May 19

Climate change and gardening; dustbowls and downpours

Climate change and gardening; dustbowls and downpours

What could gardening in a changing climate mean? An end to spring frosts? Palm trees or eucalyptus in your back garden? A green roof on your home or garden building?

They’re just some of the possible effects or opportunities that climate change could bring to you and your garden, according to a new report from the Royal Horticultural Society, called “Gardening in a Changing Climate”. Other possible impacts could include year-round lawn mowing, an increase in weather ‘events’ such as flooding, and an influx of new pests.

Fortunately, the RHS report has ideas for mitigating and adapting to these less welcome consequences of climate change.

North, south, east and west: the new gardening zones

North, south, east and west: the new gardening zones

Exactly what new opportunities and risks you face from climate change depends on where you live. Those in the south and southeast of England will face generally hotter and drier conditions throughout the year, though with occasional heavy rain showers. Further north, the weather will be milder than at present, but also significantly wetter and windier. The west will also see higher rainfall and warmer weather.

So while those in the southeast will be pondering issues around water conservation, and new possibilities around plants suited to arid conditions, those in the north, and also the southwest, will more likely be concerned with managing excess water, through solutions such as green roofs (to minimise run-off) and raised beds (to prevent plants being waterlogged).

Given these new conditions, when it comes to climate change and gardening you may need to rethink some of your approaches to the different parts of your garden, wherever you live.

Climate change and garden lawns

Climate change and garden lawns

Lawns and turf will be particularly vulnerable to dry spells on one the one hand and wet ones on the other. Milder temperatures and higher rainfall in the west will extend the growing season – hence mowing may become necessary year-round (though waterlogging may make this difficult). But in the drier east the struggle to keep grass green may become too much of a chore, and the perfect English sward may become a thing of the past.

The options include converting lawns to borders, raised beds, dry meadows, gravel gardens, or – if you still want to look out on an expanse of green – an artificial lawn. If the latter already seems an attractive alternative to year-round mowing or a parched dust patch, you can see a good selection of artificial lawns on the Homebase website.

Choosing plants for gardening in a changing climate

Choosing plants for gardening in a changing climate

Changing conditions will obviously affect the plants that you can grow and how well they do. Some gardeners will need to find out about drought-friendly plants such as agaves or blanket flowers, and perhaps read the useful article about drought-resistant gardening on the RHS site.

Meanwhile, other gardeners will be best seeking out a different article, about gardening on wet soils, and to gen up on plants that flourish in very wet climates such as hostas.

In addition, plants such as clematis and buddleia that are robust at withstanding wind, rain and whatever else the weather throws at them will become even more beloved to British gardeners than they are now.

One other thing to consider with climate change and gardening is that warmer summers will create prime pest conditions and aid the spread of diseases. It might therefore be useful to look at long-term anti-insect and pest protection solutions, such as planting sunflowers to attract pest eating bugs. There are some good ideas along those lines on the Grow Veg website.

Trees ideal for climate change and gardening

Trees ideal for climate change and gardening

We’ve already mentioned the new opportunities here – from palms to olives to almonds – for those in the drier, hotter south and southeast.
But climate change may also bring more extreme winds, rainfall and other weather events, and warmer temperatures may up the requirements in terms of pruning. According to the RHS report, larger trees in wet soil are more vulnerable to wind-toppling, so smaller tree varieties will look more attractive. It may be time to start investigating the possibilities of small fruit trees or hardy softwood natives.

Gardening in a changing climate means that it is also worth thinking about trees that are able to withstand extremes of hot and cold temperature – the RHS report specifies spruce, Norway maple and Scots pine in this regard.

Do your bit for climate change in the garden

Do your bit for climate change in the garden

Most of us will probably have to adapt our garden plans in future, but we can also do our bit to mitigate climate change by making our gardens more eco-friendly right now.

Little things like using energy-efficient garden power tools and solar lighting; using peat-free compost; installing and using water butts, and avoiding pesticides and fertilisers with a high carbon count can all help to reduce any negative environmental impacts of your garden.

And if you’re thinking about garden design or some home improvements, bear in mind that green roofs and walls can reduce energy usage in homes and other buildings (not to mention providing food and shelter for native birds and insects), and planting trees and shrubs can help to lock up carbon from the atmosphere.

Converting concrete drives to gravel also reduces the chance of localised flooding as water can soak slowly through gravel instead of rushing straight into drains.

Growing your own fruit and veg helps too. A recent study showed that for every kilogram of vegetables you grow yourself, you could be reducing greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 2 kilograms (compared to buying from the supermarket).

For more tips on what climate change may do to your garden, how to adapt to it, and how to avoid your garden making it worse, you can read a summary of the RHS report.

If you want the full 80-page “gardening in a changing climate”, it’s available to download here.

Apr 3

Square garden design – how to best transform your limited space

Square garden design ideas and inspiration

Square garden design – how to best transform your limited space

This month in our series on garden design ideas for different shapes of gardens, we’re tackling an all-too-common horticultural gripe; how to come up with a unique small square garden design. If you live in an urban or suburban area, it’s quite likely your garden is a little square-ish shape – not exactly the stuff of garden design fantasies.

But don’t be defeatist – with the right tricks, your handkerchief of a backyard can be transformed into a far less square, more spacious-looking area. To help you do this, here are 6 tips to create an inspiring and roomy square garden design with your box-like plot.

Curved lawns complement a square garden design

Curved lawn for a square garden design

Let’s face it – a square garden with a square lawn isn’t particularly exciting. If you want to jazz things up, try changing your lawn shape – circular, oval or curved irregular shapes will all distract the eye from the box shape, and make your garden appear more creative.

Curves and arcs also create more opportunity for interesting borders, beds or small vegetable patches, or for foliage to break up the lawn. However, when using foliage to create visual interest, be wary of shrubs that are likely to grow too vigorously outwards – they will end up turning a compact square garden design into an even smaller one.

If you decide to use lawn shapes to break up the square, lawn edging is essential to keep the lines crisp and defined. Have a look at the different options for edging materials (from metal to bamboo to eco-materials) on the Primrose website.

Complement or contrast with borders and paving

Borders around a square garden

Having borders, walkways and lines in your garden can take away from its squareness and create more of a visual (as well as physical) journey around the garden.

This approach can also help you create different sections, for example, a sinuous path to a relaxing or dining area can transform the look of the garden, and also the way you use it.

Wooden boardwalks are inexpensive but if you’re after a more robust alternative, stone bordering and edging are more versatile in terms of shape. And if you decide on a border for your new square garden design, there’s an inspiring ‘cheat’s guide’ to starting a border detailed in this article on the Guardian website, including the very tempting Garden on a Roll that does virtually everything for you except dig the bed.

