Top 5 Designer Tips For Giving Your Garden A Makeover This Spring

With longer days and better weather on the horizon, now’s the time to take a look at how your garden has fared over winter.

Garden designer and lecturer Hilary Thomas, who teaches garden and planting design online through Learning With Experts, explains:

“Gardens are great places to be creative, as even small additions such as painting the garden furniture, or the addition of colourful cushions, will have an instant and exciting effect.”

She offers five suggestions for giving your outdoor space a spring makeover.

1. Boost your boundaries 

During the cooler months, we spend a lot of time looking at our gardens from the windows of the house, so take a long hard look at your garden and decide whether you like the view.

Walls and fences are the same height in a tiny garden as a large one, so their importance increases as the size of the garden decreases. If all you can see are bare fences, spring is the time to do something about it.

Plant some structural evergreens at the back of the border so that as they mature, they will hide the boundary fence. Use plants like

Elaeagnus x ebbingei, Osmanthus x burkwoodii, Phillyrea latifolia, Pittosporum tenuifolium and Viburnum sinus. Plant some clematis between these shrubs, and they will mix and mingle, creating a soft boundary around the garden with summer colour and all-year interest.

If you look out at an unsightly concrete or brick wall, consider having it rendered and painted with an exciting new shade of masonry paint. Think carefully about the colour and select a few climbing plants with flowers and foliage that will complement the new wall.

2. Screen with green

If your sitting area is overlooked by the next-door neighbours, consider planting a row of trees along the boundary to block out their view.

Go for narrow, fastigiate trees such as Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ a flowering pear with wonderful autumn colour, or Carpinus betulus ‘Frans Fontaine’ a narrow form of our native hornbeam.

3. Think about how you use the garden 

Consider the main use of the garden and if it is primarily a space to sit, relax and entertain friends, consider digging up the lawn and enlarging the sitting area. Keep the paving simple and mix slabs with gravel or stone chippings to keep costs down.

4. Revamp your garden furniture

If the garden furniture is looking a little tired and you don’t want to buy new, put it in the garage or shed to dry off before rubbing it down and applying a coat of paint.

Try to select a colour that will fit in with the colour of the planting around the sitting area. There are paints suitable for both wood and metal furniture. Add some colourful cushions and tableware too.

5. Perk up your patio with pots

Spice up your back and front garden with colourful, welcoming pots. Your front garden should offer a welcome to visitors, so try to have a selection of colourful pots near your front door.

Containers come in a variety of materials, but a group of terracotta or glazed pots will suit most situations. Make sure the pots you buy will be the right size once you get them home, because most people buy containers that are too small and out of scale with the house and patio.

You can grow almost anything in a container; small trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, bulbs and seasonal bedding. Clipped evergreens such as Ilex crenata, Buxus sempervirens and Phillyrea latifolia add a touch of formality to a group of flowering plants.

In spring, narcissus and tulips will add seasonal excitement and colour to a container planted up with a winter flowering shrub or coloured winter stems. In summer, a mix of herbaceous plants and seasonal bedding can provide colour from June through to autumn.

For more information on the full range of courses visit

3 Gorgeous New Interiors Trends To Try In 2018

In this fast-moving world, anyone who reads magazines, browses Pinterest, Instagram and their favourite decor blogs, knows there’s a dazzling (and sometimes confusing) array of ideas out there to inspire our style.

To make it easy, we’ve identified three key new spring/summer trends – Artisan, Natural and Luxe – that you can shop on the high street.  So not only will these looks all add ‘va-va-room’ to your home, but they won’t break the bank, as these top finds show…

1. Get a weave on

Be inspired by creativity and craftsmanship sourced from around the world and take your home into a new decor destination with an ‘artisan’ theme. “I love those little variations that make artisan textiles and ceramics unique – that’s why this trend has such staying power,” predicts Jakki Pay, home design director at House of Fraser. We’ve sourced a patchwork of techniques, from mark-making to hand-stitching and tactile fringing. It’s our very own celebration of global craftsmanship, so expect natural materials, tribal prints and plenty of earthy, sun-dried colour.”

