It's sad but true that when the hard landscaping and land-sculpting of a new garden have been done, the result is generally a large amount of dirt. So unfair, you think, that you've paid so many tradespeople and ended up with a whole lot of bare earth that needs to be covered up. But don't despair - just about everything you do to your land from this point on will help to turn bare earth into, well, something else.
Cut the job down to size by dividing your section into the areas that need to be covered for practical reasons, and the areas you want to cover for aesthetic reasons.
Practical areas may include the driveway, car parking area, paths, steps, and even the few square feet of concrete under the clothesline.
Aesthetic areas may be an outdoor eating area, a terrace, courtyard, pool area or a zany bit of mosaic paving for the sundial.
Practical areas have to work well alongside decorative areas, so try to develop a master plan and match your materials to one another. A mishmash of asphalt, concrete, pavers, timber decking and river stones is not going to give you the well-planned cohesive look that landscapers so cleverly achieve.
You also need to match the materials to the design of the house. If, for instance, your home is a square plastered building in the classic style, hunks of driftwood used as edging may not work. Although skilled landscapers and designers often mix and match materials to excellent effect.
Driveways and car parking areas are usually the largest and most difficult to cover creatively. It's easy to rush in and end up with a vast expanse of dark grey asphalt that dominates the entire landscape.
If your main material is going to be concrete or asphalt, you can introduce a second material to break up the expanse and give you smaller, more defined areas. Channels of chips or stones can be used - but not where they will be constantly driven over - to create an interesting pattern, and insets of timber will have the same effect. Concrete can be cut or stamped to provide patterns, ground down to expose other colours and textures, or coloured.
If you're happy with a zany look you can add a koru or any meaningful design to the middle of your driveway or parking area - it will become quite a conversation piece.
Once you've gone down a particular road in terms of materials, marry it with other landscape elements.
If you've used a specific design in the carpark, perhaps introduce a smaller version to paths, porches or other areas.
Apply the same rule to materials - the stones edging the driveway can be used down the edge of the garden steps.
The same applies in reverse - the mosaic design under the sundial can be repeated in a different format along the front of the garage, or to define parking spaces in the car-park area.
If your budget allows, you may choose pavers, cobblestones, slate or tiles as a paving material. And although any of these can look fantastic in defined spaces, acres of them laid in uniform style may not. If you have a large area to cover, don't choose small pavers laid in a busy pattern or your guests will be dizzy before they get to the door. Try to find the right proportions of pavers to the overall space.
If you can't make it work, you may be better to use a plain cover-up, like concrete, for the major part of the driveway/carpark area, and use your small pavers as accents.
When it comes to using gardens to cover up the dirt, lawn will be your best friend, especially if you have large areas to deal with.
A really good lawn is not beyond the abilities of anyone with half a brain who can read. There's a mountain of information on the internet and at garden centres and hardware outlets on how to prepare the soil, what kind of seed to use, and how to look after it while it grows.
You can get away with just a few tools - a shovel, a rake and a roller (it is not expensive to hire a roller). There are grass seeds available that will have your space looking green in just a few days - yes, honestly - and you'll be mowing before you know it. Ground covers are also very useful for turning awkward or unattractive areas into, at the very least, tidy spaces. Check out whether the area is going to be sunny or shady, wet or dry, and buy plants accordingly. Again, if you have large areas, choose varieties that grow speedily.
Tricks with trendy tiles
Any large expanse of concrete, asphalt or the like can be improved with a dash of imagination and not too many dollars.
Take yourself off to the nearest tile shop, or find a ceramic outlet with a closing-down sale, and choose some signature pavers to dress up your driveway.
Half a dozen pavers will give a boring area a real lift. Listello - those sheets of tiny little tiles - are also a good choice.
They're usually held together with net so you can cut off rows and inset them as you wish.
A few sheets of Listello will go a very long way. If your concrete driveway adjoins a concrete wall, run a line of single little tiles along the drive and up the wall.
Make a cross, a star or a letter of the alphabet at the top, and you'll have created something intriguing.