It may still be a bit nippy to be doing many jobs in the garden, so now’s a perfect time to relax with some of your Christmas leftovers and make design plans for the year to come.
Ideas may come from magazines, a TV programme or may simply be inspired by a neighbour’s garden, but it’s best to buy a notebook and jot down plans.
Whatever you decide to do, whether it’s creating a new bed or making radical changes with hard landscaping, work out how much time and effort you’re prepared to spend on the project and the subsequent maintenance that will require. It’s no use planting a garden full of high-maintenance plants if you’re not going to be there to deadhead, water, feed and keep everything under control.
Think about where you are going to site any new project. If you’re planning a raised bed for vegetables, make sure it’s going to be in a sunny spot with not much shade from overhanging trees, or you won’t be able to grow a huge variety in there. And remember that veg patches can be high maintenance too, as weeding, watering and feeding is likely to be a regular requirement.
If you’re a seasoned gardener, you’ll already know what type of soil you have. If not, a simple soil test kit can be bought from any garden centre which will indicate what type of soil you have and, from there, you can find out what types of plants will grow in it.
If your garden is dry, shady, or you have clay or acid soil, you need to work with it. Don’t try to fight it by changing the make-up of the soil because no matter how much organic matter you add, eventually the original type will come through. If you want to grow acid-loving plants such as azaleas but have alkaline soil, you’re best growing them in pots of ericaceous compost.
Other practicalities to consider when creating a new area include drainage, storage space, available electricity and water. If the garden’s on a slope, you may need to level the site or install a drainage system. If you’re planning a paved area, make sure it’s level but with enough camber to drain effectively or you’ll end up with puddles you don’t want.
Think outside the box and you may come up with a more interesting design. Never, for instance, make narrow borders along boundary fences, because following the boundary lines will just emphasise the shape of your garden and make it look smaller.
If you’re creating a new bed or border, the minimum width should be 1m (40in), and even that will restrict what can be grown. It’s better to go for a border twice or even three times that width for dwarf shrubs and modest perennials. Strong shapes are important and need to blend with your house, keeping everything in proportion and making outdoor and indoor space merge. The rule of thumb is one-third planting to two-thirds space.