Q: It's winter and my garden and patio aren't looking their best. How can I brighten up these outdoor spaces without a huge expense?
Garden designer Marion Keogh offers her expert advice.
A: No garden looks its best in winter but, you’re planning on selling, now is not the time to embark on a major redesign. What you need is a few effective quick-fixes. The first and most important thing to make the outdoor areas safe for potential viewers, who may include children and elderly people. Watch out for slippery surfaces, trip hazards, or sheds in poor repair. Consider having someone come in to power-wash any areas of decking or paving. Alternatively, you can clean the surfaces yourself with boiling water, a little bit of bleach, and a scrubbing brush with a long handle. Bleach isn’t environmentally friendly, but it gets rid of the algae that accumulate on a hard surface. If the garden is large, you might also consider bringing in a professional landscaper or tree surgeon to cut back heavy overgrowth or anything that’s pulling down fences. This may seem like a big outlay, but a professional will be insured and they will take the waste away with them. It’s often money well spent.
When the garden is made safe, it will also look better and that will make it easier to sell. A messy outdoor space will put doubts in people’s heads, no matter how well-maintained the rest of the house is. If you have a lawn, invest in a mezzaluna – a long-handler tool with a half-moon blade – and use it to edge the lawn. It’s an easy win and will make it look like you’ve spent thousands! If you have a small yard with a fence or boundary wall, a coat of paint will brighten it up. Also, repair any broken outdoor lights. The property will seem much bigger when you can see out into the garden and, this time of year, people may be viewing in the dark.
Bring in a friend and inspect the outdoor space from all angles, including looking down at it from the upstairs windows. Sometimes, the way we feel about a garden makes it hard for us to see it with fresh eyes. Maybe you’re selling on behalf of an elderly relative who can no longer cope with the garden. Or maybe it’s a property that you’ve moved on from emotionally because you plan to sell. In either case, remember that one person’s nightmare garden is another person’s charm. It’s worth looking up photos of winter gardens to see how you might style it. A scattering of freshly fallen leaves can look romantic. So can a few windfall apples, either under an apple tree or casually stacked on a window ledge.
No matter what else is going on in the garden, a tall pot with colourful planting will give the impression of care and loveliness. Place it at the entrance to make people feel welcome. You can buy the plants in any DIY centre. I’d recommend an evergreen shrub with variegated foliage, like a skimmia or a nandina. Both of these have the potential to grow very big, but they’re lovely when they’re small. Combine them with trailing ivy and pretty flowering plants like cyclamen or hellebores. Don’t be mean about it – the aim is to create a feeling of abundance!
Finally, if you’re a keen gardener and plan to take some of your favourite plants with you, dig them up before the viewing starts. If people see them in situ, they’ll assume they come with the property.