Add height, steps or levels to break up your square garden

Raised beds ideas for a square garden

Introducing differing vertical aspects to your garden will help spruce up its appearance and profile as well as creating more interesting features.

You can combine this approach with the ‘journey’ tip above by raising your walkways or perhaps giving your decking some height, perfect for an al fresco dining section. Even a larger structure like a pergola or arch can do the job, as can raised beds around a central lawn.

A more natural approach is also effective – a row of small trees or tall plants like delphiniums contrasted with low plants can create interest and intrigue. There are some good ideas for tall border plants on the Thompson & Morgan site.

Use the walls or fence around your square garden to enhance it

Seating design for a square garden

In too many suburban and urban gardens, the walls or fences are bland or even ugly – they restrict your garden and act as boundaries, without actually adding any visual interest at all.

An excellent way to combat this can be to incorporate the boundaries into the design. Planting climbing plants up trellises on a wall or fence will create a more natural and organic feel, and make the garden feel less confined, without eating up as much space as a border.

You could even hang flower baskets or planters on a wall or fence, extending the planting space if your garden is tiny. For a good selection of wall planters have a look at the Woolly Pocket site.

Alternatively, try integrating raised beds with seating areas or a fountain into the fence or walls around the edge of your square garden design.

Sectioning; break your square garden into different zones

Sectioning a square garden design

If you can take in everything in your garden at first glance, its squareness is going to be immediately obvious.

A great method to fix this is to compartmentalise your garden into different sections with different purposes. You can divide using borders, tall plants or trellises.

A dining area either right next to the house (for convenience) or at the far end of the garden (for a more getting-away-from-things feel) could be useful, while a shady spot, kids’ play area or small vegetable patch could be useful and easily accomplished.

There are some inspiring ideas for small gardens (though not all of them are square in shape) on the Ideal Home website.

Add a structure or garden building to disguise the square shape

Structures can change the feel of a square garden design

Having a focal point to grab the attention will disguise the squareness of your garden – whether a pergola, gazebo, summer house or garden office.

Bear in mind a non-square or non-rectangular shape will likely achieve this goal better, as well as using space more efficiently, so look at corner buildings and circular or hexagonal shapes.

Remember that, in most circumstances in the UK, a building within 2 metres of a boundary wall will require planning permission if it is over 2.5m high, so take this into consideration when choosing a structure. Garden Life has a wide selection of sub-2.5m buildings available here.

Hopefully these tips and inspirational ideas will help you generate some great ideas for your own square garden design.

Mar 21

Want to grow your own veg? 7 tips for planning a vegetable patch

Grow your own veg

Want to grow your own veg? 7 tips for planning a vegetable patch

Whether to fuel your gardening passion, improve your eating habits or occupy some free time, vegetable patches can be a surprisingly fruitful (excuse the pun!) and rewarding endeavour. With spring here, you might be thinking about ways to spruce up your garden or spend more time outdoors, so here are 7 things to consider if you’re planning a vegetable patch so you can grow your own veg.

1. Sun – you need plenty of light to grow your own veg

Sunlight is really needed for a veg patch

Given that most vegetables want at least 6 hours of sunlight to grow well, you’ll want to find a spot with direct sunlight – it’s definitely a case of the ‘the more the better’ – with tomatoes and peppers especially.

However, don’t stop planning a vegetable patch if you live somewhere less sunny – while no veg will grow in complete darkness, leafy vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, lettuce and (admittedly, you may not want to know this next one) Brussels sprouts, can all grow with about 3 hours of direct sun, or obstructed light throughout the day. You can even grow multiple mushroom varieties from a log kept in complete shade.

2. Size – planning a vegetable patch that is right for you needs

Planning raised bed size

How big a patch you create really depends on the purpose of your patch – for a beginner, a 2m x 3m patch should be more than enough to keep you occupied and the salad bowl full, while a 6m x 4m vegetable patch will feed the most veg-hungry of families.

Most vegetable patches are made up of multiple rows (running north and south for sunlight), and if you are unsure about sizing/future expansion, buying multiple raised beds can offer great flexibility.

You can find a good selection of smaller raised beds on the Green Fingers site, or if you are apt at DIY you could consider planning a vegetable patch that you can build it yourself.

3. Pest control – how to keep bugs off your precious veg

Ladybugs eat greenfly

When it comes to pest protection, the best approach is often a natural, non-chemical one. Removing weak plants and weeds and keeping your soil moist and healthy can all prevent future pest issues whilst planting sunflowers attracts ladybirds who will eat small pests like greenflies.

Neem powder – a natural organic by-product from the processing of Indian Neem seeds for oil – is full of essential nutrients and is a natural pesticide (plus most cats don’t like it as well).

You could even install a pond – frogs and toads are great at keeping insect numbers down and can certainly liven up your garden!

There’s more info on ecosystem-based pest control on the Grow Veg website – a very good read if you’re planning to grow your own veg.

4. Drainage – getting the right moisture levels for your veg

Seeds for your veg garden

Ensuring proper drainage is vital when it comes to growing your own veg – water should be properly absorbed by the roots but not drain away too quickly. Whether or not this happens largely depends on your soil type; for example, clay and silt-based soil tends to drain poorly, while chalk will clump.

If you’re not 100% sure what type of soil you have it is best to check.

As those articles point out, it’s not only the drainage of your soil that will influence your success at growing various type of plants (not just veg) but also the acidity and nutrients of your soil. If you’re serious about wanting to grow champion veg, then there’s a more detailed guide to soil preparation available here.

Once you’ve found out what type of soil you have in your vegetable patch, you should check that your vegetable wishlist is likely to thrive in it – for example, carrots are notoriously difficult to grow in heavy soil, and much prefer light sandy soil.

5. Organic – grow your own veg without the need for chemicals

Organic veg patch

Whether you make your garden organic – basically, where you don’t use any chemical or synthetic products in growing your patch – ultimately comes down to personal preference.

While an organic patch could be cheaper (if you don’t have to keep buying costly chemical fertilizers and pesticides) and generally better for your health and the environment, it can make heavier demands on your time.

If you want a higher yield for less time and effort, opt to spend money on organic supplements and fertilizer, or choose the non-organic option. Neem (mentioned above), liquid seaweed fertilizer, fish, blood and bone and wood ash are all available with organic certification, and all can significantly improve soil health, fertility and vegetable yields without the need for harsh chemicals.

The National Allotment Society has a good column on organic versus inorganic too.

