Whisper it quietly, but the time to get back in the garden is creeping nearer and nearer. This is good news for some, who since October have been limiting their outdoor work to necessary repairs and tidying. For others, who take on garden work only when necessary, it marks the beginning of the end of their ideal excuse. Before long, your local garden centre will be a hive of activity again.
Let's be clear - it's still a little too cold to be planting out very much. Even if you wrap up warm, most of what you plant will struggle to survive against the harsh conditions - and we may yet have more snowfall. Nonetheless, this is very much the time to put together any plans you may have to overhaul your garden in 2017.
Big garden renovations do not happen overnight. They take time and effort. Most of all, they take a certain amount of planning. Whatever ideas you have to bring your garden up to date, an idea does not become a reality without a sound plan.
You can ignore that advice, but it will be at your peril. If you're one of those people who decides to do something and jumps right into action, it can result in a garden that looks disjointed. Unfinished. A collection of good ideas not fully realised. The garden equivalent of an album released by any group referred to as "a good singles band."
The following, then, are ideas which, if planned and executed with precision, could make your 2017 summer garden special.
#1. Modern Decking
There are different ways to "do" decking. Some will look excellent, leaving you with a garden full of character which will be an ideal outdoor space. Others can look thrown together, not match up with anything else in your garden, and just give the impression of an afterthought. Your garden is too important to look like that.
First of all, you must decide on the finish for the decking. To get the right look, you need to scan around your garden and evaluate the general look. Do you have a fence, and if so what colour is it? What naturally grows around your garden, and what colour of decking will fit with the look of your house? Are you prepared to paint the fence, or the exterior of your house, to get the right look?
Safety is also an important consideration. If you're going to be holding barbecues and children will be playing out there, the decking needs to be kept as dry as possible. Sitting water can encourage bacteria, damage the finish and the load-bearing abilities of the wood you've used. Also, because decking creates a multi-level effect, you don't want people to fall off it. Putting in place a balustrade, by SHS Products or similar, is a good idea. Done right, it will enhance the look considerably.
Okay, left there alone like that, the word can seem a bit extreme. No-one is suggesting just setting fire to part of your garden and occasionally throwing wood on it, though. There are ways and means to use fire in your garden which make it look spectacular.
Obviously, safety is an issue here. However you might choose to include fire in your garden, it needs to be in a way that children and pets are not going to be at risk of harm. For example, one of the most popular garden accessories of 2016 was a fire pit. Versatile and visually impressive, they nonetheless need to be placed very carefully.
Most important of all when considering a fire pit, chimenea or barbecue, is that it needs to be away from the house or any fence. You buy fuel for these things at a garden centre or supermarket. You do not want your fence or your siding to become additional fuel. Also, by situating it away from the house, it is out of the way of any kids or pets who might come running out, excited to play in the garden.
Therefore it is essential to create a fireproof space for any new accessory like this that you buy. Laying down concrete paving, keeping any wood out of the way and ensuring that nothing is hanging overhead are essential. Fire can be beautiful, cosy, romantic. It can also be deadly, so respect its power.
Finally, any time you are going to light a fire, check among the fuel for any creatures that may have nested in there. Hedgehogs, in particular, like to huddle among piles of material for warmth and safety.
#3. Your First Menagerie
It's becoming more and more popular to create a little bit of the countryside in the towns and suburbs of Britain. This was originally seen mainly in terms of planting food and flowers but has spread to include keeping animals in your garden. And why not?
Be aware that personal responsibility is essential here. Of course, it is wonderful to have a few chickens or a duck here and there. Depending on the size of your garden, you can go further and keep a goat or two. You do, however, need to provide them with adequate living space. For chickens, this means a coop, and a similar arrangement for any other fowl. Ducks will ideally need a pond to swim in.
Goats or other livestock will need at least a shelter. Unless you plan to have them sleep in the house at night, you can't expect them to roam around the garden in all weathers.
If you fancy just having a little nature around your garden but can't commit to maintaining that kind of space, create a hedgehog house. Keep it supplied with food and water. Then it will become a refuge for the kind of animals that are often driven out of other areas by predators and angry gardeners.