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Looking after garden furniture.

I accept that the bleak midwinter is not the ideal time to be thinking about sitting out on garden furniture, but before too long the days will be getting longer and warmer again and thoughts will turn to relaxing under the shade of a tree on a nice garden chair or having afternoon tea on the patio furniture.  It would be unfortunate, therefore, to find the garden furniture in such a state of disrepair that it is unusable.  During winter, garden furniture will, in most cases, require some degree of care, especially products made using softwoods and metals.  I believe that if someone looks after their garden furniture well, they will get years of use out of it.

It is recommended that maintenance of garden furniture is carried out at the end of the summer season, when the furniture is dry; but maintenance can be done at any point in the year, provided the furniture has remained dry.  So anyone who stores their furniture indoors, in a garage space or garden shed, for instance, can carry out repairs and maintenance at their convenience.  Laziness is no excuse – not most of the time anyhow.

Maintaining plastic furniture is a straightforward task.  All that needs to be done to keep plastic furniture in good shape is to wipe it down on a regular basis using soap and water.  I have read, though, that storing plastic furniture outside during the winter is not a good idea because it can become brittle over the course of the winter months.  I know that long exposure to strong sunshine has the same effect on plastic furniture.  It has a similar effect on a few people I know.

Of all the types of material used in furniture, the most durable is hardwood.  The high levels of naturally occurring oils in these woods – examples include teak and eucalyptus – mean they are best protected from the elements.  So it is possible to leave hardwood furniture items outdoors during winter, although if the space indoors is available, I would suggest moving it indoors just to be sure.  Once a year, hardwood furniture should be cleaned using a brush and some soapy water in order to remove the algae and lichens that tend to attach to it.

Softwood furniture requires greater care, and I would suggest washing it down on a regular basis and using a wood stain to keep it in good condition.  Metal furniture will rust, so a coat of rust-preventing paint is a good idea.  I would suggest applying oil to metal joints and fixings to keep them moving freely.  No jokes about applying oil to old-man joints please!

Winter gardening tips

As I look out on my garden in the depths of winter, I wonder if it will come to life again for the spring.  Everything seems so dead, but I know that there are lots of tasks I can be doing to ensure that my shrubs and flowers bloom once more when the days become longer and warmer.

Recent harsh winters have seen an increase in the use of salt to melt ice on paths and driveways, but I would caution against using salt. I certainly would not spread it anywhere near my shrubs, for fear of damaging them.  I have put too much time and effort into getting my shrubs looking the way they do, thank you very much!  I would use sand or sawdust to melt the ice.

I find that it is not a great idea to walk over and back on a dormant lawn so I try to avoid doing so.  I politely discourage other family members to do the same, although unfortunately sometimes I am not that polite.  Dry grass is fragile and easily damaged.  A well-kept lawn can be a magnificent centrepiece in any garden so keeping it maintained is important.

If there is heavy snow, I would recommend removing the snow from conifers and hedges but doing it gently.  My tip is to use straw to pack the branches of trees and shrubs that are particularly fragile and susceptible to being damaged and broken by cold conditions.

If soil conditions are favourable, I recommend continuing to dig beds and borders and to lay down as much organic material as possible – manure, to use the less polite term.  Not only does digging beds help prepare the soil for planting in spring, but it also helps eliminate pests, which become exposed to birds.  Of course, birds are hungry this time of year so I am doing them a favour too.

The unfortunate thing for gardeners, me included, is that weeds – a gardener’s worst enemy – do not disappear, even in winter.  So it is best to keep on top of things once soil conditions allow because once the spring comes, those pesky weeds will start to flourish again.

Maintaining a greenhouse.

I enjoy growing my own fruit and vegetables, but the climate in the U.K. means not every type of fruit and vegetable can be grown outdoors.  So I have invested in a greenhouse for things like tomatoes.  Putting up a greenhouse can be challenging, which will come as no surprise to those who have tried and failed, but once it has been put up and filled with plants, the work is not done.  A greenhouse has to be maintained.  If a greenhouse is not maintained properly, it could suffer from poor sun access or experience ventilation problems.  Another issue that needs to be looked after is control of those dreaded pests.

I find that if I clean the glass on my greenhouse on a regular basis, it enjoys sufficient sun access.  A tough task, I know, but a man’s work is never done, especially in the garden.  To think some people told me I would be taking it easy in retirement.

In terms of pest control, my top tips are to remove dead leaves and branches from plants and from the greenhouse altogether and gather together some ladybirds and spiders and release them in the greenhouse so they can feed on the pests inside.  Let someone, or in this case something else, do the work is what I say.

Ventilation and heating of a greenhouse is important.  This might seem obvious, but there are some tips that I think are handy for maximising ventilation.  It makes senses to look for gaps in the structure on a regular basis and to fill any.  A handy tip for retaining heat inside the greenhouse is to paint the surfaces inside with black paint.  For me, keeping the heat inside the greenhouse is an ongoing challenge; so putting in a second door to prevent the loss of a heat from a draft is good sense.

