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How to create an instant garden

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Lucy Dunn rounds up the best ideas to transform any outdoor space in 24 hours – be it garden, balcony or windowsill  

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By Lucy Dunn on

This time every year – around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show – I look out of the window at my little postage stamp and realise in horror that I've completely neglected it and it's turned into a jungle. Admittedly, the guilt is fleeting and I am lucky that the previous owner had the foresight to plant stuff that’s robust enough to withstand my 364 days of neglect. And note the 364, because on the 365th day I panic, do the minimum amount of weeding and pruning I can get away with, then race to IKEA and throw money at the problem. I’ll fill a trolley with cushions, candles, pots, fairy lights and maybe even a plant or two, then come home and throw it all into the garden…job done.

OK, this might be a slight exaggeration, but I am not joking about wanting and needing a low-maintenance garden (I have enough on my plate elsewhere in my life). I like my garden to look pretty and I don’t care if it’s a little scruffy – in the same way I prefer mutts to pedigree dogs I can’t be doing with so-called "urban gardens" manicured to an inch of their lives. Like posh interiors I don't feel I can kick back and relax in them.

Being time-poor unites us all these days, so I hope you’ll find these useful whatever you own  – whether it’s a garden, balcony, window sill or concrete yard 

Over the years I have amassed a fair few instant tricks and shortcuts. Being time-poor unites us all these days, so I hope you’ll find these useful whatever outdoor space you own – whether it’s a garden, balcony, windowsill, concrete yard or if you’re one of those lucky buggers with acres of grass, a croquet lawn and your own lah-de-dah ha-ha.

BRIGHT COLOURS WIN HANDS-DOWN

We might desperately wish for a heatwave this summer but chances are we'll probably get more than our fair share of dull, cloud-covered days (I'm a realist). This is why I think cheery colours are an absolute godsend in a garden, with a bit of black and bright white thrown in. Also; the old paint-walls-and floor-white-to-create-a-suntrap trick is worth trying out too. This picture is on my Pinterest board as something I might try when I have a free day at home later on this summer.

SPACE-SAVING IS KEY

For those of us who do not have much in the way of any outdoor space, space-saving furniture that folds away is important. If you have room for a bistro set, Argos, Morrisons and Homebase have a ton. Green up walls and fences by fitting vertical planters and ladder shelves for plants. Plant them with easy stuff like lavender and rosemary that will withstand a good old bashing. Outdoor mirrors also make a space look twice the size and this clever acrylic reflective sheeting is cheaper and more hardwearing than traditional mirrors, plus you can get it cut to your dimensions. Pop it opposite your main eye line for max effect.

WINDOWSILL MUST-HAVES

No garden? No problem. You can still make the most of the space you’ve got by filling your window with these vertical planters and hanging baskets. Try Wayfair for window boxes – and don’t forget the key accessory that every sill gardener needs: a watering can with an extendable spout.

FAKE YOUR GRASS

Artificial grass has come a long way in recent years. For starters, it no longer just comes in virulent green so bright it hurts your eyes. Search eBay/Gumtree etc for cheaper off-cuts but, whatever you do, get it professionally fitted. An fake lawn needs proper drainage otherwise it will become a quagmire in the next downpour. And spend time choosing the colour – take your grass sample outside at different times of the day to see how it looks. Also don’t think that plastic grass is totally no-maintenance, leaves still have to be brushed or hoovered up in autumn (or they'll leave nasty rotted brown patches on your lawn), so take this into account if you have trees near your lawn.

… AND YOUR PLANTS

In this day and age I see no shame in a cheeky artificial plant or two. Even a window box. Obviously don’t go mad and expect people to believe your immaculate new orange tree has been cultivated by you if you are not the green-fingered type (IMHO it’s better to go for something more believable). IKEA's fake plants section is good one to scoot past on your panic-buy shopping trip and Blooming Artificial is worth a browse for its range of fake outdoor plants, realistic-looking window boxes and hanging baskets. They even sell hedges which I must say, I’m rather intrigued by. 

GO LOW FOR COMFORT

Often I feel that comfort is not foremost of mind when designers create garden chairs so I am very particular about what I choose (armrests and cushions are pre-requisites, plus I prefer plastic to metal due to avoid the old hot day "burnt bum" problem ). If I'm not eating outside, I also prefer to lounge rather than sit, so for an inexpensive arrangement that doesn’t take up too much room try a low outdoor coffee table accessorised with floor cushions instead of seating. This is also a nice idea for a terrace or balcony if you have room as it really brings the indoors out. Don't forget to add a waterproof outdoor rug to the mix.

LESS IS MORE

When it comes to growing things I advocate a less-is-more policy, which can mean just sticking to two or three big pots. Fill them with something low-maintenance like bamboo or butterfly-friendly like buddlej. Pots can be expensive, especially large ones, so you can DIY your own from drums that you can buy on eBay. I like the idea of galvanised tin baths, buckets and pots you can get from most hardware stores. Also anything quirky from reclamation yards looks good too.   

THE INSTANT GARDEN EDIT

@luce29

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