Planning a garden party? Seven quick fixes to make it look fabulous
Just when you fancy using your garden as an outdoor room, it can be looking a little tatty
Dahlias and cosmos flowering in Fionnuala’s garden. Photograph: Richard Johnston
The bottlebrush flowers of Sanguisorba are a great addition to the late summer garden. Photograph: Richard Johnston
If you garden furniture has gotten tatty, give it a going over with good outdoor paint
Agapanthus growing in an Irish garden. Photograph: Richard Johnston
If you’re growing chilli and tomato plants indoors in pots on a sunny window sill, then make sure to regularly aid pollination by dabbing the flowers with a cotton bud or fine paintbrush.
A Red Admiral butterfly basking on the flowers of garlic chives. Photograph: Richard Johnston
Balmy late summer evenings sipping cocktails in the garden, lazy lunches dining al fresco – sounds idyllic doesn’t it? But while August may be the time of year when many of us like to use our garden as an “outdoor room”, it’s also the very time that our gardens can start to look a little lacklustre as early summer-flowering plants go over, weeds begin to colonise paths and borders, and furniture starts to look a little shabby.
Sound familiar? If so, then don’t worry as here are seven sure-fire – and simple – ways to beat the summer blues and get your plot shipshape in time for that special garden party or barbecue.
1. Get cutting
Begin with a quick spruce-up of any beds or borders, using a sharp secateurs to cut away any faded flowers, dead stems, damaged or discoloured foliage, broken branches and spent seed-heads (unless the latter are especially ornamental). You’ll be amazed by how much better this will quickly make your garden look.
2. Cheat’s weed
If you have enough time, then the next step is to get weeding using a border fork or trowel to gently dig out the root systems of stubborn perennial weeds such as dandelions, dock and ground elder while taking care not to damage those of ornamental plants. But if time is short, then cheat by pulling or cutting back any obvious weeds before using a garden hoe to scuffle and freshen up any bare soil, bearing in mind that you’ll need to tackle those weeds come late autumn.
3. Fill the gaps
Take a few moments to step back and look for any obvious holes or gaps in the planting. These can be filled with a host of late-flowering, floriferous perennials and shrubs that will give you vibrant colour and/or foliage interest until the first harsh frosts. Examples include dahlias, sedums, hydrangeas, rudbeckias, asters, heleniums, sanguisorbas, phlox, Japanese anemones, eupatorium, Verbena bonariensis and ornamental grasses such as Miscanthus and Deschampsia, all of which are available from good garden centres. Just make sure to add a few dollops of garden compost or well-rotted manure to the planting hole and to water them regularly and plentifully after planting.
4. Get edgy with the lawn
Now take a good, hard look at your lawn. Does it seem threadbare, shapeless or overgrown? While spring and autumn are the best times to carry out any major repairs, re-seeding or re-laying, there are still things that you can do now to make it look a lot smarter. For example, using a half-moon lawn-edger (or a sharp knife) to sharply define the lawn’s edges will work wonders in terms of its general appearance. If the edges are very badly frayed or uneven, use a sharp spade to lift small sections of the damaged sod and replace these so that the frayed, outer edges now face inwards and vice-versa, adding a little fresh compost to the soil before transplanting. Then water well and regularly until the root systems re-establish.
The same goes for any bald patches, which can be repaired using small sections of healthy grass lifted from other, less obvious areas of your lawn. But again, make sure to water any repaired areas regularly and plentifully until the root systems re-establish.
5. Spruce up the garden furniture
That tatty-looking garden furniture? Use a scrubbing brush or power-washer (available to hire from several outlets including laoishire.com) to scour away any dirt, moss, algae, and flaking paint then leave it to dry in a shed for a few days. If it’s wooden, then a good-quality exterior wood paint or wood stain can be used to give it a dramatic facelift. Niamh Courtney, colour consultant with Dublin-based MRCB paints (mrcb.ie), highly recommends the Arborcoat range from Benjamin Moore (benjaminmoore.com), an established American brand known for its high-quality, colour-durable qualities. Classic garden shades include Sea Pine, Night Train and Hale Navy. Conveniently, this range doesn’t require a primer so all you have to do is apply it (two coats are recommended) onto clean, dry wood. The same range is also suitable for use with wooden fencing or garden decking, while for metal garden furniture, she recommends Benjamin Moore’s Aura Exterior range.
6. Scrub that paving
That stained paving? While there are several nasty chemicals available that will do the job effectively but at an inevitable cost to the environment, John Maypother of The Patio Centre in Cabinteely, Co Dublin (thepatiocentre.com) says that often all it takes is a little elbow grease, a deck scrubber and a bucket of hot water mixed with some washing-up liquid and a few squeezes of lemon juice. For very stubborn stains, use a power washer, but take special care not to damage the pointing between paving stones. Once you’re finished, you could add a cluster of large, handsome, well-planted pots (see above for planting suggestions) and a fire brazier (quickcrop.ie) to make it all more conducive to some late-summer cosy outdoor chats.
7. Hoe down
As for those weedy paths, the most effective, organically-friendly method is to hoe them. But a quicker – albeit shorter-term – method is to use a propane-fuelled flame-weeder to burn them away (hirehere.ie), taking care to keep the naked flame away from any flammable materials such as wooden edgings or plastic weed-suppressant membranes. The result won’t be anything as long-lasting as hoeing but gives a satisfyingly instant effect that will have your admiring guests asking you to share your secret to creating and maintaining a garden impressively immune to the late summer blues.
This Week in the Garden:
• If you’re growing pumpkins in the vegetable garden, allotment or polytunnel this summer, then make sure to keep the plants well-fed and watered as the fruits begin to quickly swell and ripen. For best results, give plants a fortnightly potash-rich liquid feed and gently slide an old tile or piece of glass or wood under the fruit to keep it out of contact with the ground, taking particular care not to accidentally snap or damage the fragile vine as you do so. To reduce the risk of disease, always water at ground level beneath the canopy of leaves.
• It’s in late summer that butterflies are frequent visitors to our gardens in search of food as well as a suitable place to lay their eggs. You can encourage them by providing plenty of butterfly-friendly plants with nectar-rich flowers such as buddleja, lavender, rosemary, oregano, Verbena bonariensis, sedums, Michaelmas daisies, and single-flowering dahlias. Leave some quiet edges of your garden to go a little wild and avoid the use of conventional herbicides, fungicides and pesticides.
• If you’re growing chilli and tomato plants indoors in pots on a sunny window sill, then make sure to regularly aid pollination by dabbing the flowers with a cotton bud or fine paintbrush. A fortnightly potash-rich liquid feed will also help the plants to produce a generous harvest.
Dates For Your Diary
Today (Saturday, July 29th, 2.30pm-5pm) and tomorrow (Sunday, July 30th, 12.30-5pm), Malahide Horticulture Society Annual Show and Plant Sale, St Andrew’s Parish Centre, Church Road, Malahide, Co Dublin, malahidehorticulturesociety.com; Sunday, August 6th (10am-5pm), Farmleigh Plant Fair, Farmleigh House, Phoenix Park, Dublin 15, with specialist plant and food sales, musical performances, a children’s play garden, workshops, and talks by garden expert Marie Staunton, 1pm and 3pm, see farmleigh.ie.