Get your garden looking truly gorgoaus with these low-maintenance alternatives to lawns...
Hard surfaces include bricks, stone, granite setts, paving or concrete - the choice is almost endless depending on your budget and the style you're after. Old bricks and stone are usually preferabie, but there are a wide variety of new substitutes that come a close second.
Whatever your design, remember to leave gaps tor planting to soften hard edges.
When choosing bricks, avoid those that aren 't frost-hardy, as they'll soon crumble.
Concrete slabs, which resembie natural stone, can be broken up with cobbles or bricks to make more interesting designs.
Railway sleepers look attractive, especially with paving or granite setts in-between.
Simulated granite setts are easier and cheaper to lay than genuine granite. Bradstone makes a close alternative to natural granite tor a fraction of the cost, using a proportion of Comish granite.
Don't lay paving right up to trees or you'll deprive their roots of water and air. Leave at least 30cm around the trunk. Also, lay the paving so it slightly slopes into the tree, as this will encourage water to run to the base of the tree. Lay gravelor cabbles around the trunk to finish off, this will help retain moisture and discourage weeds.
Poured concrete is one of the cheapest ways to lay a large area of hard surface. Different finishes can be achieved by varying the size of the gravel, which can be exposed by brushing when the concrete is nearly dry.
Decking has become very popular. It's lightweig1Jt, durable and relatively easy to fit, as weIl as being reasonably priced. There are many choices of decking systems available, to suit all pockets, so shop around. Wood has a warm, natural feel and highlights surrounding plants. Decking tiles are very easy to lay - all you need is a level surface with a base of sand or gravel. Skid-resistant, grooved-surface tiles are a good choice, especially under overhanging trees or shady spots where the decking may be more prone to damp.
To reduce slippage, tack coarse-gauge chicken wire flush to the deck. I really like the tiles from Lindsey Teak that come with straight or diagonal slats. You can buy them in boxes of four to cover an area of a square yard.
Gravel is a good substitute for a lawn, especially in a very small garden. Available in contrasting colours and sizes, it's also ideal for pathways. Gravel can be laid on compacted soil, but it's better to put perforated horticultural polythene underneath to stop weeds taking over. It also needs some soft of edging to stop it spilling into the surrounding areas - an ideal solution is to use tanalized wood or bricks. Gravel is the perfect backdrop for an arrangement of Mediterranean plants, such as lavender or herbs, as it both offsets the plants and provides good drainage. To replace a lawn with gravel, dig up the turf, lay down black landscape fabric and cover with 7cm of consolidated coarse gravel, then cover with a S cm layer of smaller gravel and compact with a roller.
Bark chip or wood chippings are perfect for a woodland theme. Their soft surface makes them ideal for children's play areas, and they're aromatic, too! Like gravel, they're best laid on perforated polythcnc which aUows rainwatcr to pass through, but stops weeds coming up.
Stockists: Bradstone (01335 372289), Lindsey Teak f (01737 822562) Marshalls (01422 300000), Stonemarket :i. (01203 305530) end Town & Country (01903 776297): ail stock a wide range of hard surfaces.
Plant now for Christmas colour
A bit of early planning can guarantee you a colourful Christmas flower display.
Start off forced bulbs for Christmas flowering, using specially prepared varieties for best results. Plant hyacinths into deep bowls of moist bulb fibre with the nose of each bulb just showing. They must stay in the dark for 8-10 weeks and be kept moist in a cool place. Either plunge bowls in a 15cm layer of sharp sand in a dark shed or at the base of a north-facing wall. Cover with 15cm of composted back, sand r soil. Dark rooms inside the house are not suitable, as they tend to be too warm. When the flat flower buds are 5cm out of the bulbs, bring the bowls inside. But wait a few days until the leaves go green before placing in full light.
Narcissi (daffodils) can be planted in the same way. 'Fortune' and 'Cragford' are among the earliest to flower. The familiar bunch-flowering 'Paper White' grows easily in deep bowls of bubl fibre without having to be left in the dark.
Q: One of my patio pot plants suddenly wilted and died. When I pulled it up I found lots of white grubs around the root ball. What are they and how do I get rid of them?
A: They sound like vine-weevil grubs, which are very hard to control. The grubs cause massive damage in pot plants by eating roots. Then, when they emerge as adult weevils, they munch their way through the foliage. The best way to get rid of them is to use a new product called Provado, by Bio, which you can buy in most garden centres and DIY stores.
Things to do in September
Spare a thought for next spring and plant your outdoor bulbs. Give priority to daffodils as they begin their root growth earlier than most other bulbs.
Prune the long, wispy growth on your wisteria back to about 15cm, if you haven't done so al ready. Prune again in winter to 10cm to ensure it flowers well.
Garlic likes a long growing season and can be planted outdoors now. Split the garlic bulb into cloves and plant them root-down, about 5cm deep and 15cm apart.
Now's the best time to sow grass seed, as soil is warm and moist. Spring is the second best time for sowing.
Sow the biennial honesiy - Lunaria annua - in situ to produce beautiful flowers next spring. Plant in partial shade with bluebells for a magical display. Look for the crimson variety 'Atro-coccinea' and the much sought-after white flowered form, 'Alba'. Other biennials to sow include wallflowers (right) and forget-me-nots.
A good wheelbarrow is ssential in most gardens, but many af us are put off because they take up too much storage space. McCord (0870 9087020) has a wheelbarrow which solves this problem, as it folds flat to hang on a wall or to be neatly stored in your shed or even under the stairs. A bargain at 39.99.
Gardens to visit
Hexham Herb Nursery and Garden, The Chesters Walled Garden, Chollerford, Northumber1and NE46 4BQ
(01434 681483). Enjoy the scent of the national collection of thyme, with over 120 varieties grown at Hexham. You can also buy up to 300 different herbs, potted up for sale.
Green Farm Plants, Bury Court, Famharn, Surrey GU10 5LZ
(01420 23202). Lots of interesting plants for sale and a beautiful garden. In autumn, flowers and leaves create lovely colour combinations.