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How to Work with an Established Garden

If you have moved into an old house there will probably be an established garden. This may have been beautifully kept or be a jungle, but either way there are bound to be things you wish to change or adapt.

Consider the shape of the garden. If it is very square you may wish to soften it by creating curved borders with flowing planting. Awkward triangular or long narrow plots can also be transformed through design -narrow sites by adding a diagonal feature (be it a flower bed, steps or a path) and triangular by creating a circular shape, for example.

Once your basic framework is in place you will be ready to think of adding the plants which provide structures, colour, perfume, flair and flounce – the more transient stars of the garden.

garden work How to Work with an Established Garden

As soon as you move in, walk around the garden and do a safety check. Remove any obvious hazards, such as poisonous plants, barbed or rusty wire and crumbling walls, and cover ponds until you have time to consider safety measures. Mend or remove loose paving stones and trim back any dangerous branches and shrubs.

Do not be too hasty in removing established shrubs. You may not find a particular plant appealing, but it may provide a useful framework while other plants are becoming established. It is surprising how much better a shrub can look after pruning and with new planting around it. After all, if it does not grow on you, you can always take it out later.

Delay starting major work until you have been in the garden for a full year. You need to see a complete cycle of seasons to appreciate fully just what is in your garden, and how all its elements work together.

A delay will also give you the chance to watch how your children play in the garden. You may be surprised at the features that attract them. For example, an overgrown hedge which you had earmarked to be grubbed up may prove to be the perfect site for a den. You may have planned to buy them a climbing frame, or metal-framed swing, only to discover that they are getting such enormous enjoyment from climbing the trees that a swing from a sturdy branch, rope ladders, commando-style netting and even a tree house would be much more appreciated.

Throughout the year make notes about the elements of the garden that give yon most pleasure and those that annoy you. In practice you may find that the diving area is too far from the house, that the outdoor lighting is insufficient, or that the position of external laps is impractical. On the other hand yon may discover that a flower border which seemed out of place is ideally positioned for maximum/minimum sunlight. Frost risk and perfect drainage. And what a wonderful excuse not to do any work in your first year!

How to Use Compost in Your Yard and Garden

Compost is a dark, rich, sweet-smelling, crumbly substance which improves soil condition by adding water-retaining humus and nitrogen -vital for the wellbeing of plants.

Compost can be bought, but is so easy to make that there is little excuse for not producing your own. There is a two-fold advantage to making compost. First you are creating something for free which will improve the garden immeasurably, second you know you are making good use of your waste and not taking up valuable space in a landfill site. Dig the compost into your soil, or spread it over the surface when the soil is damp, to act as a mulch.

Virtually any organic material can be composted. From the house collect tea bags, vegetable peelings, eggshells, shredded newspaper, even old cotton or woollen rags. And from the garden save waste such as dead flowers and leaves, bolted vegetables and old bedding plants, grass clippings, soft primings, hedge trimmings and weeds (before they have set seed). Even the children can help by collecting their pet’s droppings when they clean out their cages. These will heat things up splendidly, speeding the process of decomposition.

garden compost How to Use Compost in Your Yard and Garden

Do not use meat, any cooked food, or anything greasy as this will attract vermin. Discard and burn any parts of diseased plants, seed-bearing annual weeds, or the roots of perennial weeds, such as ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) and couch grass (Agropyron repens). These are so tough that they can survive the composting process and you will end up spreading your problems. Anything too woody will not decompose, so either use a shredder or burn such material.

If space allows, have two heaps or bins. This will ensure a constant supply of compost, as material can be rotting down in one bin while you are still filling the other.

Traditional compost heaps

There are numerous methods of making compost. Compost heaps suit large gardens that produce masses of waste. However, completely open heaps are unsightly and inefficient, so it is better to buy, or make an enclosure. Do-it-yourself containers can be put together from wooden pallets and wire or you can buy kits which, when assembled, form brick and wood bins, or slatted timber enclosures.

With open heaps such as these the material ill the edges, where it is cooler, will not compost at the same rate as that in the middle, so the heap will need to be turned regularly. To ibis end, do not overfill the bin. You could tip it out to mix. Cover it with a sheet of polythene or old carpel to keep off heavy rain, but donˇŻt allow it to dry out in slimmer. To ensure there is enough material to heal up sufficiently, the heap or bin must be a minimum of 90cm square by 1.2m/4ft high.

Ready-made compost bins

If you do not want to make a compost enclosure yourself, there are numerous ready-made plastic and metal bins on the market. These are usually fully enclosed, which means that the composted material will heal up evenly and rot down quickly, eliminating the tedious job of turning the compost. The bins are also designed for ease of access to the composted material at the bottom.


