Whether you feel your home deserves a thorough makeover, or if your intention is just to improve its presentation and saleability for market, the enthusiastic DIYer is always looking for inspiration and advice to tackle those jobs most likely to enhance a home's appearance. Our monthly guide will show you how to achieve, room by room, effective results with minimal effort.
The garden plays centre stage in most homes during the fair weather months. It is a place where families and friends gather on warm days to socialise, somewhere providing a safe haven for children to play happily and a place where the keen gardeners among us can practice our hobby; whether one's passion is growing flowers or producing fruit and vegetables for the kitchen table.
Since the advent of popular garden makeover programmes such as Ground Force, there has been a huge upsurge in the number of homeowners taking pride in their gardens. People have come to realise that a well planned and thought-out garden is not only an extension of the home, indeed a thing of beauty, but a tangible asset that can add real value. When two similar size homes come onto the market in a street, the one with the better garden will always tend to sell more quickly. So if yours currently resembles a jungle, there are three key components of the average garden that, if nothing else, once improved, will give a functional use as well as adding to the general saleability of the property.
As the effects of the recession have hit home, more and more households, particularly those with large enough gardens have embraced a hobby born of thrift from the wartime - growing one's own vegetables. Today more than ever, growing food for the table not only makes financial sense but is also a fascinating and healthy hobby too. Here's how to get started.
Things to consider
If you are creating a vegetable plot from scratch, it is better to build a series of raised beds (areas contained within preserved timber batons which are screwed together.) Raised beds make individual plots more manageable, are better for drainage and allow the grower to rotate the different types of crops each year thus minimising the build up of soil borne pests and diseases. For those less able, raised beds also offer less back-breaking gardening. See our feature article, Four Great Ideas for Gardens.
The number one factor when growing vegetables is soil condition and the aspect of the beds in relation to the sun. To reap the best quality produce, your soil should have a fairly neutral pH and contain plenty of bulky matter (humus) such as well rotted horse manure and home grown or proprietary compost, all of which are readily obtainable from most garden centres.
Beds also need adequate sun, so when planning layout, try to ensure that they each receive maximum daylight and are not underneath heavily shaded areas such as established trees which will suck nutrients and water from the soil. If you want to test the pH of your soil, a simple testing kit is available relatively cheaply from most garden centres and will indicate how acid or alkaline your soil is.
Difficulty level: 1/5
Tools for the job
Preserved timber boards 200mm x 50mm
Timber posts 75mm x 75mm
How to do it
1) Having determined where to situate the plots, mark each area out with string or spray paint and cut wood for raised beds to size. Ensure any cut ends are painted in a water-based preservative and screw together with decking screws. Screwfix.com sells a range of fixing screws suitable for outdoor use.
2) When the beds have been constructed, place into position and in each corner, hammer down a timber post. Fix the timber frame to this post for stability.
3) Within each raised bed, dig the soil over removing any grass, pernicious weeds and large stones. If cutting out of a lawned area, place turfs upside down in the corner of the garden and leave for two years. They will eventually rot down to provide rich compost. As you dig the soil, fork it over incorporating a bucketful of rotted manure or compost per square metre.
4) Rake soil to a fine tilth (crumb) and lightly press down with the back of the spade to a level finish.
Now you have created the perfect conditions for vegetable garden, the fun bit can begin – planting! To get started, gardeners can buy a range of ready to grow plug plants from garden centres. Some vegetables such as beetroot, lettuce and carrots can be sown directly in the soil this time of year once the risk of frost has passed.
The most important thing to remember about vegetable gardening is to keep your plants and young seedlings well watered but not saturated. The soil should not form a firm ball when clenched but should be slightly loose and crumbly. If you over water, you will kill your vegetables.
Keep the plot weed free every week or so, which will allow your seedlings and plants to absorb maximum nutrients from the soil. During the winter, put a layer of rotted horse manure on top and let the worms do the work for you. As you become more experienced, you can start sowing more adventurous varieties the following year in readiness to plant out in your very own plot next summer – enjoying the fruits of your labour, quite literally, on the dinner plate!
Decking has got its opponents in terms of garden aesthetics – but it still remains one of the most popular forms of garden surface materials due to its quick and easy installation.
Things to consider
A deck can be situated anywhere in the garden as a sturdy platform for socialising and for setting out tables and chairs for relaxing and dining. Usually, decks form a link between the home and garden so are attached to the house directly outside French, patio or external doors.
Decking boards come in a variety of timber finishes and budget ranges but generally speaking two common forms are available: smooth surface and grooved softwood. Which finish you choose is a matter of personal taste but grooved decking is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye and also is more practical, offering better grip underfoot in wet or icy weather.
