would be up to you to do the work of course, but you could do it in your own time…
All the designers I spoke to charged upwards of £1,500 for this service, Tracy Mcque suggested her design fee is typically 10-20% of the overall cost. From a good designer it would include a lot of detail and might be at least a week’s work by them. Beware of designers who charge much less, I would hate you to still pay a few hundred and just receive a quick scribble!
If you do not have that budget, there are lots of things you can do yourself, you just need to do some research and choose achievable solutions.
Here are a few tips from me –
1 Create pretty seating in sunny and shady corners. This is a must, it is an easy way to make a visual statement and a natter with a friend is fun in any weather! I know it sounds obvious, but when my children were small, our first garden was mainly for playing, there was nowhere permanent to sit: we had to pull out deckchairs if we wanted to sit down. I feel I missed a trick and a lot of cups of tea in the sunshine.
2 A firepit and some blankets can keep you going for hours on a chilly evening.
3 Create a herb garden near the kitchen and let them flourish for a while before attacking them. – I always plant herbs and then quickly start using them, but they fail badly if you do that: you need to let them establish themselves first before you can use them really!
4 If you do not have beautiful hard surfaces, a budget improvement is to edge what you do have with something pretty. In our last home we had brutal 1970s council paving, see above, and Douglas heroically lifted the slabs and spaced them and filled the gaps with gorgeous pebbles.
In our new home we have a long tarmac drive, I would love to dig it up and replace it with beautiful cobbles but we won’t, we will leave it, due to budget restrictions, and I am hoping to edge it with beautiful cobbles, instead. This will be a fraction of the price and effort and I honestly think it will look really good: more interesting possibly than pure cobbles.
5 If you want abundant borders and you do not have fabulous soil you need to dig in soil improver – it is a bit like doing up a house, you have to do the boring things first before you can have fun and plant lots of lovely plants and watch them grow – sorry!
6 If you have a trampoline, do make the effort to bury it. We did this in our last home and it made it a lot safer and it is so much less of an eyesore. We got the idea when we photographed the home of garden design Belinda Jarron, owner of Fleurtations many years ago.
7 Be strict with your pots – don’t be too random – decide on a look and stick with it for a unified result.
8 Plant fruits – so fun to make jam and crumbles, we can hardly move for raspberries, strawberries and blackcurrants!
9 If in doubt, plant a tree, a nice way to break up a lawn, small trees such as ornamental pears are decorative and won’t become unmanageable in a domestic garden.
10 Get out and enjoy a good book in the sunshine – don’t work too hard on your garden – that is not the point – bio diversity is all the rage – honestly!
I know my tips are probably quite basic, but you have to start somewhere and I think there is a bit of a mystique about gardens – how are we meant to know all this? You learn as you go along…