10 steps to a better garden

Now is a good time to stop dreaming and get digging and watch young plants grow and blossom into a beautiful garden by summer. Getting your plot into good shape need not be hard work – in fact, creating and caring for your garden is a hugely enjoyable pastime and a great way to wind down after a hectic day

Get an idea

When creating a garden from scratch you must first decide on how are you going to use it. You’ll need to plan for all your family requirements as well as beautiful plant-packed borders – everything from place to play, entertain, relax and eat plus hang out the washing and store the dustbin out of sight.  The sensible starting point is therefore, to choose a style of garden that reflects your personality and decorate and furnish it accordingly, just as you would a home.

This Chelsea garden designed by Cleve West for the Daily Telegraph Won Best in Show in 2011 

Garden Shows like Chelsea showcase some of the best designs from the world’s best designers and are a great source of inspiration. Cleve West, for the Daily Telegraph in 2011, designed this great garden that has been a source of inspiration for me. I was particularly impressed by his planting scemes and especially the shadier beds at the rear of the garden where he created some magical plant associations like the green umbel flowers of angelica and Mathiasella bupleuroides partnered with spiny acanthus, white-flowered libertia, self-seeding mauve-flowered Geranium pyrenaicum Bill Wallis, and the dwarf tufted hair grass Deschampsia caespitosa. Under the trio of columns there was a simple carpet of bronze-leafed Acaena microphylla, punctuated with more red Dianthus cruentus in a bed of gravel.

Aim to add at least one focal point – it could be a simple bench or a structural feature such as a pergola. To learn more about garden design consider booking on one of the courses and workshops taking place at the Adam Frost Garden School near Stamford, Lincolnshire – www.adamfrost.co.uk 

PHOTO: At the Chelsea Flower Show 2013, the Homebase show garden, which was designed by BBC Gardeners’ World presenter, Adam Frost, was awarded a gold medal.

Assess the site

To start with measure the garden and draw the plot to scale on graph paper

On your plan, include measurements of all doors, windows and down pipes on house walls, mark the boundaries and permanent features such as sheds, trees and existing flowerbeds. Spend a day in your garden and watch how the sun moves across the space and mark the shady and sunny spots on the plan so that when buying plants you can select those that will grow well.

Clear the ground

The fewer chemicals you use in the garden, the better for the environment, so ideally clear weeds and scrubby plants by hand. If absolutely necessary, use a weed killer such as Westland Resolva 24H, which has the speed of a contact weed killer and the deep-root killing ability of a systemic weed killer. When tending your borders, also aim to dig out every scrap of weed roots and large stones from areas of soil that are to be cultivated. Rake soil level and firm the ground before laying a lawn and fluff up the soil in flowerbeds to relieve compaction and allow water to percolate deep into the lower layers.

Improve the soil

No matter what soil type you have, most plants will benefit from it being enriched with well-rotted garden compost or manure. Light soils especially will become more fertile as the bulky organic matter improves the soil so that it acts more like a sponge and holds onto moisture and nutrients. Heavy soils will also drain more easily if treated this way and can be further improved by incorporating sharp grit when digging. Dig over the beds to the depth of one spade blade, adding plenty of soil conditioner or homemade garden compost as you go and plants will romp away. You’ll only need to dig borders once, that is unless you’re growing vegetables, so put the effort in now for lasting results.

Plant like a pro

An easier way to create a garden is to buy ready-grown plants – you simply dig a hole and plonk them in the ground for an instant border

If you lack confidence when it comes to arranging plants, check out ‘ready made border schemes. The ‘Bohemian border’ (above) from Bakker.com is colourful and daring, combining perennials that can be cut for the vase too.
They offer 2 different size schemes – the Bohemian Border Medium (approx. 1 x 2 m) £44.95 and Bohemian Border Large (approx. 1.5 x 3 m) £99.95


Pick the plants. Aim to add interest to your garden all year round. It can be easily done, by visiting the garden centre every month to pick out your favourite feature plants of the season. Include evergreens in your planting schemes to provide colourful foliage in the winter months, use plants such as roses and clematis to cover walls or fences and train over arches and pergolas for cover and colour. Don’t overlook fragrance when planning your garden – plants such as lavender, jasmine, honeysuckle, lilac and wisteria provide a sensual treat. For the most effective plant combinations, arrange your planting in three tiers using shrubs, perennials and ground hugging plants and select for a variety of colour, texture and form.

