Quick fixes

26 January 2018

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THERE usually comes, in late win­ter or early spring, a mild sunny spell, which takes everyone by surprise. Those with a garden, or at least some outdoor space, may give it their attention for the first time this year, and, in wondering exactly where to begin, achieve little before the weather defaults to the seasonal norm.

So I thought that I would suggest a few “easy wins”: tasks that you will be glad you did when the weather turns more benign for longer.

First, if you have a lawn, define the edges by trimming the grassy fringe with edging shears. It is too soon to start mowing, but clipped edges make a world of difference. If you are thinking to yourself “What edges?”, then try clearing the gully between grass and neighbouring borders of debris, weeds, and any over-exuberant garden plants.

If you cannot find a boundary, you will need to recut it with an edging knife, using a plank of wood as a guide for a straight edge, or a hosepipe pegged in place if it is curved.

Those with just paving are not off the hook. A similarly dramatic make­­­­­over can be achieved by clean­ing hard surfaces with a pressure washer. This removes stains, and, and, when the paving dries, the effect is to lighten the whole area. If the mortar between slabs is loose, and gaps appear, brush some dry sand over them and it will look like new again.

It is worth pressure-washing any garden furniture while you are at it. If wooden or metal tables and chairs still look tired, give them a coat of chalk paint. Although this will not help to preserve it, it gives a lovely weathered, vintage feel. Be honest about the number of pots that you are going to maintain well, and store or give away the rest. They, too, can be given a coat of chalk paint (it sticks to most sur­­faces, including plastic) and co-ordinated with your bench or table.

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The next couple of months are a good time for some restorative pruning. Tackling one overgrown shrub can have a dramatic effect, but it is important to remember that reducing the height of one that flowers on wood made last year (think early bloomers such as for­­sythias, philadelphus, and weigela) will re­­move most or all of its flowering potential.

You are best waiting until after flowering to tackle that, but another technique can be applied now across all large shrubs, including ever­­greens, providing you can ascertain a handsome or at least characterful framework of trunks near the base.

I am referring to “pruning up”, where the lower branches are thinned to a skeleton creating the silhouette of a small tree. Remove all dead twigs killed by over-shading, and then a good proportion of the laterals back flush to the main branches. Work up until you have a pleasing balance of bare legs and canopy. The result will be a new focal point, and light flooding in to some forgotten corners.

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