Backyard makeover shows on television are as soul-destroying as reading Vogue while catching sight of your cellulite wobbling through your gym pants.
Most gardens, courtyards and balconies never look quite as dazzling in real life as they do when they are primped and preened for TV. And those glossy garden magazines are just as bad, displaying beautifully styled photographs of Edens with nary a wheelie bin, lurid plastic children’s cubby or unkempt doghouse in sight.
When pungent whiffs of jasmine hit the air and weeds sprout through paving stones, it’s time for a quick spring makeover of outdoor areas.
Find a tape measure and draw up a rough plan of your outdoor space on graph paper. Go on, it’s not as hard as it sounds. And it’s loads more fun than weeding.
Draw the space to scale and note where north, south, east and west are to get an idea of which areas will be in full sun most of the day. If you have only a tiny balcony, it’s no use feeling that this story isn’t for you; it is, just on a smaller scale.
Without getting into too much designer-speak, work out where the most attractive “outlooks” or “views” are for the space.
Exactly what goes on in your garden or on your balcony? How much space do the rubbish and recycling bins take up? Where can you fit an outdoor table setting? What are your outdoor storage needs? Do you need space for a clothes line?
This is boring drudgery but once you brainstorm these functions and put them on a piece of paper with a site plan in front of you, it’s easy to discover the most effective way to lay out your garden – and it hasn’t cost you one cent … yet.
There is nothing worse than too many hard surfaces in a garden because it can become hot and hostile. That means large slabs of paving or concrete aren’t doing your garden any favours. And if there is one thing worse than too many hard surfaces, it’s surfaces covered in ratty old concrete or those cheap and nasty square pavers that every landlord in Sydney seems to have put in the backyard of terrace houses. Oh, and pebblecrete. Nasty.
Caroline Hutchings of Walk On Art Resurfacing, a concrete resurfacing specialist, says everything old is new again – even with pebblecrete.
“That ’70s stuff is dark and rather awful, but you can get pebblecrete in nice pale colours now. It doesn’t look too bad,” she says. “The new pebblecrete looks good on pool copings.”
Large expanses of concrete, such as patios, can be resurfaced with concrete and stencil designs. A concrete patio can be made to look like new by being resurfaced in an earthy colour and having borders or motifs stencilled on.
“You can also resurface pavers that have a bevelled edge. I wouldn’t recommend resurfacing flat pavers, because you’d just get cracks,” she says.
Another neat trick to makeover a daggy hard surface is the hardwood decking tiles imported by Sydney Wood Industries and sold in Freedom furniture stores. The tiles cost $64.95 a square metre and are connected with plastic recycled from car bumpers.
“I’ve seen them laid straight down on to grass, which is not ideal, but the tiles follow the contour of the uneven surface,” Sydney Wood Industries Luke Robins says. “They are the easiest things to put together. And you can pack them up and take them with you if you move.”
Don’t forget plants make the garden a restful place. And while you do not need a lot of them you need to make sure you plant the right ones in the right place.
The real essence of your garden, though, is not how it looks, it’s how it makes you feel. Gardens remind you it’s also important to sit and enjoy the greenery, bugs and heat. That’s much better than sitting inside watching those garden shows on television.
This article was first published in Sydney Morning Herald’s Essential liftout.