Many first time buyers find themselves with their first-ever garden to call their own… but no idea what to do with it. Here is some inspiration from Annette, whose green fingers have created a beautiful backyard in just 18 months.
When Annette bought the house, the garden could be described charitably as a “blank canvas” – and, less charitably, as an “eyesore”. More a sports pitch than a garden, it featured astroturf, a basketball hoop, a rotting garden shed and a holey fence.
Today, the garden is almost unrecognisable. Where astroturf once lay, there is now a proper lawn. Flowerbeds and plant pots line the edges, the shed is gone, and most importantly – there’s colour. Raised flowerbeds overflow with purple and blue and yellow, and bees buzz around in the sunshine of an afternoon in May.
Luckily, Annette’s prepared to share her gardening secrets.
1. Think about smells
“One of the great things about gardening is that you can appeal to the sense of smell as well as sight,” Annette tells me. For example, in her garden you will find night-scented phlox near the door, which starts to smell in the early evening (and also, conveniently, looks pretty good in the day).
2. Plan how your garden will look year-round
You’ll want a nice mixture of perennials and evergreens and annuals – when buying plants or seeds, think about what flowers and when, or “you’ll end up with a bleak garden for large chunks of the year”. Annette’s orange blossom has already flowered (April-May) but the roses are in full bloom in late May.
3. Consider climbers
Annette advises: “climbers can be a great way to hide ugly walls or fences, and surround yourself with greenery”. Some climbers need support with trellises and sticks, such as clematis. They require careful training to ensure they don’t get too tall and out of control – so tie them to the trellis as they grow, and remember to prune them at the right time, and they can flower beautifully.
Others, such as ivy, are self-clinging. “You have to make sure they don’t destroy pointing in walls, but on the plus side, they can cover up an ugly surface very quickly”.
4. Plant for the long term – but choose some easy, short term plants too
It’s great to plant for the long term – “you could plant trees which will take years and decades to grow, and that brings its own satisfaction”. But, says Annette, “it will be rewarding for a beginner gardener – or in fact any gardener – to get more instant results as well.”
She recommends sweet peas, which smell wonderful and are easy to grow from seed. They need support so it’s best to grow them against a wall or fence, with the use of sticks or a trellis.
And some plants require absolutely no work at all – but are pretty anyway. For example, forget-me-nots are essentially a weed, but can provide an injection of beautiful baby blue.
5. Furnish your garden
Not everything in the garden has to be living and growing. Avoid tacky garden ornaments (no gnomes, says Annette) and think about engaging the senses. Wind chimes can create relaxing sounds (“just test them out in the shop before buying – you don’t want to be stuck with irritating noise”), while coloured glass and mirrors catch and redirect the light.
6. Think about groupings
Annette tells me what you should look out for when grouping plants: “How tall will they be? What colour? When will it flower? What does it smell like? Will they thrive together?”
Creating a grouping like this is complex – these plants were not grown entirely from scratch in 18 months and started life elsewhere. However, “it is always worth a little forethought to make everything work together.”
7. You don’t need a garden to have a garden
It might sound paradoxical, but there’s plenty you can do without a traditional garden. Some herbs such as basil can be grown inside, and pot plants can balance on a windowsill and brighten up a room. The pots themselves needn’t be expensive – as Annette explains, anything with a drainage hole will work.
And that, says Annette, is the joy of gardening: “The great thing about gardening is that there’s always something you can do. You just have to plan ahead and you can make any space look beautiful.”
Images: Eleanor Bley Griffiths