6. Basic veg – keep it simple when it comes to planning a vegetable patch

Planning a veg patch

Now for the most obvious part – what you actually grow! Herbs, Salad leaves, garlic, onions, leeks, peas and potatoes are all easy and something of a staple whilst of the root veggies, beetroots are also simple to grow; if you’re looking for more of a challenge, plant carrots. Tomatoes and cucumbers are useful in cooking terms as they can be harvested over a longer period, and a lot of varieties don’t require a greenhouse to grow well.

All the well-known garden websites sell a large selection of veg seeds, as will local DIY shops. When planning a vegetable patch also consider how you will store your harvest if it all needs picking at the same time. Leafy greens can be picked at throughout the season, but you may need space to store onions, potatoes, carrots, leeks and garlic.

7. Budget – how much does it cost to grow your own veg?

If you can go without planning a vegetable patch that requires raised beds, or already have the perfect patch, moving into DIY veg production can be done for an extremely low price. For a 2m x 3m patch, expect to pay about £25 for all your seeds; compost shouldn’t be much over £20; your fertilizer or pesticides bill will depend on your approach to organic vs inorganic.

Raised bed are very convenient, but will set you back around £50, and the more complex your design or rows you have, the higher the price tag. All in all, though, it can certainly be a cost-effective endeavour – over time the vegetables pay for themselves (as long as you don’t count the cost of your time!) and your costs will dip after the first season (especially if you make your own compost and harvest your own seeds).

Garden potting shed

Lastly, don’t forget how convenient it can be to have a little potting shed to work in during the spring and summer (and to store your harvest in autumn).

Feb 23

Winter gardening and preparing for spring

Winter gardening and preparing for spring

With Christmas long gone and the temperatures gradually rising, it’s time to do some winter gardening and preparing for spring.

While it’s still not exactly peak gardening season – there’s still too high a risk of frosts at night to be sure the season of Growth has arrived – there’s still plenty of work you can do this winter to keep yourself occupied, prepare for the spring or just enjoy the great outdoors. So here are 7 ways in which you can satisfy your horticultural needs in the winter.

Tip 1 – lawn care in winter

Lawns are fundamental to a well-kept garden and there are plenty of lawn-related tasks for winter. Whilst grass seed shouldn’t generally be sown in the UK until late March, turfs are much more flexible.

Autumn is generally considered the ideal time to lay turf, but any time up until late winter or early spring should be good, as long as the soil is not too waterlogged or frosty. Beyond that, lack of rain can be a problem for very young turf.

If you are looking for more advice on investing in a new lawn or maintenance of your current one, there is some good articles covering winter gardening on the Lawn UK site, and there is good advice on laying and caring for turf on the RHS website.

Tip 2 – caring for soil in winter

The foundation and essential ingredient of every flowerbed or veg patch, soil will benefit greatly from some care during the winter months; removing weeds and unwanted shrubbery, and some forking and digging to desaturate it and avoid excessive compounding.

An essential part of winter gardening – and crucially preparing for spring – is to add compost, manure and wood ash to soil to improve fertility. Doing so will set you up with a plot fully prepared to grow whatever you please in time for spring (and it’s worth putting the effort in, as you will reap the rewards later in the year).

Do however avoid digging and hoeing soil when it is frozen as it damages the soil structure and degrades its overall health.

Tip 3 – plan in winter so you’re ready in spring

Although there are many ways in which you can continue gardening throughout the colder months, the fact remains that winter gardening is limited and sometimes dreary work. So if you don’t fancy stepping out in the cold, you can take the opportunity to get ahead by researching – such as ordering and browsing seed catalogues – and planning your garden so that come spring, you’ve got everything under control.

And if you’ve felt depressed at the bareness of your garden throughout the winter, then your planning could the future could include some winter-flowering bulbs and plants for next year.

There are plenty of online garden catalogues available if you want to start preparing for spring too.

Tip 4 – winter is the ideal time to plant and maintain fruit trees

Fruit trees – be they apple, pear, fig or plum – are a practical (and tasty!) addition to a garden and they can be planted anywhere between late autumn and March depending on the variety.

If however your new fruit trees are delivered bare root, do not plant them if it is freezing cold as it will damage the roots. It’s always best to wait until soil and roots thaw and warm up before planting or moving trees.

For existing fruit trees and bushes, it’s worthwhile doing some maintenance around this time of year. Stakes and ties to protect them from March winds should be checked; and oil-based winter washes will help to ensure they don’t become pest-infected.

Fruit bushes should be pruned back and some fertiliser or mulch around the base can be very helpful to ensure they are producing plentiful and ripe fruit come harvesting time.

Tip 5 – prepare the vegetable patch for spring

Many of us have good – and as yet unfulfilled – intentions about starting a good vegetable patch, and now is the time to take action.

Beans, carrots, cucumbers, lettuces, onions, tomatoes and many more veggies can be planted throughout February and March (look out for early varieties and don’t plant when the soil is still cold, or use a polytunnel to keep young seedlings warm).

The National Allotment Society suggest covering the ground with cloches or sheets of plastic to help warm up the soil. Rather than leaving raised beds bare in winter cover them with weed sheet to stop weeds and keep warmth in.

There’s another good blog post on winter vegetable gardening here, and there’s a predictably good selection of vegetable seeds on the Sutton Seeds website.

Tip 6 – planting flowers in winter?

The centrepiece of picture-book garden, loads of flowers can be planted in the winter months – sweet peas, antirrhinums and salvias, being good examples.

Generally safest when growing from seeds in early spring is to grow seedlings pots first, for planting out later on; only the bold or those in very warm parts of the UK will plant direct into the soil before late March.

Tip 7 – winter gardening involves looking after buildings too

The UK winter can be harsh and, even if your pergolas, garden buildings and greenhouses are weatherproofed, the past few months may have taken its toll on them.

You might not be inclined to get involved in winter gardening, but as the season draws to a halt, it’s the perfect time to make sure there’s no damp, insulation problems or leakages in any garden structures, particularly wooden ones, and repair/prepare in time for peak growing season. It’s also a good time to do some tidying of tools, garden equipment, and all the junk that’s colonised your summer house or garden workroom since last summer.

If you’re looking for more detailed advice, this blog has some good ideas.

Jan 18

Creative ideas for a long narrow garden design

Long narrow garden design with lawn and paths

This month we start a series of blogs on garden design for different shapes or sizes of garden, and we begin with a British classic: the long narrow garden.

One person’s problem is another person’s opportunity, and so it is with gardens. Some people complain about having a plot that’s nothing but a boring corridor, others see a long, narrow garden as a chance to come up with a creative design.