“When creating this interior style, don’t be afraid to be bold,” advises Claire Hornby, creative stylist, Barker & Stonehouse. “Opting to layer rugs in stripes and patchwork patterns across your living or bedroom space is a simple and guaranteed way to create interest from the ground up. This adventurous streak can make its way to your  sofa – select scatter cushions in contrasting fabrics, designs and hues, which can really work if you stick to complementary earthy colours. Celebrate wanderlust by  proudly displaying your collected art and accessories, to remind yourself there’s a whole brilliant world out there.”ID-JAN-3.jpg


2. Take a leaf out of nature

Mirror the elegance of the natural world and its palette – the ‘natural’ trend is all about organic structures and tactile finishes.

“Way back in 1984, Dr Edward Wilson termed ‘biophilia’ as the ‘innate sense of belonging to the natural world’. Now, 34 years on, this sense of belonging will be entering our homes, with wallpapers, window blinds and other decor. This trend is also about nurturing the planet and sustainability,” says Alex Whitecroft, head of design at I want Wallpaper. “Some key looks will be living walls, plant/tree bark designs, vegetation and the creation of tech-free spaces, because this look is all about immersing oneself in nature. That means an abundance of greenery and vegetation, whether real or faux. It’s about promoting a sense of wellbeing through our obsession with the natural world.”

“People are asking more of their homes. Scandinavian-style simplicity is still strong, but it will be joined by a desire for understated opulence, with rich velvets, brass accents (replacing last year’s copper) and different stone finishes,” says Cornelia de Ruiter,  CEO and co-founder of Homewings.

“Marble, velvet and mid-century pieces are adding a touch of luxury and smaller accent pieces, like pouffes and ottomans in rich shades, are helping to add colour to homes.”

3. Layer on the luxe

Counterbalance the rapid advances of technology with luxury items and a subtle colour palette that projects elegant timelessness; a core essence of the ‘luxe’ trend.

“To some extent, all trends draw their influence from the past, and this look celebrates history and heritage. There’s a sense of ‘looking backwards to go forwards’, which translates as a fusion of retro and modern influences,” says Lorna McAleer from Style Studio. “Colours are classic and modest – for example, mix burgundy and warm brown colour ways with mellow neutrals. Team items with sleek, modern blinds to stop a scheme appearing stuffy.”

“To maintain the more minimalist and pared-back styling, try not to overload your look,” says Claire Hornby. “Opt for a base palette of neutral and natural tones to help elevate the opulence of metallic accents. Consider placing perfectly formed, geometric objects next to natural free-formed elements, such as wood or crystals, for a wonderfully eclectic effect.” Alternatively, make it tropical and lush with exotic detailing such as palm prints; Biba at House of Fraser has some great pieces.


A Risk Of Killing Birds With Kindness

By Hannah Stephenson PA

We want to feed birds through winter, but we may be making some mistakes in our methods. The RSPB offers 3 tips on what not to do.

We all know we need to keep bird feeders and baths topped up over the winter months to ensure our winged friends weather the storm of winter.

But there are some things we shouldn’t be doing, which can risk a bird’s health, and in some cases lead to death. Here’s the RSPB’s advice on what not to do.

1. Don’t put out fat balls in netting

Fat balls may be a great energy source for birds, but not when they’re housed in nylon netting, which is often used for easy hanging but can end up trapping birds’ feet or beaks, leading to injury or even death. If you buy fat balls, remove them from any nets and put them in a safer, bespoke hanging feeder. or leave them loose on a bird table.

2. Don’t give them food poisoning

Foods to avoid which are dangerous for birds include cooking fat from the roast, or Christmas turkey mixed with meat juices during cooking to make a runny, greasy mixture. This sticks to feathers and stops them from being waterproof. It is often full of salt too, which is toxic to birds. Other foods to avoid are dessicated coconut, which may swell once inside a bird and cause death, cooked porridge oats or milk, which can damage a bird’s gut.