Difficulty level: 4/5
Tools for the job
String, for marking out
Preserved timber for frame
How to do it
1) Mark out the area to be decked with string, checking all measurements and ensuring that right angles are equal. Calculate and order the correct number of timber pieces.
2) Before laying out the timbers, roll out a special weed inhibiting membrane (available from garden centres), to cover the whole of the ground area under where the deck will be. This membrane will stop annoying weed growth coming up between the deck boards. Peg the membrane down.
3) If the deck is to be attached to the house, using a spirit level, draw a pencil line along the house wall where the first supporting timber will be fixed. This timber is called a wall plate and is usually 150mm x 50mm preserved timber for exterior use. The pencil line should allow for the height of the decking boards which will be fixed above. The top surface of the decks must also be 150mm below the damp course of your home to avoid damp ingress into the home. Holding the timber parallel against the guide line (you'll need two people for this), drill through into the brick wall. Do this every 1 metre. Using expanding bolts, bolt the timber securely into the wall. For a large range of bolts, tools and fixings ideal for decking construction, visit Screwfix.com.
4) Working from the ends of the main timber beam, attach three further 150mm x 50mm beams to make a square frame. Use coach bolts to secure each timber together. If your garden is level, ensure that all corners rest on concrete padstones or breeze blocks so the timber is not in contact with the soil. If your garden has a gradient, you may have to initially dig and lay concrete pillars with posts for the corner supports.
5) To ensure that your deck is rigid underfoot and to provide adequate support for the individual deck boards above, fit rows of 150mm x 50mm treated timbers beams connecting the end timber with the main house timber. Use joist hangers to fit these timbers. Each timber should be spaced 450mm apart. Further support timbers should be inserted across the width of the deck frame between each long timber. These are called 'noggins' and will ensure the frame does not sway when walked on.
6) Once the frame has been checked for level, you can start cutting the deck boards to size and screwing onto the subframe using special rust-resistant decking screws. Allow equal spacing between deck boards for expansion but not too wide that ladies' heels may get stuck. 3mm is best.
7) There is no point building a deck without looking after it. For a totally professional finish, use a quality timber decking stain such as Ronseal's "Perfect Finish Advanced Decking Stain" which, apart from providing a beautiful colour, is specially formulated to give years of protection against rot and algae.
8) Once the deck has been laid, don't worry about having a barbecue on it with hot coals. The Barbeskew has a unique patented design with a lid and special sunken coal tray plus motorised skewers which makes hands-free deck entertaining a breeze.
If decking isn't to your taste, a stone patio can provide the perfect answer to extending your home in the summer. May is the perfect month to lay a patio with little risk of frost, longer days and generally good weather.
Things to consider
Above all, the ground on which your patio is to be laid must be level so excavation will be a key consideration. If abutting the patio to the wall of your home, allow 150mm under the damp course. Before enthusiastically going out and buying the first slabs, research the market well and try to visualise how your patio will look. Marshalls has a Garden Visualise service on its website which allows you to design your patio on screen exactly the way you want it in 3D. You can even superimpose your own house as the backdrop!
When it comes to choosing paving slabs for a patio, there is a huge choice available both texturally and in terms of colour. The key to getting it right is to try and find a stone which is sympathetic to the style or colour of your home's exterior. To establish how much you will need to buy, simply multiply the width by the length to give you the number of square metres.
Difficulty level: 4/5
Tools you'll need
Pegs and string
Flat vibrating plate (can be hired)
Diamond slab cutter (can be hired)
How to do it
1. Accurately mark out the edges of the area to be paved with string and pegs. Excavate and level the ground before laying a geotextile membrane which allows water to drain through but stops earth moving upwards. The depth of excavation should be around 100mm, allowing at least 150mm below the damp proof course if the patio is to rest against the house wall. To ensure that water does not collect, allow a slight fall away from the house.
2. Cover the area to be paved with a semi-dry foundation mix of 6 parts ballast to 1 part cement to a minimum depth of 75mm. This should be firmed with the vibrating plate. Remember to allow for the thickness of the paving stones on the mortar bed.
3. Lay the first paving stone in the corner on a bed of mortar (3 or 4 parts building sand to 1 part cement). Gently tap the centre of the stone with a rubber mallet to the required height. Repeat the process, always checking for level across and at right angles with a spirit level. Make sure joints are all evenly spaced.
4. When finished, point the joints using a semi-dry mortar mix of 3 parts building sand to 1 part cement. The mix should not be too wet or too dry. Use a soft brush to fill gaps with mortar and ensure all spillages are cleaned immediately to avoid staining the stone slabs.
When two similar size homes come onto the market in a street, the one with the better garden will always tend to sell more quickly.