Perhaps it’s our age (ahem), but both Alex and I are really getting into gardening, so we are thrilled to have a guest post from the wonderful, esteemed gardener and writer Laetitia Maklouf, with her simple tricks to spruce your garden in a weekend.
My new favourite quick read is Laetitia’s weekly newsletter, which is a shot of pure joy in my inbox (sign up here), and I love her charming, witty blog. Featuring clever, eminently do-able (even by novices such as myself) tips, it’s a genuine pleasure to read: it feels like Laetitia is pottering along beside you, pointing out what needs cutting back or making gentle suggestions as to what you might like to plant or purchase this week. Every week is a happy meander through her garden (and her mind) – the average offering might take in sweet peas, To The Lighthouse, the joy of growing your own salad, garden cushions and a lawnmower. How can you resist? Sign up, and follow her on Instagram @laetitiamaklouf.
Anyway, you’re here for Laetitia – and here she is…
Yes, it’s basically summer, and no, you are not alone in feeling a rising sense of argh because your garden isn’t really doing what you want it to do. You probably made a commitment to yourself, around August last year, that you would ‘do something about the garden for next year, that next year would be THE year when the place would be gorgous/under control/barbecue-ready and you’d invite all your friends over and they’d go OOOOH, your garden is so beautiful, we really MUST do something about OURS etc etc.
Well, THIS is your moment. It may be flaming June but what it ISN’T is too late. Here are my five favourite ways to spruce up your space in a weekend.
1. It’s not gardening at all (in fact, most gardening isn’t actually gardening…it’s TIDYING (or, as gardeners like to call it, husbandry) and all you need to do is get some gloves on and sweep, mostly. Sweeping your terrace, patio, steps and paths and mowing your lawn will do a vast amount towards making everything sing. This is a game of contrasts, see, and in order to win, you just have to pull off a very simple trick, which is to make all your hard landscaping (and your lawn if you have one) clean and tidy, in order to get away with murder in your flowerbeds. Use a pair of edging shears or kitchen scissors to cut the edges of the lawn and you get an extra brownie point. There, you’ve just created a beautiful, clean, calm foil for the mess everywhere else. Clever.
2. Containers ftw. Tackling your borders is fine, but you won’t get as much payback by weeding and chopping and planting in there as you will by concentrating on a few large containers. They add instant colour and texture and refuse to be ignored, thus yanking eyes away from less lovely things. My go-to for long-lasting, low-maintenance glamour is always to stick to green, using evergreen ferns, or perennials such as hellebore or lady’s mantle. For cascading loveliness seek out muehlenbeckia, but I digress, because you want summer SPLASH, don’t you? So go and nab whatever it is in your local garden centre that makes you excited and happy, and plant it in those pots. The key is profusion, and NOT to mix things up. Stick to one plant and go for it. Remember to water them diligently, and feed them too, weekly, weakly, and you’ll probably keep whatever it is going until the first frosts or beyond.
3. Hear me out, because this is a bit of a scary one, but have a good hard look at any large shrubs or trees in your garden and imagine them with BARE LEGS. Most shrubs can have their nether branches and twigs removed, (this is called ‘lifting’ in gardening speak) and the result is two-fold. First, you find yourself with extra space! Somewhere you could possibly put a chair, perhaps. Secondly, you create the potential for understory – which means you can then plant beautiful things like woodland bulbs to add another layer of colour and interest to your garden. Third and most importantly though, you have begun to sculpt shapes with your plants, and by making shapes, you give your garden structure – structure which plays that all-important part of providing the clean, green, eye-resting lines that allow you to be entirely slovenly everywhere else. Be aware that at this time of year you’re going to need to take extra care of anything you prune, as normally you’d be doing this when the weather is cooler and growth is slowing. Water copiously after any pruning, and add a layer of garden compost or well-rotted manure afterwards to keep the moisture in. Keep watering daily and deeply for a week or so, depending on the weather, and then every other day for two weeks.
4. Think up. There is not a single shabby flowerbed that isn’t improved by the addition of three, five or even seven very long bamboo canes stuck in a circle and tied at the top, tipi style. I swear to you that if you just do this, you’ll feel better about your garden. There is something magical that happens when the eye is forced skyward – it broadens our horizons, it takes us out of ourselves; suddenly we are no longer visually confined within a space. Try it. And hurrah! if you grow something up these canes things will be even better! I would suggest climbing beans, squash or courgettes – you needn’t bother to raise them from seed (unless you want to) as you’ll find seedlings at most of the big shed garden centres. Always buy double the amount you need because slugs and snails WILL try and ravage them…that’s gardening life. This type of veg grows fast, which is why I suggest it, but of course you could go for something more permanent up your obelisk, like a clematis or other climber.
5. Sink in. It’s not gardening, but seriously, you’ll never enjoy your outside space if you don’t create inviting, comfortable seating areas. Shading is a part of this too. Some gorgeous cushions [Laetitia has these] and throws (steal them from inside) and a beautiful parasol (which by the way, acts as yet another vertical element) will do more for your garden than all the weeding in the world. An outdoor rug is also worth considering, especially if your terrace has seen better days. Suddenly, without a single rose, everything feels rather rosy.
Laetitia blogs at LaetitiaMaklouf.com – where you can also sign up for her weekly newsletter, and follow her on Instagram @laetitiamaklouf.
Main image via Laetitia. Other images via Pinterest.