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How to build the big garden feature you always wanted - David Domoney

It’s so easy to keep putting off big projects. Blame the weather, or the kids, or a busy week at work. But one weekend spent putting in the graft can revolutionise your garden. Think of that feature you’ve always wanted: the pond, gazebo or rockery.

Here’s how to finally build the big new garden feature you dream of having. Start planning now and you’ll be ready when the weather improves. Complete any one of these and you will be (justly) proud of yourself.

Put in a new border


We all welcome extra space to grow flowers! Starting a border from scratch might seem daunting, but there are some simple rules to make it seamless.

First mark out your shape – it’s important to get this right first time. Use hosepipe and check the shape is smooth and balanced from an upstairs window.

Remove the grass with a spade by digging straight down several inches and peeling back the turf. You can use the spare sods to repair any gaps in the lawn.

If you don’t want to dig out the grass (and you’re more patient than me), you can smother the area with thick layers of newspaper. If you do this in early spring, your will be ready for planting in autumn.

Dig over the soil and add plenty of organic matter like well-rotted manure to bulk it up. Now you’re ready to plant it!

What you grow in your new border is entirely up to you, but here’s a few tips. Check that the plants are happy in your soil and sunlight levels before you buy them. Give each plant space to grow into, so it doesn’t smother its neighbours. And plant some evergreen or woody structures that will look good in winter, otherwise your border will look barren once summer is over. Here’s some more tips on planting a border.

Build a rockery


Rock gardens are brilliant features and so low-maintenance. Most of the plants are alpines, ground cover and dwarf varieties, so they are cheap and easy to control.

Mark out your space as with the flower bed, but don’t dig in any organic matter. If you have heavy soil, dig in some sand to loosen it.

Next you need some rocks – check out your local garden centre or builder’s merchant. Go for the biggest rocks you can handle, rather than lots of little ones that can look too busy. Dig in the rocks using a spade so they are partly buried.

Now you’re ready to add plants. Create height and structure with dwarf shrubs like conifers and heathers, or grasses like sedge. Then add alpines like sedums and saxifrage and creepers such as thyme and aubrietia.

Cover the soil with fine gravel to help drainage and stop weeds growing, and your rockery is complete! Here’s a longer guide to building a rockery if you need it.

Install a summer gazebo


A permanent garden gazebo is a great escape from the house and kids, and a central spot for relaxing and reading.

First, you need to choose the right spot. Aim for a place that receives plenty of sunlight and has level ground. Measure the space before buying anything – we’ve all been caught out by that!

Next you need to choose a gazebo. If you can afford it I’d recommend a softwood timber structure. The wooden kits contain a base, roof, side panels and even glass windows that can be assembled and left up all year round.

Or there are also cheaper pop-up metal gazebos with fabric covering, which have no base and often need disassembling in bad weather.

Kit it out with comfy seating and add any paint and decoration you like, from bunting and fairy lights to insect hotels mounted on the walls.

Add a pond


If you have space for a pond with fish, this is the project for you! But even small gardens can have a wildlife pond. Choose a fairly shady spot but not underneath a tree, or you’ll be forever fishing out leaves.

You can build up with bricks or dig down. For a raised pond, level off the base and build brick walls.

For excavated ponds, mark out the shape with hosepipe and dig out the soil. You can buy ready-moulded plastic ponds that will dictate the size, shape and depth if you like.

Alternatively, create your own shape and make sure to add steps for different levels on larger ponds – varying the depth helps plants grow and supports fish.

Line the pond with cushioning material like old carpet then add a strong pond liner. Pin it in at the edges with heavy paving slabs. Fill gradually with water, allowing it to settle and checking for leaks.

When the weather warms up, consider adding plants, pumps and eventually fish.

Plant a tree


A new tree has a dramatic impact in the garden, from adding height, shade and structure to providing autumn colour and attracting wildlife. Plus it gives you and your garden a sense of permanence.

Even small gardens should have a tree – acers, sorbus and amelanchier are all brilliant. And it doesn’t have to be ornamental – fruit trees are gorgeous and productive.

Make sure you choose a tree that will fit in your garden – check its full size measurements rather than just the current height and spread. And choose a sheltered spot. Here’s a detailed tree planting guide.

Any one of these projects will transform your garden and give you a real sense of achievement.

Plus, check out these other ideas if you’re feeling ambitious!

How to plant fruit canes and trees

How to plant a new rose bush in the garden

Tips on how to plant a new shrub

5 ideas to transform your garden shed

How to take care of garden fences

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