As the weather starts to warm up we look for opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors again, and if you are lucky enough to have a garden you may start spending more time in it. Whether you dream of the ideal alfresco space for entertaining friends, an opportunity for the family to play and learn, or you have discovered your inner Monty Don during Lockdown, Spring is a great time to get out and make the most of any outdoor space you call your own.
That said, with the cost of living rising in general, how much time and, more importantly, money, should we invest in our outdoor space? Research suggests that a garden could add up to 20% to the value of your property but it can vary widely, and the impact a garden will have for a purchaser certainly varies with the seasons. So where should you focus your efforts?
A garden building, if you have the space, is generally considered the most important. Whether it is a garden gym or office, a potting-shed or even just somewhere to keep the bikes, a building is apparently the garden feature that adds the most value. Patio space and fencing are also high on the list, offering the opportunity to sit and enjoy the garden with a sense of privacy is important, and garden lighting is also very attractive to purchasers, enticing a buyer with thoughts of warm Summer evenings spent entertaining outside. But what about the plants themselves? Maintenance is often a key factor; you may have the most spectacular space filled with exotic flowers and immaculate shrubs, but this can seem intimidating to the non green-fingered buyer. However, there are some excellent options that require little effort and offer stunning results, here are just a few to inspire your horticultural journey.
Bulbs are the easiest for a guaranteed display. Many of these bulbs can be grown in pots for the patio or balcony, layer them at different depths for continued colour and interest. As a rule, plant Spring bulbs in the Autumn and Summer bulbs in the Spring, once the soil is beginning to warm up.
Snowdrops are the first to signal the start of Spring and known to be a bit of a crowd-pleaser. Once planted they will spread and bring joy every year. Unlike most bulbs you should plant snowdrops ‘in the green’, just after the flowers have died off but while the leaves are still green.
Next to bloom is usually crocus, the first sign of some Spring colour, again these require little to no care and will spread over time. Around early March you start to notice the daffodils emerging, hence their association with St David’s day, with tulips shortly afterwards. Although dead-heading is recommended, make sure you leave daffodils to die back naturally so the bulb can absorb and retain the nutrients for next year. You can lift and separate daffodil bulbs every couple of years but, just like at the side of the road across the country, they can be left completely alone and will still thrive. Tulip bulbs can also be lifted and separated once the foliage has died back but if you were expecting an exquisite display and nothing appears apparently mice are partial to a tulip bulb so this may be the cause of your disappointment.
Lily-of-the-valley is another favourite, however they are not a bulb but a rhizome with “pips”. Once planted, the pips quickly extend their roots underground and happily spread year after year. Be slightly wary of the bluebell though, as they can take over if left to their own devices, the flower stem on the English variety droops towards the tip, whereas the invasive Spanish style stands straight.
As we move towards Summer iris and daylilies offer attractive foliage followed by impressive blooms year after year with little to no care and attention. Prolific Summer flowering bulbs include crocosmia, (though they can get out of hand) agapanthus and alliums. Lilies, gladioli and dahlias are also very popular as they offer stunning Summer displays but may require wintering inside unless you live in the South, so certainly leave these in pots for ease.
Other than bulbs, perennials are excellent low-maintenance performers for your borders. Generally they bloom for a long time, offer repeat flowering or continued interest with seed heads and foliage, these plants will add effortless interest to your garden.
Perennials are a type of plant that return year after year, some basics include primrose or primulas (same plant but with slightly different characteristics) and hellebores for Spring colour. Top tip for beginners is to remove all the green leaves of a hellebore when it flowers; it feels wrong but is great for the plant. Geraniums or cranesbill make for lovely ground cover and the bees love them but be warned they do spread easily. Hosta and heuchera are both fabulous for foliage, though slugs love hosta as they thrive in shady areas. Aquilegia are beautiful seed spreading flowers offering a wide range of variety and in contrast to their delicate appearance are extremely reliable.
As a general rule, you should prune a plant after it has flowered, though as with most things in life there are exceptions to this rule. Poppies, cosmos and love-in-a-mist seed prolifically so release your inner Morticia Addams and dead-head if you don’t want them to take over. If you are looking for the ultimate in low maintenance and value for money stay away from annuals, they will only last the season, hardy annuals are a potential, but don’t be surprised if one year they don’t return. There are obviously thousands of varieties of plants to choose from, these are just examples of some of the easiest and consistently rewarding.
Growing fruit and vegetables is a great way to use your garden space and ideal if you have young children keen to learn where carrots come from, but they can take a lot of effort with varying degrees of success and don’t expect to be able to say goodbye to the greengrocer forever! Try growing lettuce or tomatoes in a hanging basket if you are short on space and to keep the slugs away, salad leaf varieties rather than whole lettuces allow you to pick and return when you need a quick salad. Herbs are perfect for the culinary enthusiasts; thyme, sage and rosemary are more than happy in pots and don’t require much attention at all. Simply continue to pick them (my nan would say to ‘nibble like a goat’) to encourage healthy growth! However, don’t be tempted to plant mint in the garden, though it is said to keep rodents at bay, restrict this to pots and replenish the soil every couple of years for guaranteed fresh zing to your mojitos! Pair herbs with vegetables that would taste good together, for example plant basil with your tomatoes, to discourage pests.
There are many reasons for embracing the English obsession with our gardens, aside to your enjoyment, simply providing a space for wildlife to thrive has become increasingly important. Encouraging and protecting bees for example has become of national, if not global, priority. In general bees like anything that shows off its wares, daisy style flowers opposed to roses for example are most attractive to nectar-gathering insects. If you are able to spare a small area of your garden that you can leave to go wild, nature will be most grateful. Incorporating a bug hotel, leaving a natural mess behind the shed or creating a compost area are all excellent for keeping your little ecosystem buzzing with life.
This is obviously only a very brief introduction to the world of gardening, as our expertise is insurance, not impatiens, so while you are out enjoying the garden we would also recommend taking stock of your plot with your home insurance policy in hand. Does your home insurance cover your gym equipment if it is in the ‘shed’? How tall should you let that tree grow before it becomes an issue for your insurer? Do you need additional cover for the new BBQ, hot tub or luxury patio furniture? Give us a call and let us put your worries to rest, you haven’t got the time anyway, you’ve got that weeding to do…