In The Garden — New Year, new border

TIPS on how to beautify your front garden — plus some ideas on border design and tips on how to minimise maintenance.

IF YOUR borders lack colour, texture and depth, then it’s an ideal time to plan a new one to give you all-year-round colour, beautifully matched plants and a few surprises along the way.

Don’t be afraid to copy other’s ideas. You may need to visit a National Trust garden or simply look for inspiration closer to home, seeking out ideas by peeking into neighbouring gardens or simply asking keen gardening friends how they achieved a particular effect which you want to replicate.

Take a camera and notebook with you so that you can take pictures of particular scenes, so you don’t just rely on your memory.

Alternatively, cut out pictures from magazines and cover them with tracing paper, drawing on the key plant shapes you like. You may not be able to use exactly the same plants that you have admired in a magazine, but it will give you an idea of what works shape and height-wise.

When planning, ensure that the border provides year-round interest, not just a mass of blooms in summer which leaves the area looking dull and boring in winter.

Brighten up spring with bulbs and make use of evergreens and shrubs with coloured bark or berries in autumn and winter to prolong interest and keep a shape to the border.

While summer can be a riot of colour, trees and shrubs provide a framework to the border, some structure on which to build seasonal displays. They can also be used individually to create a particular effect such as a focal point.

Of course, the first consideration is your soil - is it acid or alkaline, is your aspect light or shady, is the ground dry or moist? Again, consider plants which have done well in your neighbours’ gardens because they are also likely to do well in yours.

If you want a tree or shrub to add height to a border, use a tripod of canes which can be moved around to give you an idea of where the new addition will fit in best and when choosing a tree, consider its rate of growth and ultimate size. You don’t want it dominating the border and casting shade over some of your more colourful sun-lovers later in the season.

Try to keep the planting design simple, choosing perhaps large interlocking drifts of plants rather than a mismatched smorgasbord of a lot of little plants which you’ve bought on a whim but which don’t really complement each other.

Consider a themed border for compatible plants, such as a Mediterranean border, or a border with one type of plant such as herbs, which can be intermingled successfully.

Think about repetition in your border as using a particular plant repeatedly makes a particularly showy plant stand out and also helps merge a diverse display.

Alliums, with their stunning lollipop-shaped clusters of flowers can provide a showy display repeated at points along a border, but any repetition will help give the border more visual uniformity.

If you haven’t particularly thought about colour, do so now, and use a colour wheel to judge which colours go best together.

Do you want a sizzling clash for a dramatic, hot effect, or a softer palette of colours closer in shades such as pinks and mauves, which will merge together beautifully in the border?

Use a few large, architectural plants such as phormiums or fatsias, to create a dramatic effect, rather than lots of fussy, small plants. Position plants, still in their pots, so you can stand back and view the effect from several angles and move them if you need to.

Best of the bunch - Poinsettia

If your poinsettia has made it happily through Christmas, you may be able to make it bloom again for the next festive season.

Keep it moist, but not sodden, and out of draughts for the time being. From April, gradually decrease watering, then when the leaves have fallen, cut back the stem to leave 4in stumps. At this point, the pot can be placed in a mild, shady position and the compost should be kept almost dry.

In early May, water and repot the plant, replacing some of the old compost, and place it on the brightest windowsill you have. By the end of the month you should see vigorous new growth. Feed regularly and remove some of the new growth to leave four or five strong new stems.

In June, move the plant outside in its pot and place it in a semi-shaded spot and in July pinch out each stem by about an inch to keep the plant bushy. Bring the plant back indoors in August and continue the watering and feeding regime.

By the end of September light control is essential, so you’ll need to cover the plant with a black plastic bag in the evening and remove it the next morning so the plant is kept in total darkness for 14 hours.

In November you can stop the darkness treatment and hopefully your poinsettia will again be in bloom at Christmas time.

Good enough to eat - Turnips

No haggis feast would be the same without ‘neeps and tatties’, which may prompt you to try to grow some in the new year.

Maincrop varieties are the easiest to grow and can be sown in July and August, for a first crop from October. Good varieties include ‘Manchester Market’, which is recommended for long storage, ‘Golden Ball’ and ‘Champion Green-top Yellow’.

Turnips do well in non-acid soil with reasonable drainage. Sow them thinly in a non-shady spot and thin them out as soon as the seeds are big enough to handle, until the plants are 25cm apart. Water them regularly to make sure you don’t end up with small and woody roots and hoe regularly to keep weeds under control.

Start lifting them as soon as they are large enough to use, as they deteriorate with age. However, in most areas you can leave them in the ground and lift them when you want them.

Three ways to... Secure your garden

1. Replace external shed hinges (those with screws on the outside) with internal ones.

2. Use wall and ground anchors to secure heavy furniture left out over winter and bolt down valuable containers and statues.

3. Use prickly shrubs such as berberis to make hedges around your boundary which should help deter opportunist thieves.

What to do this week

Cleap your pots if you haven’t already, brushing off dirt with a hard-bristled brush and discarding those which have broken, which can then be used as crocks.

Sprinkle a thin layer of compost over the ground to enrich the soil and set off the flowers of early spring bulbs when they come through.

Order seeds to be sown in January or February.

Protect vulnerable plants from frost and wind damage.

Check on bulbs being forced for indoor display every week so you don’t miss flowering.

If the soil is not waterlogged or frozen, continue winter digging.

Clear borders of weeds and debris to keep them neat and prevent a build-up of garden pests and diseases.

Order new summer-flowering bulbs in good time from a reputable supplier.

Replace plant ties which have rotted before plants start growing actively.

Examine stored dahlia tubers every few weeks and discard ones which are showing signs of rotting.

In the greenhouse, if you want to force lilies to produce early flowers, pot them up now.

Protect early-flowering winter bulbous irises by covering them with a cloche.

Cut back suckers of rhododendrons at their point of origin.