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Jody Thompson
December 2016.
106
I’ve just moved into my first house with a backyard garden. Where do I start?
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The first thing is to look at what’s there. What do you like and what don’t you like about what’s there? Think about what you’re going to do about it one way or another. What are you going to save, what are you going to get rid of. 

It’s not a good idea to take a scorched earth approach and once you’ve completely cleared everything, then worry about what you’re going to do next. A bit of planning and research is always a good idea. Think about what you want to use the space for. If you’ve got a young family, you might need to have a bit of lawn. You might want to keep the paving that’s there, etc. Is it going to be a play area? Is it going to be for relaxing or entertaining? Do you want it to be neat and tidy? Do you want it to be more natural and wild-looking. It depends on your taste

"Is it going to be a play area? Is it going to be for relaxing or entertaining? Do you want it to be neat and tidy? Do you want it to be more natural and wild-looking."

The most important thing to do first is to tidy up and see what you’ve got. Don’t rush into anything unless it’s just really overgrown and you’ve got to just clear it up in the first instance. Also, it depends what time of year you move in. If you move in during spring, you’ll see what’s going to emerge and what was planted by the previous owner. If you totally clear everything first, you won’t know what you might have. It’s worth just tidying what’s there and that will start you getting into the swing of it. 

Another thing – do some research. Look at books, go online, see what inspires you. It’s also worth getting a gardener or landscape designer in for a consultation to see what they say, to give you some help, inspiration and some guidance – even if you don’t get them to do any work, they can help get you started. You wouldn’t strip a room back of all furniture and décor without doing some planning beforehand to know what you want it to be. 

The garden is another room so you’ve got to think about what’s going to work and what you want in the future, or else you’ll make mistakes from the kick off. Do some research – ask friends, ask your neighbours. See what your neighbours have got and what has worked for them – they’ve probably got the same soil that you’ve got. A nice conversation over a cup of tea with your new neighbours will enlighten you no end and it’s a good opportunity to get to know them. If you take a cavalier approach, you’ll have to live with the consequences.

If it’s paved, don’t start digging it up. Get some pots and plant them up with suitable plants. On a terrace or courtyard-style garden, you don’t have to stuff it with loads of things, get some key plants and make it a lovely environment to go out and sit in. If you like nature, attract the birds, get the wildlife into your garden if that’s what you love about having a garden. Put some insect homes in , build a bee B&B, put plants in that attract butterflies and other wildlife.  

"A hedge is much more durable long term – and wildlife like hedgehogs can get through it and other animals can live in it and feed off it."

Often, we manicure our gardens too much. If we want nature to be around us, we’ve got to let things go and not keep tidying everything all the time. Wildflowers grow on poor soil for example. If you sow them, don’t manage them, just leave them be. They will look after themselves. People often think about putting a fence up because they see it as permanent and it sets your boundary very clearly. But then you end up spending money covering it with plants –but if you had a hedge, you only have to clip it twice a year. If you have a fence, you’re going to have to paint it. A hedge is much more durable long term – and wildlife like hedgehogs can get through it and other animals can live in it and feed off it. Basically, if you plan a space that you’re going to enjoy, then you’ll enjoy gardening.