If you’re an adventurous beginner, you can get a head start on the growing season by sowing seeds indoors before the last frost date. Some plants, such as the hardy annuals like this bee-friendly mix £1.95 from www.kingsseeds.com, are easier to grow from seed. You can sow them directly in the garden where you want them to flower. Be sure to read the seed packet for information of when to plant, how deep to plant, and how far apart to plant the seeds

Water it well

What plants need immediately after planting is a thorough soaking and especially if you’re planting in dry weather. Always water in the evening or early morning, when less water will be lost through evaporation and put down a deep layer of mulch around plants to conserve moisture at the roots. In hot spots select drought-loving plants such as lavender, ornamental grasses and thick-leaved sedums that can survive on the minimum of care. Saving rain water in a water butt is an excellent way of cutting down on the amount of expensive, metered mains water you use.

Automatic or manually operated sprinklers keep your lawn and garden looking colourful and healthy, even during the hottest days of summer.

To determine if your garden needs watering, inspect the soil at a spade’s depth. If the soil feels damp, there is unlikely to be any need to water, but if it is dry, then watering is probably required for plants that produce lots of lush growth. Light watering may encourage surface rather than deep roots, leaving plants more susceptible to drought. Always try to water in the cool of the evening or the very early morning, so that less water is lost immediately to evaporation. Be aware that you can only use a hosepipe and sprinkler system when there isn’t a drought and hosepipe ban. The most important thing when setting up your sprinkler, is to determine how much water your sprinkler delivers per hour. To do this, set out several empty pots around your garden and run your sprinkler for 20 minutes. Measure the average depth in the pots and multiply this number by 3 to find out how many inches your sprinkler delivers in an hour.

Banish weeds

Weeds are unwelcome plants that are generally seen as the enemy and blamed for stealing water and nutrients from the soil, robbing their neighbours of light and playing host to delinquent pests and diseases. Gardeners know that if they are ignored, they usually ‘take over’ and create ‘eyesores’, so it’s important that they are destroyed.

Regular weed control is a necessary evil if you want to maintain your beautiful garden’s good looks

It’s important to get to know your weeds, then use as many labour-saving tricks as is possible to discourage them. A swift push of the hoe or squirt of weed killer might be considered the first line of attack but this slap dash approach can be time wasting, damaging to wildlife and expensive. It’s far more effective to get to know your enemy, understand how they tick and then find the most effective control.

In spring, germinating weeds are an indication that the soil is warm enough to start sowing flower and vegetable seeds outside. Routine hoeing when the seedlings are small can be effective for annual weeds as can pulling them out by hand and your haul can be put in the compost bin. Stick to the old adage “pull when wet and hoe when dry” and you won’t go far wrong.

You will more or less cut out the need to weed by covering bare soil between plants with a deep layer of mulch and by planting through perforated polythene. The soil of new beds should be covered entirely with a planting membrane and then holes cut for planting. The sheet can be effectively disguised with chipped bark or gravel.

Feed for flowers

When you pack a lot of plants into a limited space they’ll soon gobble up any available nutrients in the soil and even if you fertilised with growmore or bonemeal at planting time, so it’s essential to feed them at least once a year. A controlled-release fertiliser applied in early spring will nourish plants for the entire season and because they are temperature-sensitive they only work when plants are growing and need feeding so there is no waste.

Tonic or liquid feeds are a quick pick-me-up and are useful for struggling plants as well as those growing in containers. Use a watering can fitted with a fine rose for applying the feed and choose fertilisers that are high in nitrogen (N) to boost leafy growth and ones that are higher in potassium (P) and potash (K) for flowers

Keep things shipshape

Once your new plants really get growing they’ll start jostling for space, and it could be time to exert a little tough love. Keeping plants pruned regularly and neatly trained onto supports will save you time and energy in the long run, as well as ensuring that your plants live longer and perform better.

Routine jobs such as cutting the grass is also less of a chore if done regularly, so remember, “little and often” is the key to maintaining a beautiful garden. How often you’ll need to mow though, will depend on the weather – maybe twice a week in warm, wet weather and as little as once a fortnight in hot, dry weather.


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