It’s hard to imagine anything lovable about your garden this month. It’s cold, damp and that bare, bedraggled, weather-battered mess you see from your window bears no resemblance to the vibrant, verdant, perfumed patch of horticultural perfection you lovingly nurtured last summer.
Those ornamental trees you bought for their eerie sculptural forms during the winter have been shredded by Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis; early-flowering bulbs are timidly poking their petals above the surface fearing winter’s final onslaught, and even the fiercely territorial robins are thinking of moving out because the grass looks greener over the fence.
But even if the weather is filthy and you can’t get out and do the jobs you know you need to do – such as pruning shrubs, climbers, and evergreen hedges, and giving your borders a boost with some organic feeds – there is one important thing you can do from the comfort of your armchair: plan.
Because if you fancy turning your mud heap into a Garden of Eden this summer, start preparing the ground now.
Even the smallest of backyards can be turned into a sensory sensation by the simplest of touches, the most obvious being fragrance and colour. But the easiest are lights.
The majority of gardens have shady corners which could benefit from a little subtle lighting, either by candlelight (in a nice tall glass jar obviously, we don’t want the slightest breeze to snuff out any flames of desire), full-size bulbs strung fora rustic overhang between posts or- yes it’s cheesy but remarkably effective -twinkling fairy lights.
Think about it. If fairy lights can transform even the dingiest of artificial Christmas trees, what could that soft glow achieve on a warm summer evening wrapped around the balustrades on a veranda or swinging lazily from a pergola. Better still, hang them round the low-hanging branches of your favourite tree to create the ultimate chill-out zone… with the aid of a soft-seating zone and an endless stream of G&Ts, naturally.
Talking of streams, nothing says serenity and calm like the sound of trickling water and no, we don’t mean taking the lid off the water butt so the clogged gutter can dribble into it. Proper water features can add texture and height to a garden; and it doesn’t have to be an elaborate fountain. Tilting rain sticks, a small pond with a waterfall, or even a birdbath with a solar-powered pump can add the necessary effect.
A cosy seating area is a must, whether it be formal chairs, loungers, benches around a picnic table… or you could create a romantic low-level spot from a sunken area. Think it’s impossible? Have a look at Tony Smith’s Quilted Velvet Garden at the 2009 RHS Chelsea Flower Show and all will become clear. You just need cushions. Lots of cushions.
So, soft lighting, comfy seating, trickling water… add some wind chimes and suddenly you’ve created your own outdoor spa!
However, nothing says romance like the gentle waft of a random scent caught on a breeze. Roses and honeysuckle are the obvious candidates for inclusion, but while the former are beautiful they need to be nurtured for the best results. The latter can be prone to aphids – and there’s nothing romantic about watching a colony of insects writhing over your favourite aromatic shrub, prior to stripping it bare of flower and leaf.
Instead, try the delightful mock orange. Heralding the beginning of summer, it’s a hardy plant that tolerates some shade, has small white flowers and, as the name suggests, releases a sweet orangey fragrance when you brush against it.
Likewise, that perennial favourite lavender, where that heady aroma immediately transports you to the sunny fields of Provence in the south of France. Great for borders and even when the flowers are over, they can be cut and taken indoors to enjoy further.
If you’ve gone for an “English Country Garden” theme, you’ll be familiar with that staple, the sweet pea. Easy to grow, multi-coloured and with a sweet perfume, they are a must for a scented garden. Similarly, gardenia’s mass of attractive foliage and white flowers make it a firm favourite – they can be grown in pots and containers too – and their scent will fill the garden through the summer months.
With a range of scents from lemon to pineapple, mint is often written off as just a cooking ingredient, but it can double its worth in the garden where the slightest brush against it releases a fresh, clean aroma. However, if left, it can spread.
Visually, if creating a new area, consider a hard, sculptured backdrop of yucca or bamboo to add architectural effect. Not only can they support a string of light, but they give height and structure to contrast with bright traditional colourful bedding plants such as red geraniums, alyssum, lobelia and silver cineraria.
And what could be more romantic than planting purple and white ornamental kale in a heart shape? So, what are you waiting for? Start planning now and rekindle your love affair with the garden.