Wanting to make the most of your garden? Gardening Editor at the guardian, Jane Perrone, gives us her top tips for sprucing up the garden, showing you how to best make use of your home improvement loan
You've revamped the kitchen, given the lounge a lick of paint and spring-cleaned the cupboards, but tackling the garden after the long winter months can daunt even the most green-fingered of us. But now's the perfect time to spruce up your outside space: and it isn't hard, provided you follow a few simple rules.
First, it's time for a tidy-up: a scattering of children's toys, a hosepipe snaking all over the lawn and fallen branches from the last storm aren't just unsightly, they're a trip hazard! If you don't have anywhere to store outside equipment, make yourself a simple "sling space" by erecting a trellis panel in a corner of the garden 1m or so away from the fence, then you can hide away toys and equipment easily at the end of the day.
Create the illusion of space
Next, jazz up your boundaries. A badly-painted fence or an unsightly wall will make your garden look tired, but a coat of paint and a covering of climbing plants will transform the space. Most of us opt for boring green or brown when it comes to fences, but if you want to brighten up a small, shaded space, opt for a light colour that will reflect light back into the garden - try 'Pale Jasmine' from Cuprinol's Garden Shades range. If you want to make a fence "disappear", here's a trick - paint it black: this may sound an odd colour, but it really works.
Add interest with edible screens!
Adding climbing plants to any vertical in your garden adds interest and doubles your growing space: for foliage, try the green and cream-leaved wall shrub Euonymus 'Silver Queen'; if you’d like something a bit more colourful, try pyracantha, with its white flowers in early summer followed by jolly red or orange berries. Or make an edible screen by growing mini pumpkins (try 'Munchkin' from Sarah Raven) or pretty purple mangetout (try 'Shiraz' from Thompson & Morgan) up some trellising or wires attached to a sunny wall or fence.
From garden gloves to tough trowels – the right tools are essential
It's also worth rooting through your shed or tool cupboard to check whether you are kitted out for the job. A good pair of gardening gloves is vital - the RHS advises wearing gloves whenever you deal with soil, compost, fertilisers or pesticides. I love my Showa Floreo 370 gloves - they are lightweight yet strong, and you can sling them in the washing machine when they're dirty. And invest in a decent trowel and hand fork, too: you may save yourself a few pounds on a cheap set, but you'll be paying out to replace them within a year or two, whereas decent tools with stainless steel heads and wooden handles should come with a long product guarantee - try Burgon and Ball or Sneeboer - which start from around £40.
Finally, if you've thought about growing your own but don't know where to start, try making a herb bed in a sunny spot close to the back door. Herb plants can be bought at garden centres: start off with sage, fennel, rosemary, parsley and chives, and add lovage, sorrel and lemon thyme if you are feeling adventurous. Dig over the soil and remove any weeds, adding some grit as you go, then add your plants and water them in well. Before you know it you'll be popping outside to snip a few leaves as you cook.
Sit back, relax and enjoy
Once all the work is done, make sure you have the right outdoor furniture in place to sit and enjoy the garden. For courtyard gardens, you can't beat a folding bistro set that can be packed away when the sun has gone in. In larger spaces, the newest trend is furniture that looks like rattan but is actually made from weather-resistant resin that will stay looking good for years, whatever the weather throws at it. If you prefer wood, look for products with the FSC stamp of approval, meaning the wood has been ethically sourced. Prices range from £150 for a simple table and chairs to over £5000 for a wooden gazebo set up - the perfect way to relax and enjoy the atmosphere of your garden.
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