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Garden ideas

Think of your garden or outside space as an extra room in your home. If you design your garden, patio or decked area well, you can use the space for most of the year - not just the summer months.

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Planning your garden makeover

A garden, terrace, balcony or any outdoor space is somewhere to be treasured. It's wonderful to be able to wander directly outside from your home, without the need to be suitably dressed for the real world, cup of coffee in hand. A garden lets you spend time outside in your very own sanctuary that you and other members of your household can enjoy exactly as you want to.

Whether you want to relax on your own first thing in the morning at breakfast, have somewhere for your children to play and run around, or host large-scale al-fresco dinner parties , a garden is a special place. The green fingered among you may also want to express your inner Alan Titchmarsh with beautiful arrangements of flowers, or even aspire to self-suffiency by growing your own vegetables.

Turn your garden into extra living space Gardens are often neglected spaces because many people are uncertain how to tackle them. They're also generally at the end of a long list of other home improvements. However, the benefit of being able to go outside and having extra space really can make life in the home far easier, particularly if you have a family or several people living together.

The key is to achieve a balance between the size of your garden and what you would like to use the space for. A compact balcony would benefit from a small, brightly coloured bistro set and some potted plants, while a larger garden may allow for several zones to be created to accommodate your needs. For example, you could have a dining table positioned close to the house (for convenience, you want to minimise walking time between the kitchen and table). You could then also have borders with flowers around the boundary to add colour, a lawn in the middle and even a vegetable/herb bed at one end.

There is a trend now too to have outdoor furniture that lets you lounge as if you were actually in your living room. A sofa and armchair set-up is a great option for enjoying drinks with friends or if you prefer to eat in a more informal way – you could include a 'coffee table' for your plates. Fire pits are a great addition to a garden, taking on the role of a fireplace. They really come into their own at night, providing warmth and extending the amount of time you can spend in the garden.

To have a lawn or not?
If your space is compact and you want a low-maintenance approach to gardening (without lots of mowing and weeding), consider paving stones or decking throughout. You don't need to include any flower beds - simply dot potted trees and plants around for interest and colour. Alternatively, if you love the idea of grass, but don't have much time for mowing, faux grass could work for you. Nowadays, it looks fairly realistic and needs little care or attention.

A real lawn is still unbeatable in terms of comfort underfoot and for lying down on a picnic blanket with a good book. It does take some effort, but it also brings rewards.

Whatever you choose, the trick is to be realistic about the amount of time you want to spend tending to your garden. What you don't want to happen is that it becomes overgrown and full of weeds.

What to plant
Once you have worked out the layout of your garden, you can get started on deciding what to grow. Generally, most plants thrive in a sunny area with well-draining soil. If it's a south-facing garden so much the better. Try to provide plants with some shelter from the wind, such as a fence, but do avoid shading them too much (such as with a big tree). Also avoid planting next to hedges, where the soil tends to be quite dry. If your garden doesn't have much sun, there are still plenty of plants you can choose, such as Alchemilla mollis, Geranium nodosum and Campanula persicifolia.

Garden lighting
Garden lighting makes a big impact outside, just as it does in the home. Position lighting on the exterior wall of the house to provide practical light for dining or hanging up the washing. Then think about accent lighting at a lower level to highlight an interesting tree or plant, for example.

Garden storage
A garden shed is a good investment for keeping any tools and mowers cleanly and safely stowed away. A natural-wood finish will suit any garden scheme, but if you like, you could try painting it in a pastel shade for a cute country look.

Keep everything watered
It may sound obvious, but the sun can quickly dry out a garden in the summer months. A newly turfed lawn will need to have at least 45 minutes to one hour of sprinkler time during dry spells, particularly if it's hot. Once the grass is established, which usually takes two to three weeks, you can ease off the watering a bit. Plants will also need a good glug of water from a watering can.