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.
1. Brush up on the Basics
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 fertiliser 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 defence 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 economise 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 favourite garden styles to help inspire you.
Escape to continental Europe and embrace the Mediterranean lifestyle without leaving your back garden. Create your very own sun-soaked space by embracing rich terracotta hues (the more oversized pots the better) and introduce pale gravel pathways, mosaic tiles and plenty of fragrant shrubs such as lavender, rosemary, and thyme. A wooden pergola will provide an atmospheric dining spot for those lighter evenings, and you could create your own rustic outdoor kitchen with a pizza oven and pared-back furniture. Finish the space with a couple of potted olive trees and you’ll wonder if you’ve stepped into sunnier climes.
Create your own quintessential English country garden with the cottage look. A fantastic opportunity to have fun with florals, the best cottage gardens are relaxed yet colourful and always undeniably beautiful. Play with your plants to create a charming space that’s full of character, whether your favourites are softly coloured perennials, foxgloves and hollyhocks or a classic rosebush. Add interest to exposed-brick walls with vertical climbing plants and line meandering cobblestones with white picket fences to keep the bounty of flowers off the pathways. Forget the rules and embrace the beauty - anything goes in your very own secret garden.
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. However, if you want to recreate your own, there are some key things to include to nail the look. Introduce large stones and rocks to symbolise mountains and hills, create a tranquil a water feature to promote a sense of calm and ensure all mosses, trees and plants are meticulously maintained to reflect the shapes of nature. As long as you combine the basic elements of plants, water and rocks, you'll create the sense of calm and tranquility that a Japanese garden is renowned for.
Contemporary gardens are simplistic, sometimes minimalistic, but never boring. The perfect choice if you’re stuck for space, contemporary gardens are low-maintenance and ideal for urban areas. Featuring sleek, clean lines throughout, contemporary gardens typically feature angular raised flowerbeds, built-in planters, modern water features and clean, rendered walls. But the biggest appeal in a contemporary garden is how they come alive at night. Through the use of clever lighting, you can create the perfect spot to while away summer evenings, simply line pathways with spotlights, highlight your favourite plants to create an elegant display or hang festoon lights across a pergola to create the perfect summer dining spot.
Most often associated with grand manor houses and stately homes, the formal garden theme has a few key features that can be adapted to any space, large or small. The most important element? Symmetry. Formal gardens are neat, tidy and always symmetrical. Elegant pathways are typically lined with low hedges, wrought-iron benches are strategically placed so as not to obstruct the landscaping and there is always a focal point, whether this is an oversized fountain or an impressive lounging area that will extend the indoors out. Create the ultimate spot for an al fresco high tea with an ornate furniture set and luxurious soft furnishings. Think luxe wing chairs and tassel-trimmed outdoor cushions. Impeccable and elegant all at once, formal gardens require a little more upkeep, but they’re worth the effort.
Get the Look
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 favourite 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 favourite few.
This spectacularly colourful 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.
For Relaxing in Comfort...
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 favourite 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 grey or green to make the garden appear larger. Bright coloured 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 centre, 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