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Garden Centre

Winterís a great time to really think about whether youíre getting the most from your garden and, as Joe Swift explains, this is particularly important for those of us leading busy lives

Do you feel good about your garden? Is it both a functional and inviting space that draws you in and makes you want to have some friends over to spend time in? Does it also suit your lifestyle and look good despite the small amount of spare time you may have to spend gardening?

After having put your garden to bed for the winter and with the weather being so grim it makes this the perfect time to both reflect on what you got out of your garden last year and the expectations you have for next year. Iím not just talking about whether thereís enough colour in the planting all year round or if the roses have done well, Iím thinking about the bigger picture, and more along the lines of whether the whole garden is an overall success. If it is too demanding a space for the time you have it will always looks messy and is hardly going to be the place to relax after a busy day, as there will always be Ďthings to be doneí.

I know exactly what I want from my garden since I ask my clients these types of questions all the time. I find that people are increasingly looking at the way they want to use the space before they decide on how they want it to look. Maybe itís all these TV programmes with an emphasis on lifestyle, but I think itís a good thing, and a positive approach to getting the most from your space. I generally find that the smaller the garden is the more planning it will need if the space is to be used to its full potential.

From my own outdoor space I want somewhere to relax, entertain, let my kids play safely, have an impromptu barbecue as well as having it look good most of the time. It may sound demanding, but it can be achieved with good planning and of course an injection of cash. Letís not pretend that changes in garden layouts are absolutely free, but they donít have to cost the earth either.

I actually enjoy gardening, but gardening isnít all about mowing lawns and doing the weeding - not any more. The day I got rid of my lawn area was the day I felt like I had been released from a life sentence and could spend time on the things I enjoyed. I donít care what anyone says - in a small garden the lawn simply doesnít work. Before long it will be a mud patch that will restrict you to using the garden on the rare days when it manages to fully dry out. It will sap your time and energy, and generally give you large amounts of stress, which is not what the garden doctor ordered!

It was exactly this time last year I looked at my garden thoroughly and thought about how the whole space worked and how much time I had on a weekly basis. I looked at its successes and failures, and how to put those thing right whilst at the same time harmonizing the space visually through textures and planting. I put a lot of work into it in the spring, and am really pleased that I did.

I now have a combination of hard surfaces, including a decked area, brick area and steel blue concrete (yes, concrete!) area in my garden. I mixed a blue pigment into the concrete when wet and it looks great. I have made these areas very generous in proportion to the rest of the garden. It makes them all flexible spaces for a variety of uses. We now use the whole of the garden as much as possible throughout the year. The bare soil areas in my garden have been planted up with plenty of ground cover plants, which restrict weeds from getting a hold. You can use landscape fabric to reduce maintenance. Believe me itís worth its weight in gold. You can lay over soil areas and plant through it, and then mulch over with a layer of pretty much anything you like. Pebbles, cockle shells, bark, slate chippings all look good and will also help to visually set the plants off well. The most important thing is that it will reduce weeding by 100%. Canít be bad.

My garden also reflects my personality and therefore helps me to feel comfortable in my surroundings, which makes sense really. I wouldnít feel comfortable in a flat, which was thematically decorated like a Mexican restaurant, and neither would I feel comfortable in a boring and unimaginative garden with a square lawn and two-foot wide flower beds around the edges.

I donít want to sound too smug, but my garden now suits my busy lifestyle whilst at the same time allowing me to put things in, change things around and generally garden, which I love doing. With a little inspiration and application you could easily turn your garden round. This is the perfect time to be thinking about it and planning ahead as itís certainly not the time of year youíll want to be spending time outdoors!

See also the following related workshops:
Planning a Garden from Scratch
Creating a Family Garden
Renovating an Overgrown Garden

Photographs of Joe Swift's garden by Marianne Majerus

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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