Wednesday, 3 July 2013

urban jungle - where to start

Now that the sun is putting in a semi-regular appearance it's lovely to finally get outside, but what do you do if you find yourself with a bit of outdoor space and have no idea what to do with it? What if you like to spend time outside but don't particularly like gardening, or don't have time, or don't know what plants to buy? This isn't a comprehensive guide by any means but I hope it will provide some tips and inspiration to get you started. I find gardening to be very therapeutic and at the end of a long day there's nothing like pottering about in the garden or sitting outside with a cool drink to wind down. Even if you never become a dedicated gardener having a pleasant outside space is still worth the small amount of effort required.

First up, I'd recommend that if you're renting, you stick to container gardening as any money you invest in your garden can come with you when you move. Although that's not to say you can't plant some cheap and cheerful bulbs in your borders if you have them! I'm just saying, don't buy expensive plants and then end up having to leave them. Don't assume you can just dig things up when you move either, most established plants don't like having their roots disturbed and may suffer or die if you attempt to move them.

The other great plus about container gardening is that if you fancy a change, or a plant isn't doing as well as you'd like, you can easily move things about for a new look or to see if the plant does better in a different position. I move my pots around on a regular basis as plants outgrow them and I re-pot, or I just fancy a change. It's just like moving furniture!

So where to start? Really all you need is a few plants and somewhere to sit and the rest is icing on the cake. Choose low maintenance, drought tolerant plants and they will require little effort on your part to keep looking their best. I'd also recommend a capsule of evergreen and architectural plants so things look good even in winter, and 'accessorize' with flowering bulbs or annual varieties for maximum impact in the summer, when you'll be spending the most time in your outside space.

Small gardens and balconies are easiest to deal with as a few plants is all you need and it won't cost much to transform the space. If you have a large garden and feel overwhelmed, or are on a tight budget, choose a good corner and concentrate your efforts there, rather than spreading out what you have and trying to fill the whole garden where things may look a little lost. Our patio is L shaped and quite large, so I've concentrated on the area outside the back door and around the picnic bench. The other end is not as sunny and overlooked by neighbours so I'm leaving that part until later, but the views from inside the house looking out all have some greenery. It's an important consideration, on rainy days and in winter seeing the garden from the house can give as much pleasure as actually sitting out in it. 

Here is my pick of the 10 best basics to get you started and inspired.

1. Solar Line Lights £16 Next Give your outside space a bit of atmosphere with some solar lighting like these simple fairy lights and add outdoor candles that repel insects.
2. Cordyline 'Red Star' £15 Homebase Cordylines are great for adding height to a garden, they're hardy and evergreen and if you choose a variety like this 'Red Star' you can add some colour year round without relying on flowers.
3. Three Stainless Steel Spheres £9.99 Gardens2You Sculptures and other non plant items add shape and interest, I'm a big fan of these spheres and I have a set myself.
4. Tom Chambers Crooked Obelisk £14.99-£22.99 Capital Gardens Even if you don't have a plant growing up these they look fantastic! Although if you choose an ivy or passion flower it's a really quick way to add height to your garden and help provide screening if needed.
5. Tarno Table & 2 Chairs £35 IKEA Seating can be the most expensive part of the garden, but avoid plastic furniture if you can and invest in something solid, or a folding set like this one from Ikea, perfect for a balcony space. If you have a larger garden a solid picnic bench is often the most durable and cost effective option.
6. Textured Tall Round Planter £24 Wilko Plastic planters that have a stone effect are lightweight so they are perfect for balconies and easier to move. They are also much cheaper than the real deal so you can buy more of them. I have a pair that house bay trees and they look stunning. You might want to pop a brick in the bottom to add a little weight though as they are prone to topple over in high winds if you have a standard tree in them.
7. Bay Tree Duo £54.99 Intaflora Bays are very forgiving, they don't need much watering but do require a more sheltered spot in winter. The glossy leaves can be clipped to shape in the summer and taste great to season soups and stews. You don't have to prune them to shape but a lollipop (shown here) or pyramid shape help to give structure to a planting scheme.
8. Zinc Planter £9.95 Marshalls Growing herbs is one of the simplest ways to garden, smell amazing and great to use in cooking. See my guide to herbs from a previous post here.
9. Box Ball £24.90 The Terrace Gardener Box is another architectural plant that is easy to maintain, although it does require a good watering during dry months or if growing on a patio. Available as a ball, pyramid or standard version from most garden centres they look particularly good in groups. For a really simple scheme with big impact, buy a few with matching pots and line them up along a balcony edge or wall, you won't need any other plants and it's great for beginners because you only need to learn to care for one plant type!
10. Blooma Kembla BBQ £15 B&Q No garden is complete without a barbeque and this one is compact, economical and the lid shuts so when you're not using it for cooking it could be used like a side table, or pop some small pots on top for extra greenery. It also packs away into a carry strap so you can take it on picnics!

If you want a bit more information on gardening basics try this BBC guide or a book like The Container Expert. Mostly though, it's a bit of trial and error but don't be afraid to fail, dig in!

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