We prefer the latter mindset. It’s become a bit clichéd to talk about ‘spaces’ and ‘rooms’ within a garden, but this works brilliantly with long thin gardens. And their narrowness makes them easier to manage – less daunting than a huge, wide space. So here are some creative tips to get the most out of a long narrow garden design.

Break up your long narrow garden into different rooms

Creative long narrow garden design plan

First things first: the essential with a long narrow garden is to break up the space. What you don’t want to do is look straight down to the end. Great in a 100 metres track, less so in creative garden design.

Instead, use shapes, plants and structures to create screens. Plants, pergolas, trellises, decking, paving and paths – these can all turn a thin corridor into a series of different areas. There are good tips on this and some sample plans on the Ideal Home website.

Many garden designers prefer these screens to be partial rather than full – letting you catch glimpses of what’s beyond, rather than completely blocking off the section behind them.

Plan different garden zones for varied uses

Long narrow zonal garden design with seating and kids area

How many rooms depends on the length of the garden and on your lifestyle. A good blog describes dividing a long thin garden into three areas – an area by the house for a quick cup of coffee; a sunken garden; and a screened eating area at the far end with table and chairs.

Clearly, this is not the only possible combination, but it’s helpful as a conceptual starting point. Other possible ‘rooms’ could be: children’s play area; vegetable patch; barbecue or hot tub area; or shaded area with bench. Where these rooms go – closer to the house or at the far end – depends on your own preferences.

When designing different spaces, it’s advisable to sketch and make a scale plan beforehand to ensure everything (including buildings and other features) will fit properly. The excellent garden design guide on the Garden Power Tools website has good advice on doing this.

Furnish each room within your garden

Long narrow water garden design

Having thought about a series of rooms, you need to furnish them. Plants, of course, will be critical in this, but garden buildings and furniture will also help.

So far we’ve mentioned pergolas, trellises and benches. How about going one step further and integrating a gazebo, summer house or workroom into your design?

One common objection to traditional long narrow gardens is that the far end sits unused and unloved. Turning the end into a destination, with a hot tub and gazebo, barbecue area, garden office or extra dining area can transform the way you use your garden.

Planning permission and long narrow gardens

Long narrow garden design with corner summer house

The general situation with planning permission in the UK is that a garden building within 2 metres of your boundary should be no taller than 2.5m at its highest point. Otherwise, you need planning permission.

Therefore, for owners of long narrow gardens, the low-admin solution is to have a garden building that meets the 2.5m rule. GardenLife sell a variety of sub-2.5m buildings suitable for a compact space, including traditional summer houses, contemporary workrooms, storage sheds, playhouses and gazebos.

Design-wise, a rectangular garden building that takes up the whole width of a narrow garden may painfully emphasise the narrowness. So be creative.

For example, a corner cabin can maximise the space available as well as look more interesting than a square-on building. And a modern summer room with tall windows will draw the eyes upwards and distract from the garden’s lack of breadth.

Or a gazebo can add interest and weather-cover without blocking the view.

Mind the edges, climbers are better than hedges

With a traditional long narrow garden, it’s hard not to miss the edges! If you have beautiful stone garden walls or perfect borders, then lucky you. The rest of us may need to hide an ugly fence which a glance to the left or right can’t help revealing.

Trellises with climbing plants (parallel to the edge) can usefully disguise a fence, as can a narrow border. On the other hand, seating and benches next to a fence can draw attention to it.

If you do use plants to screen a fence, be sure to choose ones that will grow upwards, rather than outwards (making the garden narrower). Also keep edges neat and trimmed back.

Gardens are not just for summer

When planning your design and planting, imagine what the garden will look like throughout the year. For example, how will your screens of plants look if they have no foliage in winter?

Good tips for a four-seasons approach to planting in a long narrow garden can be found in a detailed, but useful, article on House Beautiful. A simple rule of thumb is to mix deciduous and evergreen plants throughout the design for your garden. Even in the bleakest of winters you can then still enjoy some greenery.

Plants are not just an afterthought

Long thin garden design with decking and a pergola

One problem with garden design approaches based around ‘rooms’ and ‘spaces’ is that they sometimes forget about the plants and purely focus on textures and space. Decking, paving, gravel, paths, walls, ponds, trellis, pergolas and garden buildings can all enhance a long narrow garden, but without some creative planting it will look lifeless.

With long thin gardens especially, plan your plants from the outset – thinking about size and the shade they create (and need) as well as what might grow well in your garden. If you’re new to choosing plants (and making them thrive), this Garden Power Tools post will tell you all you need to know.

Dec 21

How to heat a garden room

How to heat a garden room in winter

How to heat a garden room – the best options and their pros and cons

With winter well and truly underway, ‘tis the season to be keeping your timber garden room snug and warm. Ideally, your shed or workroom will already be well insulated and draft proof – think dense timber walls, double-glazed windows, and quality flooring and roofing.

In addition, you can employ a variety of heating solutions to cope with any temperature the British weather can throw at you. So, to help stay warm and toasty this winter, here are 5 ways you can heat a garden office and transform it into a cold-proof refuge.

Using a wood-burning stove to heat a garden room

Heat a garden room with a wood burning stove

A very traditional form of heating, wood stoves offer both Nordic charm and excellent heating practicality, though they do need cleaning (emptying the ash pan and an occasional wipe of the glass in the door). All that’s required is some room to store logs, plus firelighters and kindling to provide ample heating for a medium-sized garden room.

Wood burners can cost from £500 to £2,000 and are available in rustic or more contemporary styles.

£100 should buy enough seasoned wood to last a stove the full winter, or you could make your waste paper into eco-friendly logs or briquettes using a log maker. These can cost less than £25 and are available from a number of online stores.

The downsides of wood burners include: the amount of space they take up; safety considerations (you’ll need a hearth and fireproof lining between the stove and timber walls); limited controllability in terms of heat output; and installation costs. If you do go for a stove, installation by a HETAS registered professional is advised.

When you consider the overall cost of the hardware and installation, a wood burning stove definitely isn’t the most cost effective way to heat a garden room. However, there’s nothing quite like sitting in a timber garden office in winter with a real fire flickering in the corner and the smell of wood smoke in the air.

Buying an electric stove to heat a garden office

Heat a garden room with an electric stove

If you want the look of a wood-burner without the need to store fuel and install a chimney, there is the option of an electric stove. These can be turned on and off instantly, need no cleaning, and there is no work involved in lighting them or maintaining the heat.