These differ from ready-made compost bins in that they rely on a colony of worms (tiger or brandling worms) to produce the compost. The worms are put in specially-designed worm bins on a layer of material which has already rotted down. They are then given fresh supplies of finely chopped household scraps every few days. The bins have a tray to collect liquid, which can be drained off, diluted with water then used for plant food. The resulting compost is wonderfully rich. There are disadvantages to this system however. Wormeries are not easy to get going, the worms need regular supplies and they must be sieved out when the bin is full and it is time to start a new one – not a pleasant task.

Leaf mould

The fallen leaves of deciduous trees, especially oak, beech and elm, make wonderful compost. Pile large amounts in a corner or leaf bin. This is basically a wire cage, and is very simple to make from a roll of chicken wire and four wooden posts. Put smaller amounts in black plastic sacks, seal them and punch some holes in the sides. The leaves will take about a year to compost down although you can speed up the process by shredding them and using a leaf compost activator.

Making compost

- Start with a thick base of rough, bulky material, such as straw or shredded prunings, then sprinkle with either sulphate of ammonia (a dessertspoon per square metre/yard), or a bought compost activator or fresh animal manure, to speed up decomposition.
- Continue building up the heap in 15cm/6in layers, adding a little time to alternate layers if you wish. Avoid adding too much of any one thing at a time, for example too many grass clippings will result in a smelly, black slime rather then the sweet, crumbling consistency formed by successful composting.

Green compost

An attractive alternative to traditional compost is green compost. This process uses living plants, which are grown solely to be dug back into the soil to condition it. Green compost works well for light sandy, or heavy clay soils and has the bonus of demanding less effort than collecting, turning and spreading home-made compost. Sow the crop to be composted in late summer, cut it just as it flowers in early spring, and allow it to lie for a few days. Then dig it in and leave for a couple of months before planting something else-Excellent plants for fixing nitrogen in the soil are alsike clover (Trifolium hybridum) and lupins (Lupinus), but borage (Borago officinalis), mustard (Brassica rapa or B, nigra) and comfrey (Symphytum officinale) also make excellent green manures.

One obvious disadvantage of this method is that the soil cannot be used for any other plants while the cover crop is growing. However if you choose a pretty enough green manure this need not be a problem.

How to Prevent Dangers in a Garden

There are many dangers in a garden, but there are precautions you can take:

- Firstly be disciplined when you garden. Lock away all tools and chemicals. Accidents with gardening tools, both manual and electrical, account for 100.000 injuries to children every year in the IK. Garden chemicals can be very dangerous and include weedkillers, pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides, disinfectants and petrol.

- DonˇŻt store chemicals anywhere that gets very hot. such as a greenhouse, as they may give oil poisonous fumes or even catch lire. Keep oil and petrol in metal containers and if possible bin chemicals that have had a billeting agent added. This makes them unpalatable it a child does manage to get hold of them. Don’t store chemicals in old soft drinks bottles.

- Keep children away from any area which has been treated recently with weedkiller, pesticide or fertilizer – even if the packet says it is child friendly.

garden dangers How to Prevent Dangers in a Garden

- Watch out for uneven surfaces which could trip up children or elderly people. Maintain all paths and steps, replacing broken paving slabs, steps and loose stones.

- Prevent paths, steps and patios becoming slippery by removing any overhanging branches. These encourage moss and algae to grow in their shade. Scrub off the algae and moss with hot soapy water or spray it with a high-pressure water jet attached to your hose pipes. This is preferable to using chemical cleaners that may damage the hard surface in time. Sprinkling sharp sand over problem areas helps to provide grip and rub oil algae. Wooden steps become very slippery once wet, so fit chicken wire. Occasional use of a stiff brush also prevents green slime coating timber surfaces such as old railway sleepers.

- Look out for protruding stems or branches beside paths which may scratch or cause eve injuries. Bin rubber cane tops for all cane plant supports.

- Your garden design should never include unprotected sharp drops. Those from a patio are especially dangerous, as running or cycling children can go over the edge. Site greenhouses carefully where children are safe from the danger of broken glass and the greenhouse is sale from living foot-balls.

- Never site play equipment near a greenhouse, railings, cold frame or washing line.

- All gales should be filled with childproof locks and it s best to avoid fences with horizontal rails because children can climb them. Be as prompt as possible in mending holes in hedges and fences as children can squeeze through the smallest gaps.

How to Prevent and Control Garden Pests and Diseases

Pests and diseases are killers for plants and need to be kept at bay. Pest and disease control falls into two categories: prevention and cure.


Firstly buy only the choicest plant specimens. Choose the most healthy, vigorous-looking plants and cheek that their roots are not pot-bound, and that the plant is not dried out or already harbouring some pest or disease, you can often tell if a plant has been too long in its container as there is moss growing on the surface of the compost. Check also that you are not inadvertently buying some weeds along with your plant – the last thing anyone wants to do is to introduce vet another problem into the garden. Certain plants have been bred with disease-resistant varieties. Seek these out wherever possible as it will save a lot of trouble later on, especially if you are growing roses.

gardening diseases How to Prevent and Control Garden Pests and Diseases

Follow the recommendations as to planting position and conditions exactly, for if you place a plant in an unsuitable position it will not thrive, no mailer how healthy it is initially, or however much love, care and attention you lavish on it.

