Creating a beautiful garden is hard work. There’s pruning, planting, sowing, mowing, raking, watering and digging to do – and that’s just in one season. Discover our top tips to help make your gardening more of a pleasure and less of a chore. Whether you’re looking to update your garden accessories, redesign your small garden into something extra special, or be inspired by world-renowned garden designers, our 7 secrets will have something for everyone.
Understand the importance of basic seasonal gardening and reap the rewards of a beautiful garden all year round.
Spring is the time to allow your garden to flourish and first on the agenda should be a thorough clean-up of any winter debris. Rake your lawn, sweep dead leaves and tackle any weeds. It will be much easier to remove young weeds with smaller roots at this stage in the year. Check your plants for any signs of frost damage early on in the season to combat insects and fungi.
To ensure the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, devote some time to your lawn. Spring is the time to do your first mow of the year, and this should be regularly maintained to keep your lawn healthy and under control. Consider introducing a lawn fertilizer in spring to tackle weeds and moss.
Spring is a great time to start your own compost heap. Collect plant debris and old leaves and add these to your compost pile or bin. Chopping up the debris speeds up decomposition. Ensure you add equal amounts of green and brown material in your compost heap to keep the carbon:nitrogen ratio balanced.
With any luck, the summer months will bring about plenty of warm sunshine for us to enjoy – but make sure your plants don’t suffer in silence. Water your flowers, plants and baskets thoroughly throughout the season. Wherever possible, collect rainwater and use this to feed your plants.
With rising temperatures it becomes important to protect your soil. Use mulches to cover cultivated beds. Mulches can be natural or man-made, and do an excellent job in retaining soil moisture.
Another summer challenge is the increase in pests. Check your plants regularly for any signs of pest attack, especially aphids and caterpillars. Wherever possible, the best form of defense is to remove the insects by hand. Only 3% of bugs and insects are considered pests, so this prevents harming the helpful bugs.
Autumn is the time to prepare your garden before the harsh onslaught of winter. Rescue tender pot plants from the first frosts by bringing them inside or placing them in a sheltered spot. Prepare beds or other sensitive plants by covering with brushwood or leaves or similar. Rake dead leaves from your lawn regularly to prevent any rotting.
Hedges should be pruned for the last time in autumn to keep them compact and bushy throughout winter. Be careful not to over-prune as any gap in the hedge will remain until spring, making your winter garden particularly bare.
Autumn is the perfect season to plant evergreens. These trees will keep your garden looking full and structured all year round, so plant as many evergreens as you can while the autumn soil remains warm. Consider introducing Daphne shrubs in autumn. Their small but fragrant flowers are well-known for appearing in winter and early spring, when little else is able to grow in your garden.
Winter is the time to think about trees for your garden. People think trees are ‘dangerous’, and often cut them down when they buy a new home. But all gardens, however small, should have at least one tree to add structure and privacy, give wildlife a shelter and break up the buffeting winds. It’s extremely rare for trees to cause any problem to either buildings or people.
If you have a tree that is too big, prune it in winter rather than cutting it down. Use a trained tree surgeon – don’t economize by using someone whose only interest in trees is chain-sawing them down. A mature tree gives a garden a sense of texture and takes years to mature, so you won’t be able to replace it.
If you’re planting trees, November to March is best. They should be planted three-quarters of their eventual height away from the house. The easiest and most beautiful trees for small gardens include silver birch, Acer griseum (paperbark maple) and Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ (ornamental pear).
2. Give Your Garden Some Style
While not essential, deciding on a specific style or theme when designing your garden can help tie your efforts together and ensure your garden looks the best it can be. Here are our favorite garden styles to help inspire you.
Bring a little bit of continental Europe into your back garden and embrace the Mediterranean lifestyle. Think rich terracotta, azure blues and plenty of texture and you’re on the way to creating a perfect Mediterranean-inspired space to relax. Be sure to include:
- Fragrant shrubs – lavender, rosemary and thyme are popular
- Mismatched unglazed terracotta pots – the more the merrier
- Mosaics and tiling
- Olive trees
Cottage gardens provide a fantastic opportunity to have fun and experiment in your garden. The best cottage garden is relaxed and colorful yet undeniably beautiful. There are no hard and fast rules, though these features often appear:
- Mixture of many different plants – wild flowers, traditional perennials, fruits, vegetables and native trees and shrubs all appear side-by-side
- Pastel colors and fragrant plants, like lavender or roses
- Picket fences
- Curving pathways
Every element of the traditional Japanese garden is carefully constructed to inspire ultimate relaxation and meditation. A true Japanese garden is notoriously difficult to master; it has been claimed only 100–200 exist in the world. Plenty of inspiration can be taken from this style however, including:
- Water features - believed to have a calming effect
- Large stones and rocks - symbolizing mountains and hills
- Mosses, trees and plants - meticulously maintained to reflect the shapes of nature
Contemporary gardens are simplistic, sometimes minimalistic, but never boring. Many contemporary outdoor spaces are low-maintenance and are commonly used in urban gardens where space is limited. Features include:
While sadly not everyone can have a garden as large as this, there are many ways to recreate the formal garden look at home. Some of the best, easy to replicate features of formal gardens include:
- Pathways – typically lined with low hedges
- Straight lines and geometrical shapes
- Traditional flowers and colors
- A focal point – this could be anything from an impressive fountain, prominent tree or a wrought-iron bench
3. Small Garden Ideas
Space is often at a premium, even in the garden. Don't neglect your outdoor space just because it is on the small side. Here are three of our favorite tips that prove bigger is not necessarily more beautiful.
