5 ways to make the most of your garden

Summer is almost here and fingers crossed some sunshine with it! Whether you're a green fingered gardener or a sun worshipper, have a back yard or acres of land, we have some ideas of how you can make the most of your garden this summer.

Get green fingered


If you’re already a keen gardener than you’ll no doubt be looking forward to long summer days tending to your flowers, but if you’re looking for a new challenge why not enter a local gardening competition? You could soon be the envy of your neighbours with a trophy on display in your front garden! Ask your local council about competitions and events near you.

Alternatively, you could volunteer at a community project. You’ll get the opportunity to share your expertise and meet new like-minded people, but you may just pick up a few fresh ideas for your own garden too!

The BBC have a list of community gardening projects around the UK to give you an idea of where you can get started and the Royal Horticultural Society run their ‘Britain in Bloom’ campaign, dedicated to community gardens nationwide. Visit www.rhs.org.uk for volunteering opportunities and lots of gardening advice.

If the thought of mowing the lawn brings you out in a rash however, don’t fear - you don’t need to be an experienced gardener to make the most of your outside space. Use potted plants to brighten up the pavement and if you only have a small space, make use of window boxes and hanging baskets.

The cheapest way to grow plants is from seeds and the easiest ones to grow include fuchsias, poppies and marigold. It’s a great way to brighten up your garden with minimal effort. If sowing seeds sounds a bit complicated you can always buy plug plants such as sweet peas and pansies for hassle free gardening.

You can get kids involved in the gardening too by allocating a patch especially for them to grow their own plants. As children have smaller hands, give them big bulbs and seeds that grow fast as they may get a little impatient waiting all summer for their crops to show. Sunflowers are ideal. They could also grow their own salad, such as lettuce, cherry tomatoes or peas, which may help encourage them to eat their greens!

By letting the children get involved not only will you have a regular activity that you can enjoy together, but it’s also educational and can keep them busy all summer long. If they really enjoy it you could encourage them to join a gardening club such as Dobbie’s Little Seedlings which is designed especially for children aged 4-10. Go to here to find your local centre.

Wildlife watching

If you live in a rural area you never know what you’ll find in your garden during the summer evenings. Look out for voles, dormice and squirrels, even frogs if you have a pond.

To get children involved, give them a list of regular visitors to the garden so they can spot them. Once they find them, take a photo or ask them to draw a picture. Braver children could even collect insects to draw or build a wormery. If you find anything unusual, research them together and make a garden diary or scrapbook.

If you live in a town or simply want to attract more wildlife to your garden, there are easy things you can do. By cutting down on digging you allow worms, bugs and beetles to thrive and keep the soil healthy. You can attract birds with bird feeders and nesting boxes, and leave cat food or vegetables out for hedgehogs. Building log piles will persuade all sorts of wildlife to nest in your back yard and even something as small as a pile of leaves will encourage frogs, toads and newts along with plenty of insects.

The RSPB have some great advice on keeping a wildlife friendly garden; visit their website for tips and to find out which animals and birds are likely to be in your neighbourhood.

Beekeeping

It’s not for the squeamish but if you want to take up a new hobby this may be the one you’re looking for. There has been a rise of beekeeping in urban areas over the past few years and research shows that honey made in cities may be healthier for you. Even the Queen herself eats honey made in the back garden of Buckingham Palace!* Encourage bees to visit your garden by planting pollen and nectar rich flowers including fuchsias, lavender and rose shrubs.

You’ll need to buy equipment, tools and clothing, as well as your hive and bees, but after this initial outlay costs are minimal and it’s estimated that looking after a hive takes up around half an hour of time per week between April and October.**

If you’re interested in joining the ranks of bee keepers in the UK, your first stop should be The Beekeeper’s Association (http://www.bbka.org.uk/), who will be able to introduce you to your local branch for help and support with getting started. They will also be able to point you in the direction of adopting a beehive if you want to support other local beekeepers.

Not only will you get honey from the bees to eat (or even to sell), but your garden will be thriving with so many bees pollinating it. You may want to check with your neighbours before giving this one a go though!

Grow your own fruit and veg

Another hobby which may save you money (but with slightly less sting), is a vegetable patch. One of the great things about growing your own greens is that you don’t even need a lot of space. Some vegetables, such as beans and carrots, have been adapted to grow in spaces as small as a window box. You just need to make sure that you give them plenty of food and water!

Bigger spaces will need lots of sunlight, but even if you only have a backyard, there’s plenty of opportunity. Keep raised beds away from other plants to keep slugs at bay and plant courgettes and beans which will grow towards the light. These veg also have pretty flowers which will brighten up the barest of backyards.

If you are a cautious beginner perhaps start with herbs and garnish such as mint before moving on to fruit and vegetables. Salad leaves are tougher than other vegetables and grow well in shade, as do strawberries.
A top tip to getting the best fruit and vegetable crops is making sure that you leave enough room between rows to let them grow. Courgettes will need about a metre of space around them so if you don’t have a large area, avoid root vegetables like these.

You should create paths between your vegetables with bare space to leave a ‘no-mans’ land for slugs and other pests. Open space isn’t attractive to them because it’s easier for birds to pick them off.

Vegetables including pumpkins, sweetcorn and sweet potatoes have few pests and can be grown in between other crops.

If your first year is encouraging, carry on and extend your patch. For the best results, never grow the same crop twice in a row in the same patch. If you begin growing potatoes or tomatoes this year, you should rotate to root vegetables and onions next year.

For more hints and tips on starting your own vegetable patch visit The Royal Horticultural Society at www.rhs.org.uk

Your own crop could even be a money spinner if they’re tasty enough to sell. Either way, it’s one hobby that will have everyone talking over Sunday lunch.

Create a playground

You don’t need a lot of space or even money to build an exciting play area. If you have a small back yard or patio why not draw or paint children’s games on the pavement in the style of a school playground? Snakes and ladders, hopscotch, even a chess board with the kids as chess pieces, let your (or the kids) imagination run wild. If you don’t want a permanent playground use chalk instead of paint and it’ll be washed away with the rain.

If you don’t like the idea of tarnishing your tarmac, or have more grass than gravel, you can pick up play mats with children’s games on them. Like ground versions of board games they’re rain proof and can be used again and again. You can also get giant versions of games such as Jenga for the older kids or even yourselves if you want to entertain.

Sandpits and paddling pools can be picked up relatively cheaply and are easily stored after summer but will provide hours of entertainment for young children.

Be prepared and check that your garden is summer ready by ensuring that your buildings and contents insurance policy covers your outside area too. Our home insurance, provided by Legal and General, covers the contents of your garden when you take out the Extra cover.

We provide cover for loss or damage to contents outside of your home as long as it is within the boundaries of land belonging to your home. This not only covers belongings such as garden furniture but also plants in pots or containers in the garden up to a value of £1,000.

You can help keep your garden safe by locking away not only valuables, but also anything that is going to make a thief or vandal’s job easier. Ladders should be put away in sheds or garages, and you should keep these locked securely with a strong padlock.

Check your gates and fences for weak spots and make sure any side passages to your property have strong, high and lockable gates to stop thieves getting to the back of the house.

Get your quote here:

*http://www.royal.gov.uk/TheRoyalHousehold/TheRoyalHouseholdandtheEnvironment/Bees.aspx

*http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2028696/A-unique-insight-Her-Majestys-favourite-honey--backyard.html

**http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/today_in_your_garden/community_projects.shtml