Four great ideas for gardens

Four great ideas for gardens Often overlooked, the garden forms an integral part of the home as social meeting place during summer months as well as being an important selling feature. It doesn't take a huge budget or a TV designer to transform an ugly patch into something dramatic. The following guide offers a few ideas to add a little luxury to your neglected patch which are guaranteed to bring joy this summer.

Gardens are for relaxing in, for children to play in, to drink a cold glass of wine and entertain in and to admire the fruits of one's labours, whether your passion is a well-tended vegetable garden or neatly trimmed lawns straddled by verdant borders of shrubs, plants and pots. Within each garden, whatever shape and size it is and whatever your own individual needs, there are certain key features which can add to its overall beauty as well as providing a functionality that makes going into the garden a real pleasure and a true extension of one's home.

PatiosPatios

The patio area is a crucial part of the home, as it forms the transition between the garden and the main living area. The patio is where most social entertaining goes on, where children tend to play and where friends and families gather together on summer days to enjoy a good barbecue. As well as adding style and saleability, a well thought-out, planned and executed patio can actually add value too, giving an otherwise average garden that wow factor.

Options
Freedom of design and non-conformity to convention has led to dramatic innovation in the styles, materials and products available for garden patios. Natural and reconstituted concrete flagstones remain ever popular - as does timber decking, which came to the nation's attention via popular makeover programmes such as Ground Force and Charlie's Garden Makeoever. However, brick, gravel, tile, textured concrete, stone veneers and many other exciting materials and finishes are now available to create a strikingly different patio surface. The only limit, it would seem, is one's budget and imagination.

Patios Considerations
One of the key things to consider when planning a patio is its aspect in relation to the midday sun, the general position in relation to the house, any gradient (whether the garden slopes away or towards the house) and the eventual size required.

It is very easy to underestimate the size of a patio unless one takes into account the needs of the family, visiting friends and associated paraphernalia such as tables, chairs, heaters, water features and umbrellas, so making a scale drawing first will help you get it right before the first slab is laid. At the planning stage, it is also useful to think about lighting and any irrigation system you might want to incorporate as this can be laid underneath the patio surface.

Cost
The size of your proposed patio, complexity of design, lighting considerations and the season you have it built will all combine to determine the eventual price. Spring and summer are prime seasons for garden landscapers, who generally charge more during these key months.

Patios Expect to pay between £2,000 and £7,000 for a basic flagstone patio of around 20 square metres, with regional variations on price. The major component of the cost will be the excavation and disposal of old soil. Only employ suitably qualified builders or those specialising in garden hard landscaping, and always look at previous examples as well as checking references. There are just as many cowboys as there are reputable tradespersons. If you can, go on the personal recommendation of a trusted family member or friend.

Key stockist
Marshalls have been revolutionising British gardens for over 120 years. Their 2009 brochure is groundbreaking in these eco-conscious times as each product displays a carbon footprint logo showing the sum of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases created by a single unit of the product during its life from initial production, through the supply chain to use and disposal. The website also offers a unique garden visualiser where you can input different patio products and see how they will look in your own garden.

Useful websites
UK-Builder.com
Greenfingers.com

PergolasPergolas

A pergola is a typical feature in many gardens. Usually a timber or other rustic structure consisting of upright posts with above head height cross-members, as well as their innate beauty, they are essentially designed to be clothed in climbing plants. Pergolas can simply form an arch between two separate areas of a garden, straddling a walkway, a feature area or a patio.

Easy to erect on a DIY basis, there are several good reasons for including a pergola in your garden design, notwithstanding that they provide an instant focal point and draw the eye along a path or towards a key feature such as a statue, sundial or some other structure. They can also provide an effective 'soft screen' to create privacy from neighbouring properties.

Pergolas Options
The traditional and indeed preferred material for pergola construction is timber, although one can build upright support posts in a number of hard landscaping materials such as reclaimed bricks or natural stone. The above head height cross-members should always be timber, as the eventual weight of these combined with the weight of established climbing plants can be overwhelming.

Considerations
If your pergola is to straddle a path, think about the shade it will create when fully clothed in mature plants. The idea of allowing climbing plants overhead should be to create dappled shade, not an overbearing dark patch in an otherwise sunny garden.

Another key consideration should also be the types of plants you will use to climb up the pergola. Some are more suited to pergola life than others. If you have small children, for example, a rose would be impractical due to its thorny nature. A voracious climber such as Clematis Montana Rubens would be far too prolific and overtake the pergola within a year or two.

More suitable plants are climbing Jasmines such as Jasminum Beesianum, or one of the less invasive Loniceras (Honeysuckles), which provide useful dappled shade, heavenly summer scent and are much easier due to their relatively gentle growth to maintain.