This is obviously labour-saving, but may not appeal if you like the ritual of lighting the stove or prefer the aesthetic of a ‘real’ wood-burner with ‘real’ wood. A browse on the Stovax website will give you a good idea of the range of designs and prices available.

Heating a garden room with an Oil-filled electric radiator

Heat a garden room with oil filled radiators

These are generally free-standing radiators which you plug into a socket to heat up the oil. They are very portable, require no installation, and are available in a wide range of sizes and styles. You can also buy wall-mounted models if you want a fixed source of heat, and it is also possible to buy models with thermostats and timers.

More versatile than a stove, they are also very cheap to buy, starting from about £25 and available at DIY stores. When it comes to heating a garden office you also save on the installation costs of a stove.

In terms of running costs, they will set you back around 20p an hour on a standard electricity meter – cheaper than a fan heater or radiant electric bar fire. After they have been switched off, oil filled electric radiators also retain their heat for some time (unlike fans or electric stoves, which lose their heat straight away).

Those are the pros; the downsides include: you may require more than one radiator if you want to heat a large garden room, especially since average heat output is lower than stoves and fan heaters. Additionally, they can take a while to warm up.

How to heat a garden room with an electric fan heater

Heat a garden room with an electric fan heater

Hugely portable, quick to buy and simple to operate, these are the easy choice for those who don’t want the hassle of having a stove installed, or just want occasional heat. You plug them in and you’re good to go, with instant heat. They can cost as little as £10 upfront.

However, this convenience comes at a price – they are more expensive to run than oil-filled radiators, setting you back nearly 30p an hour, which can build up over a full winter. Also, given their size, you may need several of these if you need to heat a large garden room or office. And though you can buy different sizes and designs, you’ll probably struggle to find one that will win you credibility points for style.

Heating a garden room with a portable gas heater

Heat a garden room with a gas stove

Again, these rarely make people’s wish lists of covetable design items, but traditionally they are a popular way to heat garden rooms and offices because you don’t need a power source. They’re portable, have no installation costs, have high heat output, and the heat is easily controlled.

All great attractions, but they are generally bulkier than electric heaters (because of the gas cylinder); and there are a couple of safety precautions. One is that you’ll need to ensure that the garden room is well ventilated when the fire is on (so that fumes and condensation doesn’t build up). Secondly you need to watch out for carbon monoxide leaks – buying a battery operated CO2 detector will solve this issue.

The most unusual way to heat a garden room

Swedish style barbecue hut

If you are planning to buy a garden room and are researching ways to heat it and want something truly novel, you could consider a Scandinavian style barbecue hut! GardenLife make and sell a small BBQ hut and a large hexagonal barbecue hut that can be purchased with an optional central grill and smoke extraction hood.

Barbecue hut interior with a stove and grill

The design of these timber cooking huts was heavily influenced by traditional Swedish architecture and allows space for seating around a central stove. GardenLife sell the be barbecue grills, fixings and fittings with the huts. If you’re after a different look and a novel way to heat your garden room, this could be the option for you! You could entertain friends on even the coldest of winter days, stay warm around the fire, and even cook your dinner on the grill!

In summary; the pros and cons involved in heating a garden room or office

Wood burning stove

Pros: Choice of traditional styles, sustainable fuel, relatively low running costs, traditional atmosphere

Cons: Purchase and installation cost, space occupied can be large, limited heating controls, cleaning required, storage space for fuel required, ongoing maintenance costs, ventilation and CO2 detector required

Electric stove

Pros: Instant heat, thermostatic control, no maintenance costs, no fuel storage required

Cons: Medium to high running costs, requires mains electricity, limited traditional designs available, no heat retention when turned off

Oil-filled electric radiator

Pros: Low to medium running costs, wall mountable, thermostatic control, no cleaning, no maintenance costs, no fuel storage required, retains some heat when turned off

Cons: Lower and slower heat output than stoves, requires mains electricity, no traditional designs available, may require two or more units

Electric fan heaters

Pros: Highly portable,compact, cheapest to buy

Cons: High running costs, requires mains electricity, limited heat output compared to stoves, no traditional styles available, no heat retention when turned off, may require two or more units

Gas heaters

Pros: Low running costs, no mains supply needed, instant heat, heating control, no maintenance costs

Cons: Bulky design, limited traditional designs, ventilation and CO2 detector required

BBQ hut with grill

Pros: Beautiful traditional Scandinavian design, heating and cooking area combined, sustainable fuel, relatively low running costs

Cons: Purchase and installation cost, no heating controls, regular cleaning required, storage space for fuel required, ongoing maintenance costs, ventilation and CO2 detector required

All in all, there’s a great range of choice of solutions for surviving the bleak midwinter, although it’s fair to say that every solution has its downsides as well as its attractions. If you want a more detailed comparison of running costs, the Centre for Sustainable Energy has useful information.

Beyond buying, installation and costs, other criteria for your choice heating appliance for a garden room should include:

  • how much space you have
  • whether you want occasional or ongoing heating, and freestanding or permanent solutions
  • safety issues, for example ventilation and whether you work with flammable materials such as sawdust (in which case you won’t want an exposed heating element)

Enjoy the winter!

Nov 2

Planting bulbs – how, where and when

Tulips in spring

For novice or semi-committed gardeners, planting bulbs can be the ideal form of gardening. You do some gentle digging, plant the bulbs, ignore them for a few months, and then wake up in spring to a bank of daffodils, tulips, alliums or other bulbs of your choice. If only all gardening could be like this.

In addition, bulbs come in a vast range of varieties, colours and sizes, and it’s worth exploring beyond the obvious ones like daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops and tulips. Bulbs also offer great flexibility in terms of where and when you plant them.

When to plant bulbs

A rough rule of thumb is that you plant spring-flowering bulbs in autumn, and autumn-flowering bulbs in spring. The best time to plant spring crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils is generally September and October, however, November is the ideal time to plant tulips, which like to be planted when the soil is colder (plant them earlier, and they are vulnerable to a fungal disease called tulip fire).

If you really want a new crop of daffodils next year, and have left the planting late, some guides to bulb-planting say you may be able to get away with doing it in November, especially if you live in the warmer parts of the UK.

Where to plant bulbs

Planting bulbs in unusual areas

Popular bulbs such as daffodils and tulips can be grown in a variety of places and for a variety of purposes:

  • To fills gaps in borders.
  • Around the outside of a summer house.
  • In formal (or random) displays in flowerbeds, which can then be succeeded by displays of annuals later in the summer. Conventional wisdom is that the larger showier tulips look better planted in formal arrangements, but this is a matter of opinion.
  • Around the base of a tree – this looks more natural with smaller bulbs such as snowdrops, crocuses, dwarf daffodils, and winter aconites
  • En masse on a grassy bank – think Wordsworthian daffodils.
  • In containers, either using a single variety or a mixture. The Crocus website has good ideas for container planting, including how to make a ‘bulb lasagne’ of tulips, hyacinths and crocuses, planting them in layers so that they flower throughout spring.