A common problem experienced with greenhouses is that hot air becomes trapped up around the ceiling, meaning that plants at the bottom of the greenhouse are missing out on warmth.  Installing vents means that hot air can get out and fresh air from outdoors come in, helping air circulation.  No one wants to be overburdened with hot air, under any circumstances.

Anyone putting up a greenhouse for the first time is at something of an advantage because the best time to make sure everything is right is when the greenhouse is being built.  I would recommend positioning the greenhouse in a spot where it will enjoy maximum exposure to sunlight in winter time and get some protection from the hot summer sun, too much of which will wilt the plants inside.  Another bit of advice I would recommend is putting the greenhouse on higher ground in the garden so that it does not suffer from water run-off.

I have got great benefits from my greenhouse, but I know I need to keep it maintained if those benefits are to continue.

Growing my own food

My daughter once tried to persuade me to become vegetarian; I mulled it over briefly.

I’d lose weight, become healthier and feel happier, she said. The thing she neglected to mention was that I’d miss out on bacon! I gently let her down, explaining that a life without bacon was not one I wanted to live. We agreed I would try to eat more veg, however.

Now I’m retired, I’ve found I’ve got a lot more time on my hands to do the things I’ve always wanted to. I’ve always dreamt of being able to grow my own fruit and vegetables in the garden for cooking. There’s no better feeling than cooking (or getting the wife to cook) veg that was growing in the earth a few minutes earlier.

I now take a weekly trip to the garden centre, to see what else I can shove in the ground and eventually eat. I’ve got carrots, potatoes, peas, courgettes, cucumbers and tomatoes growing in the garden and greenhouse at the moment, but I’m always open to trying new things.

I’ve spent some spare time researching the best fruit to grow in the UK. I’d love to grow oranges and lemons, but think I may be pushing my luck considering our climate! Instead, I think I’m going to go for apples, pears and raspberries, to start with.

Once I’ve seen what grows well and what doesn’t, I expect I’ll try and grow other, more exotic types of fruit. I’ve read that citrus fruits can be grown indoors, so I may have to try that when I’ve built up enough courage.

In the meantime, wish me luck in the garden and please let me know if you have any tips to help me grow successfully!

How to get your lawn looking great

In the summer months, I take great pride in ensuring my lawn is lush, green and even. I’ve got a big garden, but that doesn’t stop me maintaining it as best I can. The purchase of a ride-on lawn mower has made the process much more enjoyable; I’m a big kid at heart!

You might ask why I’m discussing lawns at this time of year, when gardens tend to look like muddy swamps. It’s because a good lawn needs careful planning well in advance of the summer months.

If you’ve got a patchy, unattractive lawn, a little work on it now will go a long way. The first thing you need to do is dig up the old, poorly-performing grass and get some air into the soil. Get out there and attack it with a tool to churn everything up a bit.

Once you’ve done this, you can leave it for a few weeks, being careful to kill any weeds that grow. Eventually they’ll stop coming back and you can plant the grass seeds. Using some compost or fertiliser will help the grass to grow thick and healthy.

My top tip is to buy – or borrow – a seed spreader when planting. It may be tempting to save money and do it by hand, but these products are designed to distribute exactly the right amount of seeds.

It’s best to plant in early autumn, but I’m sure planting now will be fine – just don’t blame me if it goes wrong!

With the ground fully fertilised and the seeds planted, you can sit back and let nature take its course. Be sure to get out there and water it on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to cut it when it starts growing, either. It’s best to cut it when it’s short, rather than waiting for it to grow too long.

Your efforts now will be greatly rewarded in the summer, when you have beautiful, lush lawn to enjoy.

Digging out the paintbrushes

There are a lot of useless items in my loft. When I say a lot, I mean A LOT. I can never bring myself to throw things away, so anything I stop using is quickly relocated to the attic. It’s easier than throwing it away and I might need the things up there again at some point in the future.

If I ever need a 6,000 piece jigsaw, or a bird cage for the canary I no longer have, all I need to do is pop up to the loft.

The problem is there are actually some useful items up there. They’re buried beneath the heaps of junk and, sadly, are quickly forgotten. That’s why I sometimes take a couple of hours to go up and have a root around.

Occasionally I’ll find something of use that I’d completely forgotten about.

I did exactly that, a few weeks ago and found my old art kit. I used to do portraits in my youth and was pretty serious about it for a while. I struggled to make time for it and eventually stopped.

Anyway, I spotted my old paintbrushes and canvases, so decided to dig them out from in between the toys and failed DIY projects that had built up around them. Almost instantly, I had a plan.

I would start painting again and see if I could sell a few online to make a little extra money. I was excited until I realised I didn’t have enough space to get messy and do the actual painting indoors. I was about to give up on the dream until I chanced across the idea of getting a garden studio built. One look at the website and I’d fallen in love.

I’m going to get in touch with the company later this week and see what they can do for me. I love the idea of retiring to my wooden garden studio whenever I feel like it. I won’t have to worry about getting paint all over the carpets in the house and can have my own little creative space outside to work in.

I think I’ll need some new paintbrushes as well – they’re all stuck together with decades old paint. I’ll keep you updated on how my project goes and, who knows, I could be the next Van Gough!