Getting the garden looking flash in winter is a mission — cold, wet, unpleasant and difficult. But if you tailor your projects to fit into the breaks in the weather, you can make a big difference without spending a fortune or freezing to death.
Start with a progressive tidy-up. Weed, trim and deadhead one part of the garden at a time. Where you have gaps you need to fill, choose plants that'll give the garden a belt of colour (see right). If the garden beds have broken timber edges, repair them and give them a coat of oil or stain if they need it.
As you finish each bed, cover with a good layer of fine, dark mulch. It'll immediately impart a smart, manicured look to the landscape. Don't be tempted to use post-peelings or woodchip. They're cheaper and they look it.
Many a fabulous outfit has been spoiled by tatty accessories, and it's the same in the garden. Start at the top of your driveway and walk to your house, taking note of all the items that are not up to scratch.
A utilitarian plastic letterbox or a tatty timber model on a lean is not the best introduction to your property. Consider the architectural style of your house and splash out on something new that suits the landscape.
If you're going with a contemporary look, choose metal house numbers — brass, copper, steel or brushed chrome. If your house is bespoke, timber or tile numbers will enhance the look.
A pair of plastic spotlights attached to the soffit might dazzle your visitors, but not in a good way. Consign them to the bin along with any cracked plastic solar lights you still have lying around and splash out for LED bollard lights or similar. Position them to light the way from low down so guests are not blinded as they approach the front door.
By the way, where is the front door? To point the way from, say, the carpark area to the porch, inset some pavers into the gravel, or create a guide with timber posts and rope, stainless steel rods and wire, or a row of slender ceramic planters.
If you want your entranceway to make a statement, add a focal point.
It could be a water feature, a piece of garden sculpture, a mirror, or a specimen plant in a classy pot.
Conversely, there may be something very unattractive (the wood pile, the wheelie bin) near your front entranceway, in which case you'll need camouflage.
A slatted timber panel, built or bought, is a quick fix.
Sit a bench or low table in front of it to give it a raison d'etre, or plant it with flowering climbers.
WHAT TO PLANT
Gaps in the garden are easily filled in winter, even if you're the demanding type who wants winter colour. If that's the case, your go-to plant must be the camellia.
Camellias are show-offs in the winter, bursting with blooms in white, cream, pink and red and various combinations of all four.
And you can also choose them for size and habit — the tall, tight shrubs, looser open varieties, dwarfs and even ground covers. The sasanquas are the early bloomers, with the larger, more formal camellias producing blooms later in winter.
There's a gorgeous free-flowering protea that'll lift your winter garden in a heartbeat. It's called "Almond Buff" and it makes spectacular, cream-coloured flowers from autumn to spring. This shrub is upright and will grow to about 2m.
Protea "Mini Red" is half the size but still a winner in the flowering stakes. It has a casual blooming regime, producing goblet-shaped flowers throughout the year, peaking in late winter.
With their soft, crumpled petals, Iceland poppies look incredibly fragile but they're not.
They cope far better than we do with winter weather and will produce flowers in yellow, orange, red and cream.
You have to admire cyclamen. They're very adaptable, growing inside or outside and thriving in the cold winter temperatures. If your indoor specimens are looking a little flat, put them outside and they'll thank you for it with brilliant winter blooms.