Most of us know what it’s like moving into a new house. You came to see it when it was in full swing as someone else’s home and it feels very different when you take your first steps into it as the proud new owner. The seemingly vacuous rooms that seem much bigger than they did when you were shown around now, without furniture, echo like empty vessels. The small flourishes that gave it the character you fell for are gone and now your job is to put your own touches on the walls and surfaces. These are, of course, exciting times, full of promise and opportunity. You may have Farrow & Ball shades in mind for the walls, perhaps a pair of Laura Ashley curtains in the living room or new John Lewis carpets on the floors. Whatever is in your head as you sit among the boxes and take stock of your new place, this is a blank canvas on which you will create a future filled with memories that are inextricably linked to these four walls. The one thing that is probably much as you remember it will be the garden and in some ways that poses a more interesting challenge: if the garden is mature then starting afresh probably isn’t either a viable or sensible option: it’ll be expensive and will involve lots of hard work to rid the landscape of established trees and shrubs.
But the garden will be as much part of your individual stamp as any of the rooms inside. More than that, what you do with the outdoor space could have a material effect on the value of the house should you come to sell it.
So what can you do quickly, easily and inexpensively to start to transform your home’s ‘extra room’ into something that reflects your personal tastes.
There’s a wise old saw, usually applied to business but equally applicable here, that says before you do anything, do nothing.
If you asked them, most gardeners would advise you to wait a full year before you make any significant changes. That way you can see the garden through all the seasons and will know through experience what works and what doesn’t.
But if you can’t wait …
Make a plan!
Tempting though it may be to take a pair of shears or secateurs in hand and get stuck in, cutting back plants and shrubs without having some idea of what you’re trying to achieve could end in disaster.
If you really can’t wait a year to get going then identifying established plants will help you to know what you want to keep and what needs to go (and if you’ve moved in during the autumn or winter, it’s always worth Googling what the plants will look like in flower or bud before you pass sentence).
Similarly, having a plan will allow you to consider where features like new paths, ponds, patios or ornaments will go.
There are a hundred and one things that can be usefully done in any sized garden. Weeding overgrown areas may reveal hidden treasures that will bring a splash of colour at unexpected times of year.
And remember the wisdom of an anonymous gardening forefather (or foremother) who observed that ‘a weed is simply a plant that’s in the wrong place’. If you like it, keep it.
Prepare the soil in advance of planting. This may mean turning it over, digging in mulch or fertiliser or treating any acidity.
Get the lawn right!
Every garden looks better with a well-maintained lawn, so spend some time and effort returning the grass to a health state. This could mean some TLC in the form of scarifying, feeding or watering, digging out moss, levelling uneven areas – or a mixture of all of those things.
If you like having a lawn (not everybody does) then it’s the part of the garden that will set off the vibrant vernal, summer and autumnal colours of your plants, so it’s worth doing what you can to ensure it looks its best.
Once everything is prepared, it’s time to plant up. Take note of the planting guide and instructions on the label that comes with the plant. Plan your explosion of colour down to the last petal for the full effect. And then wait until everything’s in bloom to enjoy the fruits of your labours.
Looking after your garden is about more than simply having a personal space to relax in. Done well, it can also add real value to your property’s kerb appeal, too.
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