How to plant bulbs

The cardinal rule with bulbs is to plant them the right way up! This will generally mean with the sharper end pointing upwards.

The usual advice is to plant them at three times the depth of the bulb, and two widths apart. The RHS has a nice video about planting bulbs, and you can use the following guide to help work out the best planting depth for your chosen bulb.

Planting bulbs at the perfect depth

If you want more encyclopedic information about the what, where and when of planting bulbs, and what to do after they’ve flowered, you can’t go wrong with RHS advice.

What conditions do bulbs prefer?

Grape hyacinth planted in pot

The general answer is that bulbs like sun (full or partial) and good drainage. However, there are also bulbs that will grow well in shade.

If you are growing bulb in containers, you will generally need to plant them in a pot with a drainage hole at the bottom, which you can cover with broken pottery to prevent the drainage becoming excessive.

How to protect bulbs from pests

The biggest threat to your bulbs could well be squirrels, which dig them up and perhaps eat them (depending on the type of plant). In a more rural area badgers may well dig up everything that you plant, leaving your lawn or beds full of empty holes. The bulbs are particularly vulnerable when newly-planted since the soil is likely to be loose. Covering the soil with chicken wire, and leaving it there until the first shoots appear should protect them.

Inspirational ideas for planting bulbs

Planting bulbs in rows of colour for visual impact
There are wonderful spring bulb displays all over the UK, from the snowdrop CCC at Cambo to the Tulip Festival at Pashley Manor Gardens, on the Sussex-Kent border, in April-May each year, with a display of around 100 varieties. Gardeners at the Eden Project, in Cornwall, planted around 30,000 bulbs in the winter of 2015 (although this might not be feasible in your average back garden)!

Even if you don’t plan to compete with Pashley and the Eden Project, you may get some good ideas for formal or informal bulb settings, either from visiting in person or looking at pictures.

Bulb sourcing

If you want the basics, your local supermarket or DIY will probably have multipacks of bulbs, with clear instructions. If you’re buying bulbs in person, look for firm bulbs, and avoid any that are soft, shriveled or have signs of mould.

If your bulb plans are more ambitious, there are various specialists with online shops. Large generalist garden websites such as Crocus.co.uk also have good selections. Specialists include:

  • Glendoick has a wide choice of bulbs, and, being Scottish, some good advice about growing bulbs in colder northern climates.
  • Peter Nyssen has a vast supply of different bulbs, and has some suggestions about popular bulbs for beginners or even children. The website is limited in terms of planting advice, but it has a nice tool for browsing and planting by colour.
  • Bloms Bulbs also has a vast choice, and some good practical advice on growing tulips, daffodils and other bulbs.

Planting bulbs in spring

If you really feel you’ve left the bulb planting too late this autumn, your next option will be to get out into the garden in early spring, and plant some bulbs for next autumn. There’s a useful list of ideas for autumn/winter 2017 on the Thompson & Morgan site.

Oct 18

New and traditional ways to preserve fruit and veg

New and traditional ways to preserve fruit and veg

New and traditional ways to preserve fruit and veg

Autumn is synonymous with harvest time, and if you have more than a couple of fruit trees, current bushes or a decent-sized vegetable patch, you’ll be vastly exceeding your five portions a day throughout September and October. When you grow your own fruit and veg you want to make the most of harvest time, but you may well have enough produce to last into the following year.

You’ll therefore need to find ways to store some of your garden produce to make it last. The ingredients for doing this will range from pickling spices to a garden shed, and techniques can involve simple crates, jam jars and even the odd new gadget too. Of the new and traditional ways to preserve fruit and veg the following five main options will help you deal with your surplus fruit and veg.

The best way to store fruit and veg

The best way to store fruit and veg

Before you start worrying about pickles and freezers, remember that some fruits and vegetables can be stored in your garden for several weeks – as long as you handle them right.

Top of the list for storing in your garden building – as long as it is dry and ventilated – is apples. It’s possible to buy traditional apple racks, but as they can be just a little pricey any carefully lined crates or shelves will do. Handle all fruit delicately to avoid bruising, and store it in a single layer without fruits touching each other. Make sure they are clean and dry too.

Pears can also be stored in your garden shed, though will need regular checks, as they can easily and quickly over-ripen.

Other good fruit and vegetables for storage include potatoes, carrots, beetroot, and of course onions and garlic. Many root vegetables, such as parsnips, swede and celeriac, are especially easy to store because they can simply be left in the ground until you need them.

There are good general tips for storing fruit and vegetables online and Grow Your Own magazine also has regular seasonal advice on storing garden produce. The mighty RHS website also has excellent detailed advice on storing fruit as well as separate advice about storing vegetables.

Try drying your own fruit and veg

Try drying your own fruit and veg

Rather than storing your vegetables in a dry place, but how about going one step further and deliberately dry or even dehydrating the fruits of your garden labours?

Drying’s not going to work for everything – root veg, for instance, and we’re not convinced about the attractions of dried apple (it’s flavoursome, but a bit like chewing on rubber). However, if you grow herbs, chillies or beans, drying them is simple and practical.

The old-fashioned way is to suspend them on thread in a warm airing cupboard, which is practical for herbs and chillies. The modern version is to use a dehydrator, and this opens up the scope for dehydrating your own berries, cherries and currents too. If, however, you don’t want food dangling from cupboards or the expense of a new gadget, you can also dry chillies, slices of fruit and bunches of herbs by leaving them on a low heat (around 100°) in the oven all day.

Freezing food from your own garden

Freezing food from your own garden

Captain Birdseye may be extremely proud that his peas go from field to freezer within a few hours but you can easily beat that at home. And if you have the space in your freezer to store the contents of your garden, you can keep produce in great shape for months. Freezing also keeps high levels of vitamin C in fruit and veg.

There are different requirements for freezing different fruits and vegetables – a few, such as raspberries, can be frozen as they are; but most need to be blanched (briefly immersed them in boiling water) before freezing; and others will only freeze well if cooked.

And if you have a glut of cucumber, kale, lettuce or radishes, you’re probably better off looking at other methods of preserving them, or eating them immediately.

There are some good starter tips at for freezing home-grown produce online.