Think carefully about the different uses you have for your garden, then break the space down into sections accordingly. Not only will this add interest to your garden’s aesthetics, but moving from space to space makes your space feel bigger and more exciting. Something as simple as a low hedge or arch can be a perfect space divider.
4. Simple Garden Ideas
Re-designing your garden is not as expensive or complicated as it might appear. Often, the best and cheapest ways to inject some life into your outdoor space are the simplest.
Think about decluttering your garden to free up space for the things that matter? A spring clean of your garden costs you nothing except your time. Why not invest in some good quality outdoor storage pieces to make the task easier?
Perfect the Patio
5. Take Inspiration From Others
Across the world, there are some truly beautiful gardens. Get inspired and have a look at a selection of our favorite few.
This spectacularly colorful garden is found in Holland, and is famed for showcasing only one category of plants – spring flowering bulbs. As a result, the Keukenhof Gardens are only open for a few weeks each year, usually from mid-March to mid-May, but they attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year nonetheless. With acres of scented hyacinths, crocuses and anemones, there’s a reason this garden is the most visited in Europe.
Four Seasons Garden
The Butchart Gardens
6. Don't Forget the Accessories
Your hedges are perfectly manicured, the lawn is bouncy and green and your flowers are in full bloom. Add a selection of garden accessories to put the finishing touches to your beautiful garden.
7. Think Outside the Box
A selection of garden experts explain some of their more unusual gardening tips. Introduce these quirky tricks to solve many of your gardening woes.
Tackle Pesky Slugs with Slugs
My favorite tip has to be making homemade slug killer that is both wildlife and environmentally friendly – made using slugs! Just gather up a load of slugs in a bucket and add some water and some vegetation and then seal ensuring there are small air holes and then simply leave to brew for a couple of weeks. When it’s ready, strain the water off into a bucket/watering can and top up with tap water and then pour over the garden
Nadine Pierce – A Pentland Garden
Plant in Odd Numbers
When planting, try to plant that single variety of plant in groups of 3, 5 or 7. Then put an occasional one of the same type in the border. It looks rhythmic and natural
Sam Wescott - Garden Designer
Don't Bin Your Coffee Grounds
Rather than throw away your coffee grounds, add them to your compost heap as they contain nitrogen and other nutrients which will improve your soil and feed plants. You can also use them as a mulch directly on the soil, especially around acid-loving plants such as blueberries.
Louise Curley - Welly Woman
Paint or stain boundaries in dark, flat gray or green to make the garden appear larger. Bright colored flowers in front of them look stunning.
Oliver Borrow - Borrowed Space
Preserve Your Garden Tools
After cleaning dirt off garden implements, dip and store them in a bucket with a mixture of oil and sand which will help finish cleaning and preserve them from rust.
Helping the Hedgehogs
Design hedgehog openings into your fences and walls to allow the little creatures to pass through your garden. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll catch a glimpse of them on the move, but you’ll definitely be helping them on their journey through town and ultimate survival.
Give Your Garden a Quick Refresh
Get two of the biggest pots you can – often people are giving these away on Freecycle – and plant with happy annuals and maybe a dahlia, which should be going cheap at the garden center, and water them religiously. Locate your pots on either side of the door or somewhere else they’ll be symmetrical, then give the lawn a good cut and trim its edges.
If you have a little more budget, tidy up the part of the garden where the sun hits, or where you’re most likely to sit and relax, whether that’s breakfast time or after work, and treat yourself to some great quality garden furniture. I keep a vase of flowers on the table outside: it encourages me to go sit there! Don’t forget to visit great gardens for inspiration – you can spread your garden rejuvenation project over a few years.
Sheila Averbuch - The Stopwatch Gardener