Wednesday, 23 December 2009

How to Make the Most of Your Winter Armchair Gardening

The cold, dark days of winter force even the keenest gardeners to retreat indoors, but there are still lots of gardening jobs to be done from the comfort of your fireside. Here are some of them:

Now is the time to look through seed and plant catalogues and decide what you want to grow next year. The old favourites? Exciting new hybrids? Most people choose some of each. Don’t be seduced by the beautiful photos of perfect specimens. Read the descriptions carefully to check size, flowering season and any special growing requirements to be sure the new plants will fit in and thrive.

Whether you are looking forward to starting a new garden, or want to improve an existing one, winter is a good time to sit down with paper and pencil – or garden design software – and explore the possibilities of your plot. When foliage has died down, and the leaves are off deciduous trees and shrubs, it’s easier to see the main shapes and lines in your garden.

When you are busy working in the garden you tend to concentrate on the details and forget to stand back and look at the whole. View it from different windows in the house or wrap up warm and look at it from the road. Pretend you are seeing it for the first time. Note which areas are interesting and attractive, and which could do with being altered.

If your new design is going to mean more heavy work than you can manage yourself, or you’re not sure of the best way to put your ideas into practice, ask the advice of a professional landscape gardener who will be happy to visit and give you a free, no obligation consultation.

Start a diary
Begin the New Year with a gardening diary. You can buy a specially designed diary or make your own from an ordinary hardback notebook. Your entries can be as simple or detailed as you like, but recording seed sowing times, when and where you planted different species, which varieties flourished and which were disappointing, will all provide a source of useful information for future years.

Teach yourself
The fascinating – and sometimes frustrating – thing about gardening is that you never stop learning. There are always new plants, tips and techniques to discover. Do you have a pile of gardening magazines that you’ve collected over the past year but haven’t had time to read properly? Settle down now and catch up with what you missed. If you were given a book token for Christmas, treat yourself to a book on a gardening subject that particularly interests you, or visit your local library and borrow a whole armful of books!

However you spend the dreary winter days don’t get too comfy in that armchair. Before you know it, the spring bulbs will be pushing through the snow and it will be time to get back to work!

How to Choose the Best Path for Your Garden

Many people walk up and down their garden paths without paying much attention to them – unless they notice a wobbly slab or weeds growing through the cracks. If your paths are past their best, or no longer suit the way you use your garden, why not consider some new ones?

A good garden path needs to be functional, but it should also be attractive and an important feature in the overall design of the garden. When planning where to put a path, and deciding which materials to use, ask yourself the following questions:

How much will it be used?
A path from the street to your front door will need to stand up to more traffic than one between flowerbeds in the back garden.

Is it in the right place?
Do you have a path around the perimeter of your garden that is rarely used because it’s quicker to walk across the lawn? Lay paths, or stepping-stones, where people are actually going to use them.

Does it complement the style of your house and garden?
Straight concrete or slab paths suit formal gardens but look out of place in a woodland garden. Crazy paving can add quaintness to a cottage, but seems strange leading up to a modern house. When choosing bricks, slabs or gravel look for colours that will blend well with adjoining buildings and walls.

What about the edges?
Think about how the path will fit into the garden. Will it be on the same level as the surrounding ground or slightly raised? Will it need to include steps? Do you want an informal look with plants spreading over the edges of the path? Or clearly defined, perhaps with a contrasting edging?

Will it lead to a focal point of the garden?
Garden paths are not just for walking on! They also guide the eyes. When viewed from the house does the path only draw attention to the compost heap? Perhaps you could curve the path towards something more interesting, or make a new focal point in front of the compost.

When you’ve spent time and thought on designing the perfect paths for your garden it makes sense to construct them from good quality materials and lay them properly with adequate foundations so they will last for years. If this seems like too much hard work, or you need some advice on how to do the job properly, consult a local professional landscape gardener. Find one who is willing to visit and give you a free, no obligation quote either to do the work for you, or to supply the materials only if you want to do it yourself.