Transforming your garden

It’s been just over a month since we announced the winner of our garden competition and now we’re starting work on Jon Mason’s ‘Win a Grand for your Garden’ renovation in Devon. The process involved reviewing the current garden and the options that would suit Jon’s lifestyle.

We’ll bring you pictures and video of the makeover as it happens, but in the meantime a big thank you to Andrew Greenhill of Greenhill Landscaping for stepping up to help us. Making over a garden that was as far gone as Jon’s was a real challenge, so we got some expert advice from Notcutts on some simple ideas for the garden.

The garden is just as important as the home. It’s a place where you can go to escape, relax and unwind; it can help to add value to a property if you’re thinking of relocating and can provide you with a safe haven or playground for your children. There are endless opportunities to transform your garden into an outdoor space that you can all enjoy, all year round.

Before you brush the dust off your spade and get stuck in, there are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Is the lawn in good health? Do I need to scatter a few seeds here and there, or is it a much bigger job? Will I need to buy new turf?

  2. What do I want out of my garden - is it a mostly a play area for my kids, a space to grow my own produce or do I need a decking area to relax in?

  3. Which plants can I really grow in my garden? Which soil type am I working with? How much sun does my garden receive and where?

Once you have answered these questions you can get started. Begin with the biggest job; the lawn. If necessary, mow the lawn, scatter some grass seeds, water and wait. Once lush and green you can start planning your flower beds and borders.


Turfing the lawn

If you’ll be using turf, you will need to spread fertiliser over the ground a week prior to laying it down. Once that week is finished, level the ground and remove any large stones; if you still find the ground is uneven, use topsoil and level it out with a rake. Firm the ground by taking small heavy steps and then give it one last rake over. You can now begin to lay the turf, leaving different lengths at the end and then trimming a neat edge using a sharp knife. If you are working on a large area it is worth working with a plank of wood to complete each stage. Water well, and keep doing so for a few weeks until the turves have established.


If you’ve already planned your decking area, you’ll need to measure the size of your deck in square metres, and calculate how many posts, rails and decking tiles you’ll need. Each pack of tiles should tell you the area it covers to give you a better idea of how many packs you’ll need. You will also need to bear in mind placement when building your deck; if you will be placing the deck near your home, the deck should slope away from the house (there should be about 10mm drop for every metre).

Next is ground preparation. Mark out the perimeter of your decking and clear the ground of any turf, vegetation and stones. Lay a deck fabric over the ground to suppress weed growth and lay down concrete paving slabs in a grid pattern (about 1400 metres apart) – this provides a better foundation for your deck’s framework, support for the timber joists and secures the deck fabric.

Tip: Stronger concrete bases (digging 300mm squares holes that are also 300mm deep and filled with concrete) will be required if you have poor soil conditions or drainage.

Before laying down any slabs it is advised that you lay squares of bitumen DPC membrane and form the outer frame of the deck with joists and use others to fill the frame; joists should be placed about 400mm apart. If you are positioning the deck next to the house, use stainless steel washers and position them between the wall and the joist. To strengthen the framework further use noggins and place them between the joists at right angles.

Tip: With any new cut wood and drill holes ensure you use an end coat wood preservative.

Lay six deck boards at a time, if you’re placing yours by the house, start there and leave 5mm between each board for ventilation. Pre-drill screw holes, fix the ends of each board using stainless steel screws and then fix the centre of the board to every joist. Join boards over a joist and cut to size where necessary. After you’re done, treat the deck to prevent the colour from fading.


Planting tips

What use is it creating a glorious deck without any flowers to marvel at when catching a few rays or watching the kids play? Determining the soil type and pH level along with the quality and position of sunlight will help you to define your plant shopping list.

To ensure your garden flourishes you first need to understand the soil and conditions you’re working with. There are four main soil types and these can be easily recognised - clay, sandy, loamy and chalky.

Soil types

Clay soils often feels sticky to touch and can be easily worked into a ball when mixed with water, whereas sandy soils are the polar opposite; they are gritty and crumble when mixed with water to form a ball. Loamy soils, on the other hand, are in the middle of clay and sandy soils; rolling them into a ball with water will determine if you’re working with a clay or sandy loam. Chalky soil is the easiest type to identify; if you see white chalk or flint stones in the soil, you’re sure to know you have chalky soil.

Soil pH levels

Next on the list to do is measure your soil’s pH level, which can be done at home or by taking a sample into a local garden centre for testing.

If you find your pH level is between 3.0 and 4.9; then you have very acidic soil and most plants will find it hard to thrive in your garden. If you mix some lime into your soil and raise the pH level to 5.0, you should find your plants will live much longer.

Between 5.1 and 6.0 means you have acidic soil and will be able to grow ericaceous plants such as Camellias, Heathers and Azaleas. However, if you want to grow other plants or vegetables it would be best to add lime to your soil to raise your pH level to about 7.0.

The perfect pH level is between 6.1 and 7.0; here you will be able to grow almost everything. The only exception is lime-hating plants – they will need more acidic soil (pH levels between 5.1 and 6.0).

Anything above 7.0 to 8.0 is alkaline; this may result in your plants suffering from chlorosis and ideally the pH level should be reduced by adding sulphate.

When shopping for your plants keep in mind the soil type and pH level and be sure to look at the care guide, which you should find on every plant; this will give you an idea about what you can grow in your garden. The remaining factor is sunlight; different flowers require varying amounts of sun, which is why it’s best to know roughly how much sun your garden receives and knowing where the sun hits will tell you where each plant should be grown in order to thrive.

Professional help you may need

A landscape gardener, especially if you want a raised deck. Normally they should be able to build the deck for you, but we would advise that you look at their references and portfolio before putting pen to paper. Carpenters can also build decking, so keep your options open.

A tree surgeon; if you need to cut down large trees or are concerned about their health in your garden, it is best to call in a professional.

Leave a Comment