with Deryn Thorpe

Christmas garden

Christmas is the time of the year when we catch up with friends, have the family around for a barbecue and suddenly realise that the garden is looking very tired.

The combination of summer heat and an increasingly busy Christmas calendar leaves little time to fix up the garden, but follow these tips and you can make vast improvements in less than a day.

Tidying up the garden and trimming back unruly shrubs will freshen the look of any entertaining area. Mulch garden beds and spray the garden and lawn with a hose-on wetting agent so the water gets to the plant roots.

Action plan
Mow the lawn and give areas of paving a thorough sweep.
Buy a hose-on soil wetting agent (these are much more effective than the granular types) and give the whole garden, including the lawn a treatment. This will help water get to the root of plants.
Mulch the garden beds.
Plant some advanced seedlings or feature plants in the garden beside entertaining areas or in pots.
Reassess garden lighting.
Consider painting the fence (a weekend job) or hiding it with bamboo or tea tree screens.

Look at the fences – unattractive grey fibre cement ones can be given a coat of paint in a dark colour so they fade into the background. Wet the fences first to stop them 'slurping' up too much paint. A quicker but more expensive alternative is to disguise them with panels of reed or bamboo screens.

Add a wow factor to the garden with a focal point near the entertaining areas. This can be something pricey like a statue or as inexpensive as the use of a few advanced seedlings. These are known as 'potted colour' and are sold in flower.

For summer plantings the best and toughest seedlings are petunia, marigold, salvia and portulaca. These will bloom for at least three months if the dead flowers are removed and salvia are perennials that can live for two years or more if they are cut back in winter.

All of these come in a wide range of colours and you can produce a festive look with flowers in white and red or go for a cooling effect using pastel shades and blue flowering plants.

Don't just think about using annuals in flowerbeds – a pot of flowers beside the front door and on the back patio is very welcoming. Remember to use water storage crystals in the pots to help keep the plants moist.

One of the most spectacular summer flowering plants are hydrangeas. Plant these in the shade in enriched soil or use in pots. These water guzzlers may need more than the twice weekly watering if the weather gets very hot and come in colours of white, pink, blue and mauve, including gorgeous lace cap varieties.

Water wise choices for pots include succulents and brightly coloured dwarf bougainvillea.

Garden lighting is important for safety and can add drama and life to the night garden. Check how well the access paths to your front door are lit as well as the barbecue area.

While floodlights provide even, all-over light, select special features in the garden for feature lights. A tree trunk, pots, a section of the shrubbery or a statue can be highlighted using low voltage garden lights. These can be bought from hardware stores and installed by the home handyperson but need to be plugged into an outdoor power point. Solar lights are a no-fuss alternative but glow less brightly.

So devote a day to spruce up the backyard and then sit back with a drink at the end of the day and admire your smart, stylish garden.

Unless your garden has gotten completely out of hand, the following activities can be carried out in a day.

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