Preserving fruit and veg for all year use

Preserving fruit and veg for all year use

Stories of people having chutney recipes handed down from their great-grandmother can be offputting, because it suggests there are secret skills involved in making jams, jellies, chutneys and pickles.

Not at all. It’s surprisingly quick and easy. Shops such as Lakeland are an easy source for the kit you’ll need, from jars to old-fashioned gingham lid covers. Preserving your own produce is also ideal for more delicate vegetables and soft fruit, berries and currents that can’t be left in the shed or dried in an airing cupboard.

The tips below will also be useful if you’re a preserves novice:

  • Don’t make too much. There’s nothing more dispiriting than finding you still have 5 unopened jars of last year’s plum chutney when the next plum season has already arrived.
  • Only use good fruit and vegetables. For all the talk about windfall chutney, you’re better to use unblemished produce if you want preserves to stay edible and safe.
  • Follow instructions about sterilising jars, lids etc.
  • A jam thermometer is invaluable for telling if your jam is cooked – much easier than old-fashioned solutions involving multiple chilled saucers and water.

Great sources of recipes include Perfect Preserves by Thane Prince – apparently dubbed the ‘queen of preserves’ by The Times newspaper – are available on the Waitrose website.

Different ways to preserve your fruit and veg

Different ways to preserve your fruit and veg

If you want to try an alternative to cold storing, drying, dehydrating, freezing and preserving your home grown fruit and veg, there are other options out there. If you want to get a bit more adventurous try the following:

  • Quick pickle vegetables – slice and submerge vegetables in an acidic liquid such as vinegar, lemon juice, pomegranate juice, soy sauce or miso. It’s faster and less hassle than making a chutney, plus the taste will be completely different too.
  • Ferment your own wine or vinegar – If you are really overburdened with a bumper crop of fruit or sweet vegetables you could make your own homemade wine or custom vinegar.
  • Dry salt vegetables – packing freshly picked vegetables in dry salt not only preserves them, but it can intensify the flavour and improve the texture. Check out some simple techniques.
  • Macerate fruits with alcohol – it couldn’t be easier. Too many berries, cherries or currents? Wash and dry them then drown them in your favourite alcoholic tipple. Vodka, rum and brandy work particularly well (the alcohol should be 80% proof) and you can also add dried spices and sugar to intensify sweetness.
  • Smoking food – typically fish and meat is smoked to preserve it. Smoking vegetables doesn’t have the same effect, but if you’re going to the trouble of making a chutney or salt curing veg, you could consider smoking it first to add a different distinctive flavour.

With all these new and traditional ways to preserve fruit and veg, you should be able to make the most of your autumn harvest throughout the whole year.

Sep 26

Garden shed maintenance advice: ten essential tips

Garden shed maintenance advice

Some of the UK had 30+ degree temperatures this September, so you might think a post about garden shed maintenance advice is badly timed, but the first Christmas puddings also arrived on supermarket shelves this month. This, and the ever shortening days, is always a depressing signal that autumn is really upon us.

Whilst it may be fine to leave the Christmas food and present shopping until late December, protecting your garden shed from autumn and winter gales won’t wait that long.

The rain, wind and damp of a British autumn are the three great enemies of any timber garden building. If you want to get maximum enjoyment and longevity from a garden shed, summer house or garden office, you need to keep them at bay. Here’s our garden shed maintenance advice broken into 10 handy tips that you should consider this autumn.

Tip number 1: Ensure nothing is left touching the building

Cut back any trees and shrubs near your timber garden buildings, as they will prevent air flow, and make it harder for timber to dry out between rain showers. Even worse, overhanging branches can easily damage the roof felt or shingles in high winds. It might be tempting to leave garden furniture, tools or logs resting against the back wall of the building where they are out of sight, but you need to leave a clear gap to stop moisture building up.

Tip number 2:  Use the best garden shed timber treatment and preserver

Garden shed maintenance advice and tips

All exposed wood should be treated with good quality wood preservative to prepare it for winter. Ideally, you will have done this when you first installed the building, but you also need to reapply regularly. GardenLife recommend Barrettine wood preserver to stop wood boring insects, rot and fungal infection, plus Barrettine log cabin oil to help form a watertight layer. Cuprinol also has a good range of wood preservatives and protectors, as well as some good advice on how to protect and revive a shed.

And if you want to makeover your garden shed more radically, there are excellent stains and paints for timber buildings available in the Sadolin and Sikkens ranges.

If chemical infused preservatives or solvent based treatments aren’t for you, we also covered some environmentally friendly options for wood stain in an earlier blog post.

Tip number 3:  Check the roof of your shed

Replacing garden shed shingles and roofing felt

If you have loose shingles, felt or flashing, their chances of surviving high winds are dicey. Far better to make small repairs before the first gales of winter strike than to have to deal with far bigger emergency roof repairs and water damage post-storms. You can buy replacement felt and shingles at most large DIY chains, and if you want to re-roof a GardenLife building get in touch with us and we can quote for the appropriate amount of felt or shingles.

Tip number 4:  Get out the oil can

Check that hinges, handles, locks and padlocks are moving freely, and give them a coat of oil to keep it that way. If you need to get oil inside locks or handles get a spray can of WD-40 with a straw – you can then spray right inside moving parts without having to take things apart. Also check that doors or windows open and shut easily; if they don’t, you’ll need to investigate further to check that frames haven’t swollen, warped or twisted. If you need to sand or plane a surface down to free a sticking door or window, remember to reapply wood preserver and treatment afterwards.

Tip number 5:  Clear all gutters

Cleaning gutters is part of garden shed maintenane

If your shed or garden building has gutters, check they’re not blocked. Clear away all leaves and other blockages, and keep on doing this throughout the autumn. If gutters block, water may overflow down timber walls, causing damp problems. Should your garden building be located underneath a large tree, leaf build-up could be a persistent problem. In this instance you might want to consider adding a mesh leaf trap guard to the top of your downpipe. This will allow water to flow through, but will stop leaf litter blocking the downpipe.

If your building doesn’t have gutters, look out for problems with water building up on roofs or running down the walls. It may be that adding gutters could prevent the problem escalating into more serious water damage. If you don’t like the look of gutters you could consider rain chains as much more interesting solution instead.

Tip number 6:  Get rid of some junk

Freeing up some space in your summerhouse or workshop won’t in itself prolong its life. But a good tidy-up and clear-out may help you spot damp, watermarks, mould, nests or other problems.

In particular, have a rigorous inspection of the interior next time it rains, searching for any new leaks or damp problems that need treatment.

Tip number 7:  Look out for the windows

Internal timber window frames and sills can sometimes develop damp problems caused by condensation, especially outside the summer months. Applying a quick coat of clear wood treatment to internal sills and frames can head off these problems. If the sills or frames are already damp, you’ll need to dry them out first.