3. Don’t put out too much food

If food turns mouldy or stale on your bird table, you are probably putting out too much for the birds to eat in one day. Many moulds are harmless, but some can cause respiratory infections in birds, so it’s best to be cautious and avoid mouldy food entirely. Always remove any stale or mouldy food promptly, as it provides a breeding ground for parasites and bacteria. Keep bird tables, feeders and surrounding areas clean, washing them regularly (ideally, using a 5% disinfectant solution) and move feeding stations to a new area every month to prevent droppings accumulating underneath.

To find a property with a lovely garden for wildlife, why not start your property search here

Floorboards – Sand, Paint and Reveal The Beauty

You know what? Underneath that tired, possibly stained, dust mite-infested carpet, there’s very likely a wooden floor that could look a million times better – if you knew how to sand and paint it.

Luckily, I did just that recently, so here are my tips for doing it yourself…

1. Clear the room – Sanding a wooden floor can be dusty, especially if you have gaps between floorboards to fill. Take all your furniture out, cover shelves and mantels with plastic sheeting and take the curtains or blinds down. This will save you hours of time (and heartache) later, and it’s never a bad idea to stick the curtains into the dry cleaners when you’ve got them down.

2. Prepare the floor – Your wooden floor may have cuts in it from electrical or plumbing fitting, or from various repairs. You may even need to replace a board or two if they’re badly damaged. Fill any gaps you find with two-part wood filler. If your gaps are wider than 5mm, you may need to roll up some newspaper and press it into the gap to give you something to fill up against. Carefully lift any mouldings you find, which can sometimes sit between floorboards and a skirting board. If you lift these gently, you might be able to salvage them, otherwise most DIY stores have huge moulding selections you can replace them with. If you had carpets down, you’ll need to lift the gripper rods and any staples that held your underlay down. Also, if you’ve taken carpet up, you’ll need to get a different profile of threshold strip for any doorways into the room. If you’re going to paint the floor, fix down any loose, squeaky boards by screwing them down before you start filling. However, if you want to varnish your floor, use brad nails to secure your boards instead, as it’s a better look on wooden boards. It’s very important not to screw or nail down the middle of the end of your floorboard, as this is where the pipes and electrics will run if you have them. This is why floorboards are secured in the corners instead.

3. Get sanding – If your room is small, you have the time – and if your fingers could stand up to the grating they’d get – you could sand your floor by hand. But the best plan is to hire a drum floor sander from any building hire shop. They are a bit heavy, but you can have them delivered with plenty of sandpaper, and they’ll do the job very quickly and easily. Use 40 grit sandpaper to start, if you have old varnish or lots of ground-in debris, then use 120 grit to finish, so the surface ends up smooth. Work methodically up and down the room, making sure you don’t sand in one place for too long – the coarse sandpaper can really eat into the boards. Finish sanding the edges of the floor where the sander can’t quite reach by hand (or you could also borrow an edging sander), and then sweep and vacuum up the dust. And it’s a good idea to shake out your dust sheets now, so no dust falls on your floor while you’re painting.

4. Choose the right paint – You can paint, stain or varnish your sanded floor in a wide range of colours and finishes, but make sure you buy products that are specifically for floors – they are harder wearing and certainly worth the small extra cost per litre. You can use 3″ or 4″ brushes to paint with. If you use a roller, which is quicker, it will leave your floor with a stippled effect, which doesn’t look so good on a painted floor. With a brush, you can lay off your paint work for a smoother finish – this means painting in the direction of the grain of wood, and painting any drips back into the wood. If you are painting your floor, you’ll need to put at least two coats of undercoat down first. Make sure you use a compatible undercoat to the top coat you are using – they are often designed to work together. I used Farrow & Ball paint for my floor, so two coats of wood floor primer and undercoat, followed by two coats of Charleston Gray Modern Eggshell.

5. Don’t paint yourself into a corner – Most importantly, start on the far edge of the room and don’t paint yourself into a corner (this does happen, and is a right laugh when the apprentices do it!). If you intend to keep your doors on their hinges during the job, make sure you paint the floor behind them before you paint yourself out of the room. Also, open the windows so you don’t poison yourself with fumes. Pay attention to the drying times, so you can get multiple coats on efficiently, and paint the top coats in the same way. For stains and varnishes, apply in the same way, just don’t forget that ventilation – they can be really smelly.