Practice good husbandry. Clear away weeds and debris which could provide hiding places for pests or act as a breeding ground for disease. Remove any dead, damaged or diseased parts of plants, and always burn such material. Clean out the greenhouse regularly and be meticulous about cleaning and disinfecting your tools, especially secateurs, shears and pots to prevent the spread of infection.

Erect barriers to deter pests. For example net vegetables and grow soli fruit in a simple cage to keep the birds away. Protect fruit trees from pests by putting a grease band around the trunk in winter.

Spread gravel, prickly holly leaves or soot around the base of vulnerable plants, or, if they are grown in pots, paint pest-control glue around the rims. Slugs and snails cannot bear to cross such protective barriers and gravel has the added advantage of acting as an excellent mulch.


If you still have a problem there are numerous methods of controlling pests and diseases. However, do remember that the safest wax is the organic way.

Companion planting

Certain plants, especially vegetables, benefit from companion planting, the growing of one plant beside another specifically to deter pests, distract them from the main plant or attract their predators. Strong-smelling herbs, such as mint, are excellent for this job.

Most people are aware that French marigolds (Tagetes patula) attract hoverflies. which love to eat aphids, therefore it makes sense to grow them beside any vegetable, that is susceptible to aphid attack.

Rosemary and lavender are dried and used as a deterrent to stop moths from attacking linen and clothes, and grown in the garden these herbs protect plants from caterpillar attack. Moths also hale the strong smell of wormwood (Artemesia absinthium), which can be grown as a companion plant, or made into an infusion to spray plants in need of protection.

As a preventative against diseases, horsetail is a herb which works as a natural fungicide, it is effective against blackspot and mildew on roses.

Natural predators

Avoid the necessity of chemical controls by encouraging beneficial predators. Learn to distinguish the goodies from the baddies, for example centipedes are good, millipedes are bad: carnivorous beetles are good, herbivorous beetles are bad. Once you have identified friends and foes you can start to encourage beneficial predators by avoiding chemicals and creating a habitat that your insect and animal helpers can enjoy.

Insect-eating birds such as blue tits, are very welcome, as are ladybirds. Encourage these natural predators by filling a box with hollow steins from dead herbaceous plants and fixing it high up a tree, or on a wall where they can hibernate. You also want plenty of spiders, hoverflies, facewing larvae, centipedes, carnivorous beetles, frogs, loads, shrews and hedgehogs – which can eat an amazing two hundred slugs a night.

How to Plan Your Leisure Time in the Garden

Onto the interesting part – planning your leisure time in the garden. Start by listing the fun things you plan to do, or dream of doing, in the garden.

Eating outside

Everyone enjoys eating outside, so building or adapting a terrace should be top of the leisure list. At the same time you could consider a built-in barbecue. A permanent barbecue can also double as an outdoor fireplace which will prolong your time spent outdoors.


For children playing takes precedence over everything else, so most children’s wish lists will include every play structure, piece of equipment or toy imaginable. Decide what is most suitable for your children, as well as what will fit in the garden, bearing in mind that, as they grow, you may want to adapt or modify their play space.

garden leisure How to Plan Your Leisure Time in the Garden


For pure relaxation all that is needed is a comfortable chair, or hammock, and some peace and quiet. If you have space, incorporate features, a summerhouse or an arbour.

Water features

Water safety is the main concern when planning a water feature. If you have young children, a pond may be out of the question, but there are several safe options to consider.

Attracting wildlife

If your garden is full of insect, animal and bird life it will not only be a more interesting place for your family, but a healthier, more balanced environment in which pests are gobbled up rather than killed by chemicals, and where plants thrive helped along by pollinating insects. So leave some wild comers and plant plenty of insect-attracting and berry-bearing shrubs that are attractive to insects and birds alike.

Decorative features

These can elevate a garden out of the ordinary. Pergolas and arbours wreathed in plants convey a soft romantic touch, while an urn, statue or other ornamental feature can add a wonderful element of surprise.

Child’s garden

You could plan to put aside a piece of the garden for your children to call their own or you could plant trees to commemorate special events, such as births and anniversaries. Children will quickly come to love their tree, and you can keep a record of the tree and your child’s progress with yearly photographs and a height chart for both tree and child.

Be extravagant!

Family gardens are the ideal place for you to indulge your imagination with light-hearted, playful features that reflect the personality of your family. Include a few oddities such as a sundial clock, or sink bricks with the hours painted on them into the ground in a circle and position them so that when the child stands in the centre of the circle their shadow falls across the correct hour.

You could include something to appeal to adults and older children, such as a giant chess and draughts board made with dark and light coloured pavers. Hopscotch and noughts and crosses also lend themselves to this idea. Most gardens are too small for a full-size croquet lawn, but a modified version is possible. You could also construct a sanded rectangle for boules or petanque.

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