Pergolas Costs
The cost of a pergola will purely depend on the materials used and how large you want it to be. If you intend building the pergola along the whole length of a garden path, this will naturally make the cost more expensive although an average-sized timber construction of around 2m x 3m should cost no more than around £300-400. When selecting timber, always use 'tanalised', which means it has been treated against rot and will give a greater life expectancy than untreated timber.

Key stockist
Jacksons Fencing is a family-run business that was started by Ian Jackson and his father back in 1947. The company manufactures and sells a wide range of garden products but specialises in fencing and pergolas, which come in easy-to-assemble kits that can be configured to every garden situation.

Useful websites
GardenSeekers.com

Water featuresWater features

A water feature in any garden gives a Zen-like sense of serenity which is hard to beat. Easy to install, portable and providing a real focal point, moving water is the life force that can give any garden a sense of purpose - something to sit and philosophically gaze into as the sun goes down on a balmy summer evening.

Options
From a simple granite obelisk to a more ornate fountain based on an Italianate masterpiece, the sky is the limit when it comes to water features and the choice of materials is limitless. Stone, pre-formed concrete or composite stone, glass and timber are the most common and within each can be found thousands of design options to suit every style of garden and personal taste.

Water features Considerations
Try to choose a water feature that is in keeping with the general theme of the garden - although an eclectic choice such as an ultra modern water feature within a Victorian garden often adds a bold style statement.

Power source is a key consideration too, as water features with a pump will require an electrical source. Simple plug-in models which can be safely connected to a mains supply within a garage or outhouse are within the scope of the ordinary DIYer - but water and electric is a lethal mix, so always consult a fully qualified electrician if in any doubt or if the connections are particularly complex. A good idea is to make any electrical connection via a Residual Circuit Device (RCD) which will instantly cut out the supply in the event of a fault.

Water features Key stockist
Henri Studio is the world's largest designer and manufacturer of original cast stone fountains and statues. Founded over 40 years ago by Italian sculptor Eneri Prosperi, the company sells a wide range of attractive water features and ships its products around the world. The company headquarters are in Chicago but the main European distribution centre is based in Highbridge, Somerset.

Useful websites
Oak-barrel.com
WaterGardeningDirect.com

Raised bed planting stationsRaised bed planting stations

Raised bed gardening has transformed the lives of thousands of keen gardeners handicapped by disability or age - but they are not the sole preservation of these two groups. A raised bed is essentially a mini garden, plants and soil brought together to a more convenient level for easier access, something which because of its height can set the tone for a specific area of the garden or be a central feature in itself.

Raised beds are ideal where space is limited, for example in small gardens or the balconies of flats as they utilise space more efficiently and allow the grower flexibility in what they can grow. Another key advantage of raised beds is that they are free-draining which makes them ideal for vegetable growing or providing a planting station for specialist plants such as alpines. Raised bed gardening is gaining a huge popularity with a whole new generation turned on to the benefits of growing their own produce at a non back-breaking height.

Raised bed planting stations Options
The most common raised bed is formed by interlocking timber beams, usually old railway sleepers for a more rustic look or smaller pre-cut timbers which can be built to any shape and height. Although the sleeper option is the number one choice for most gardeners, plastic raised bed kits are also popular due to their longevity. Other materials which can be used include stone, brick or the rustic tumble of natural boulders raised to provided a bed which can be back-filled with soil and planted with flowers or vegetables.

Considerations
Depending on its intended use and depth, the raised bed should have a good layer of old bricks or hardcore to act as base drainage. Over this should go a good layer of pea gravel or shingle leaving a surface depth of around 30cm to fill with soil. For this layer, use a good quality compost such as Westland's Multipurpose Compost.

There may be other situations where you need a special type of topsoil for certain plants. For vegetables and flowers, good multipurpose compost is sufficient but if your raised bed is to grow Camelias, Acers or other acid-loving plants such as Azaleas, then you will need to use a lime-free Ericaceous compost plus a mulch (a 5cm top dressing layer) of decorative bark chippings. When siting the raised bed, consider its aspect in relation to the sun. If it is south-facing, summer watering will need to be more frequent and it may even be necessary to rig up some form of irrigation system.

Raised bed planting stations Key stockist
Recycle Works is an exciting new company headed up by MD Sylvia Hopwood, winner of last year's NatWest Everywoman e-business leader award. Initially starting out as a domestic recycling advice website, Recycle Works has branched out into gardening products in a big way and now offers a huge range of sustainable gardening requisites including raised bed systems constructed of sustainable timber which has been pre-treated with non-toxic wood preservative.

Useful websites
Greenfingers.com
Self-sufficient.co.uk