New year's resolutions needn't be a chore: why not take Joe Swift's advice, and make 2002 the year of fun in the garden?

The 10-minute gardener’s new year’s resolutions may not read like your average commitments that are chosen after a particularly debauched Christmas and new year. Giving up smoking, giving up drinking, losing weight, eating more healthily, going to the gym and using your time more efficiently are among the usual suspects bandied around at this time of year. Forget about all those boring options for a moment and consider going for a whole new approach to life.

There is a gardening-based way forward that will enrich your life beyond your wildest dreams. It is guaranteed to make you instantly healthy, improve your sex life (more often than not!), earn the friendship and respect of others, reduce stress and at the same time take your mind off all the other conventional options. In fact, it is a whole new way of living: it’s called ‘Gardening The 10-Minute Way’, and all you need is a garden of some description.

We’re not even talking 10 minutes a day. Oh no, just 10 minutes every now and then. Maybe once a week will be enough. The most important thing is that whatever you do in your garden it should be based on one or all of the following four main mantra parts.

The first part of the mantra, which can be chanted again and again (but is best just thought about in case anyone’s listening), and happens to be my favourite, is LESS WORK. The whole approach is based on that minimalist theory of ‘less is more’, but this time it’s applied to working - can’t be bad. A garden that always needs lots of work can never really be a relaxing place. All that digging, weeding, mowing is not good. You may as well go to the damn gym. It should be a place to reduce the stress of, and escape from, a busy lifestyle. To be a true 10-minute gardener the garden must be assessed for the amount of work required. The high maintenance areas such as small lawns or lots of tall floppy perennials - which only flower for a week a year and then need staking and dead-heading - must be replaced. More practical surfaces such as groovy decking or slate tiles are much more appropriate and selected plants that earn their place in a small garden are a much better option.

The second part of the mantra is MORE FUN. Starting to sound even better, eh! The garden is the ideal place to entertain and should be used for this purpose at every opportunity. Those long summer days are the perfect excuse to meet new neighbours and ring up old friends by inviting them over for an impromptu barbecue. When the setting’s right there’s that magical moment when the sun goes down, but the music keeps playing and the drink keeps flowing, and before you know it there’s a serious garden party going on!

The third part is MORE DRAMA. Now I don’t mean rushing into the garden first thing in the morning in your paisley dressing gown and matching slippers and shouting, “Oh my God. Darling look, look I can’t believe it. That bloody snail’s been at my favourite hosta again!” I’m referring to making the right setting and atmosphere so that the ‘more fun’ bit can occur. In a small garden dramatic, architectural plants should be chosen to help create the right composition. Go for tall plants such as bamboos, banana palms and tall grasses like the stripy Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus' and Stipa gigantea. A well-placed tall specimen can increase privacy from overlooking windows. Other dramatic plants are the weird ones such as Pseudopanax crassifolius with its drooping and serrated thin black leathery leaves and Astelia chathamica with its shiny silver sword-shaped leaves. Melianthus major is a great plant for a sunny garden with its large blue serrated leaves.

Whenever you buy a plant for a small garden make sure it’s one that will give you plenty of interest and drama for as long as possible. They will also make a great talking point at one of your many garden parties, and reeling off a few Latin names will always earn the respect from your easily impressed friends (you know the ones!).

The final part of the mantra is MORE SMELLIES. Scent in a small garden can change the whole mood and work well for an outdoor aromatherapy session. Climbers are a really good way of introducing scented flowers and covering ugly walls. Trachelospermum jasminoides is a great evergreen climbing plant that will flower well in sun or shade. It has little white flowers, which will fill a small garden with a heady jasmine scent. Honeysuckles and the common jasmine - Jasminum officinale - are always reliable and will help to transport you on the cheapest of holiday destinations - your own back garden. Aromatic herbs such as rosemary, lavender and sage are all good garden plants and give off a wonderful fragrance during the summer months. Be careful not to put too many early spring-flowering scented plants into a small garden since it’s unlikely you will venture out on a cold morning just to smell the flowers. Remember every plant has to earn its keep.

So there we have it: the new year’s resolutions. Less Work, More Fun, More Drama and More Smellies. It’s easy. The simple way to a newly enriched life without giving up drinking, smoking or going to the gym. Remember, The 10-Minute Way.

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Other Joe Swift Articles
   Feeling Good?        Jazzing up a Garden
   Less Work, More Fun        Let There Be Light!
   Patio Pleasure        Pots of Colour
   Turn up the heat        Urban Chic
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