You’ve got little or no gardening knowledge and you want a great outdoor space? That’s OK. Just read on.

You don’t need to know lots about gardening or have green fingers to create a welcoming and usable outdoor space. Whatever space you’ve got, here are a few easy and doable tips.

And we’re talking about an outdoor space. It doesn't have to be the whole garden, all in one go. Although it can be, if you like ...

Work through these points at your own pace. You can blitz it, get the whole space done, sorted! Or you can spread the job over several sessions but for results, make sure you keep going!

1. Tidy up

This is the first step and makes a huge difference to how your outside space looks. Many of us have things strewn around which should really be somewhere else. Tidy it all up.

You’ve got three options.

Option A. Bin it or recycle it.

Option B. Put it in its own special place.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Option C. Hide it. You must have somewhere this stuff can go. Down the side of the garage is a favourite place for many people. Other people throw a tarpaulin or a furniture cover over everything.

2. Clean

Cut the grass. Clean the patio and/or the decking. This is equivalent to vacuuming round in the house. It makes a good impression, usually out of all proportion to the effort put in.


Do the edges of your lawn/paths/deck. This is equivalent to having a hair cut – it shows you mean business. If you can, just do it!

3. Give your outdoor space some structure

‘Structure’ or the ‘bones’ of a garden is something that holds it together visually all year round. It can include pergolas, arches and permanent gazebos.

And it always includes plants – evergreen or not.

This doesn’t have to be difficult. Something bold or something in a repeating pattern (an uneven number) does the trick.

Bold - Phormium? It grows to 1.5m high.

Or the false castor oil plant, Fatsia japonica? We recommended this in Keeping Up with the Joneses.

Fatsia japonica leaves. the Joneses. Outdoor space

Fatsia japonica leaves. © Maksim and re-used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence

Repeating pattern - just three of the same evergreen plants will do it in a small garden. Box balls are very fashionable at the moment but I’m quite keen on Irish yews.

Walk with Irish yews, Strokestown Park, Beal na Mbuilli, Co. Roscommon. Outdoor space

Walk with Irish yews, Strokestown Park, Beal na Mbuilli, Co. Roscommon. © Kay Atherton and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence

What about some heather in a wide trough?

4. Brighten according to the season

Here are two brightening options, depending on how much time you’ve got and how much effort you are able to put in. They’re not mutually exclusive – you can do both!

(And it’s not soft to ask for advice at the local garden centre or look for advice on line. Not at all. It show determination.)

A. The permanent option for sustainability

Have a few plants which are interesting all year round – whether it’s their shape, twigs, leaves, buds, flowers, berries or colour. There will always be something different to catch your eye. Andy Sturgeon’s choice of 15 plants includes the lavender I have in my small north-west facing front garden (for its exuberance and abundance in summer and its leaves in winter) and Amelanchier lamarckii, the small tree I’d like to have in another part of the garden.

B. The temporary option for busy people

  1. Take some smart containers.
  2. Buy new bright and attractive plants each season.
  3. Drop into the container.

5. Have a seat!

Have somewhere to sit that suits how you use your outside space.


Make sure you have a table. This sounds so basic but it really does make all the difference to have a table for your cup of coffee, iPad, glass of water, book, glass of wine, sunglasses, pot of tea, sun cream and so on.

6. Use it, be in it, enjoy it!

Once you're outside, using the space, you'll start to have more ideas about how you can improve it. That's almost certain.