Tip number 8:  Clean surrounding decking and paving

Clean decking and paving around garden sheds

Throughout the autumn, clear away leaves from your decking, including from any gaps. They can cause discolouration and perhaps damp too. When damp and covered in algae decking and paving can be like an ice rink. A good clean with a fungicidal decking cleaner and reviver will help remove algae, moss and mould from decking and paving. You may also need to reapply decking stain or treatment once the timber has dried. There’s some good advice on the B&Q website.

Tip number 9:  Check out your shed base

Grass and leaves around the foot of a timber building can reduce air flow around and under the building, and prevent wooden walls or foundation joists from fully drying out. This makes the building more vulnerable to problems with damp, even where you have pressure-treated timber.

Tip number 10:  Hunt down your spirit level and try square

While you’re on a maintenance session, you may also want to ensure that walls, door frames and windows are still at 90 degrees to the ground. If not, you may be suffering problems with subsidence or damp. Your heart will sink at having to work out how to solve the problem, but better to do so now than when further damage has set in!

If you follow this garden shed maintenance advice early each autumn you should ensure that your shed or garden room remains in good condition and continues to provide you with many years of trouble free use (but if you do need a new one, we can always help!).

Sep 9

Creative garden path ideas: seven tips to make a garden look bigger and better

Stepping stone garden path

When it comes to beautiful garden design most people fail to consider the importance of the garden path. A path can just be a simple route from A to B, but it can also be the backbone of your garden design. A path can transform the appearance of your garden and how it’s used. Either way, a creative garden path could hugely improve your garden.

The practical benefits of a garden path

Beautiful garden path to a shed

Take the same route from your backdoor to your garden office, compost bin, shed or garage a couple of times daily, and in a rainy year, your lawn could look like a mud bath. In a bad November you may need wellies just to reach the garage.

The best way to rescue your lawn is to build a path. Not only will you avoid the trench effect, but you could make your garden look longer, wider and more interesting.

Unusual garden path ideas: create an optical illusion

Paved diagonal garden path

There are lots of clever tricks of the trade when designing a creative garden path. For example:

  • a path starting at 45 degrees from the house, and curving sinuously can make a garden look bigger and wider
  • a tapering path that narrows at the end of the garden can make the whole garden look longer
  • a path can steer the eye towards the garden’s best features, from an attractive garden building to a beautiful shrub. It can also create greater cohesion between your home and different garden buildings, or act as a divide, creating a route through different planting zones
  • solar powered lights can highlight a path at night, or even change its colour

The best material for a garden path?

Creative pebble and flagstone path idea

The crunch of a gravel path is always satisfying; other benefits of gravel include:

  • it drains really well
  • it’s good value for money
  • it’s easy to lay
  • it has a low environmental impact
  • it can improve security (it’s very difficult to walk on a gravel path around a house without making noise)

And though gravel paths are not the most exciting option around, visual interest can be increased by breaking up the gravel with groupings of natural stone or granite slabs. Or you could try planting ground cover perennials, such as alchemillla (ladies’ mantle) in the gravel.

If you’re looking for other garden path ideas there are lots to choose from. Cheap materials for pathways include wood bark, pebbles, wood chips or stone chips, the last of these available in a wide range of colours.

If using coloured stone chips, remember that the colour will intensify when they are wet, so choose your shade with that in mind. You should also consider the impact of the stone colour on neighbouring plants too. Neutral colours can help blend a path into its surroundings, whereas a contrasting colour such as white granite or grey/blue slate will make the path stand out. Whatever you decide, if you use gravel, bark, wood or stone chips it’s best to put a layer of weed proof membrane underneath to minimise future maintenance.

There are a vast range of other possible materials for an interesting garden path; from traditional York stone (either new or salvaged), to recycled bricks, modern concrete, wooden sleepers or even raised decking.  Decking can also add height to your walkway, which adds extra interest.

Each material has its pros and cons, in terms of price, durability, drainage, ease of use, and general appearance. You can get a good idea of what’s available in your budget range on the Jewson website.

Garden path edging ideas

Lovely cobble and gravel path

Edging a path will prevent gravel or chips from migrating into the surrounding grass, and also make it look smarter. Possible edging materials include timber (which should be treated pleasure-treated with preservative), terracotta or slate tiles, or modern steel edging.

Again the choice will come down to price and taste. If you’re not sure, then visit as many gardens as possible to see what other people have used. Alternatively, look at websites such as Pinterest – there are some great examples of some really creative garden path ideas.

The best width for a garden path?

Original creative garden path idea

The best width for your path will partly depend on the size of your garden. Also entering your decision-making should be:

  • narrower paths tend to encourage people to walk faster; broader paths offer more of an invitation to stroll
  • generally, garden designers recommend a path is wide enough for two people to walk side by side, but a practical A-to-B path to a bin or shed can be narrower
  • think about practicalities – whether you need enough width for a wheelchair or lawnmower, and if you should leave a gap in the edging to allow easy access for a wheelie bin or wheelbarrow

A straight garden path v. a curving garden path

Brick edging on a curved garden path

The shape of the path depends on your taste and the space available. A meandering or curved garden path will generally make your garden look more interesting or bigger, but may not be practical if your family are likely to head for the bike shed or workshop by the shortest possible route.

Curved paths are also relatively easy to make yourself if you intend to use materials such as gravel or woodchip. However, you may need a professional garden landscaper to lay a curved garden path made of paving slabs or timber decking.

Straight paths are more likely to be used in larger, formal gardens, and may do little to enhance the design of a smaller garden. But if you want to add visual interest to an existing straight path, the options include:

  • a pergola or arches to walk under
  • a fountain, water feature or pond with a bridge to walk over
  • interrupting the straight line by adding a paved area or bench part way along the path
  • alternating between two different materials, such as mix of slabs and woodchip, or “stepping stones” slabs surrounded by gravel of a contrasting colour

The House and Home website has some inspirational and highly creative garden path ideas.

How to lay a garden path

There’s not the space here for a full tutorial on building a garden path, but there is plenty of good advice online. This video by Monty Don on the Gardeners World website covers all the basics.

There’s excellent guidance on building gravel, concrete or block paving paths on the Wickes website, and this also tells you all the materials you’ll need. From a spirit level to check that the base is level, to weed-resistant landscaping material for the base, to the right type of mortar.

If you follow these seven creative garden path ideas you could end up improving the look of your garden as well as making it feel bigger. You’ll also be rid of the quagmire that comes with winter weather too.