Simple ways to get your summer garden sizzling

By Mark Lane

The summer is finally here, but how can we make the most of our gardens so that everyone, no matter their age or ability, can enjoy it? Thankfully the answer is easy. There are many ways to create a perfect outdoor living space so that you can sit back with your favourite tipple or cuppa and enjoy the company of friends and/or family, or just find a great secluded area for some prime ‘me time’.

A secluded spot perfect for a morning cuppa away from the kids

I’m here to tell you that with some planning and taking your time you can create the wonderful outdoor space of your dreams. Remember every garden is a reflection of the owner’s or gardener’s personality and this is why I love visiting gardens, because even if a garden style such as a cottage garden has been followed by three or even 100 people, each one will be completely different. That’s why gardening and gardens are so magical.

Water can bring a garden to life

It doesn’t matter if you have a large or small garden, the principles are just the same. The best designs keep materials, plants and decor simple and coordinated, for a cohesive look. ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall… and a garden full of symmetry’. Not quite the saying, but when designing outdoor , it’s best to work to a concept of balance, which is achieved in three basic designs: symmetrical, asymmetrical and radial.

  • If the left and right hand-sides of the space consist of the same , then balance is considered symmetrical. A symmetrical garden can however look boring, predictable and static, so by following some simple rules your outdoor space can look stunning this summer.
  • Keep the material palette simple and use the Golden Ratio (Sectio Aurea), which works out at c.1.62. It is a ratio that can be found in nature, art and science. The strong dominant lines should reflect the Golden Ratio.
  • Avoid the garden looking monotonous by introducing an area that is mirrored along the opposite axis. Also, make the journey through the outdoor space exciting by unveiling new and exciting details, perhaps with something less formal as the ‘climax’, for example an old mis-shaped bonsai.
  • A formal space with pairs of identical elements immediately gives a sense of balance and can be stunning as a sharp contrast to informal spaces. But, if a balanced symmetrical garden is not for you then you can still have an asymmetrical garden that is balanced, i.e. a large specimen tree on one side can be balanced by three smaller ones on the other.

The simple repetition and symmetry of this pergola leads the eye to another part of the garden

Of course, a garden must have plants and depending on your budget and willingness to garden it is essential to select plants that will create the look you are after. In other words, if you want a tropical garden then keep to tropical plants, such as Cannas, tree ferns, gingers and large-leafed plants like Fatsia. On the hand, if you want a colourful cottage garden then fill your pots and borders with a cacophony of colourful plants, as well as edibles, from bedding plants to perennials, shrubs to trees. If you want to sit back and look at the garden, and be more of a passive gardener, as opposed to an active gardener, then look for low-maintenance plants such as flowering shrubs and low-growing plants that don’t need staking and fussing over.

Roses and hydrangeas are great low-maintenance flowering shrubs

Do you like a particular style of gardening, such as cottage, prairie, sensory, seaside, tropical or modern? Understanding the look and feel of each is paramount for getting it right. There are thousands of images online showing different garden styles. Start collecting them and produce a mood board. Sometimes it might be the smallest detail of a handcrafted door handle that you like – the shape, the craftsmanship, the material. This, in turn, could steer you towards and Arts and Crafts-style-garden, for example.

Then think about the materials that you want to use. Natural materials, such as stone, gravel and wood lend themselves to traditional styles, whereas clean-cut, porcelain tiles, a monochrome palette or strong architectural features and modern sculpture are better for modern or contemporary gardens.

Modern sculpture and garden ornamentation give a garden a finished look

Remember, there are no rules other than your own. You may even like to mix up materials and aim for an eclectic look. January, February and even March are the perfect times to sit down with a cuppa, a blank piece of paper or your laptop and get your little grey cells working. Sometimes, paper cut outs in different shapes, representing a table and chairs, a shed, etc can be moved around until you find the right balance.

Of course, it’s not only flowers that are growing at this time of the year, but weeds will be sprouting up all over the place unless you get on top of them. I like to garden organically, so when I heard about Richard Jackson’s Double Action Weedkiller I had to give it a go. On a warm summer’s day this will kill your weeds in a couple of hours (depending on the size of the weed). And I love the fact that it is based on a plant extract from the pelargonium, known as pelargonic acid.

To keep your plants looking their best you will need to feed them and provide them with the best situation to grow. Feeding your plants will ensure healthier and stronger plants. Good compost and soil is also essential. Remember that plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas, blueberries and heathers will need ericaceous soil as they are acid-loving plants. So get to know your plants and provide the right growing conditions for them.

Knowing what plants will grow in pots and containers is key to magnificent displays

If you like to sit down when gardening then consider using containers, pots and raised beds for maximum effect. Remember though that pots and containers will need to be watered more often than plants in the ground, but you can add different height containers to suit your style and needs. Raised beds, raised planters or raised tables are a great way to bring the garden up to a comfortable height.

A collection of pots by the back door softens the patio, bringing colour, scent and texture up close and personal

If you position these around a seating area then when entertaining you can be surrounded by scent and colour, or if cooking on a BBQ then edibles and herbs in containers of any shape and size make them accessible. There really is nothing better than picking your own produce or herbs and adding them straight to the BBQ.

Of course, your patio, terrace or balcony will look great with seating in some shape or form. If your space is small then consider two key pieces such as two comfortable chairs or folding chairs and tables, which can be put away to one side when you need to use the space. If you have the space then why not create an outdoor room with seating, dining table and chairs perhaps with outdoor rugs, feature lighting and garden décor to really set the scene.

In addition, destination spots within the garden are a great way to entice you into the space. A pathway leading you into a space creates a child-like fascination and curiosity. Ideally pathways should be wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side, and if any family member or friends use a wheelchair, scooter or walking frame then you need good wide turning circles. Also, a raised edge to a pathway stops wheels and feet from ending up in a flower border. A couple of chairs with a solar light positioned in a secluded area of the garden can become the perfect oasis. Your garden becomes a fully immersive experience. Throw over a blanket and you can use the space even in the autumn or on wintry evenings. If you can enjoy your garden for 12 months of the year, then it really will become an additional room to the house.

Pathways lead the eye to different areas of the garden. A piece of sculpture at one end of a long walk adds a focal point

Lighting brings a garden to life at night. Here in the UK we have a lot of dark hours, dull and grey days, and ideally you want to look outside and still enjoy your garden. Lighting key pieces will add drama and focal points, and garden becomes an immersive experience.

Also, solar lights, such as Luxform’s Kensington lamppost, which I have near my rose borders, require no wiring, and can be moved around easily.

Hidden LED strip lighting in the path’s edging boards illuminates the gravel without causing glare

Lighting within a border, partially hidden from sight, will add shadows and silhouettes which will be dramatic and bold. However, party lights and string lights can be used in a fun way, whether for children or for adults.

If you like the idea of growing veggies or fruit but are limited on space, then consider a vertical garden. There are several on the market now, some even come with individual pots for plants so you can swap and change them around to get maximum sunlight.

All vertical gardens need an irrigation system or either leaky hose or small irrigation pipes and nozzles, as well as a water collecting reservoir at the bottom. If you use a solar-powered pump, you can put the watering onto a timer during the day, and even add liquid feed to the reservoir. As the pump starts to work the water and feed will be forced through the pipes and onto the soil or coir. Vertical gardens can be quite high maintenance, but they can be made up of either ornamental or edible plants.

Vertical growing, espaliered fruit and herbs and vegetables make for an interesting garden, especially when tight on space.