Summer's here and it's time to really luxuriate in your garden. So kick off your sandals and relax, says Kim. After all, you deserve it.
Glorious mid-summer is the high point that gardeners work hard for all year, and I love nothing more than spending long, sunny days and balmy nights relaxing in our garden. With the children at home for the school holidays, life takes on a much-needed slower pace. At long last, there's time to sit back and enjoy the garden without any guilt pangs: this is what we've worked hard for throughout the year.
I've designed and planted my garden, so even if we can't get away for a break, we still have the holiday atmosphere in our own backyard. We spend hours sitting under our reed-covered pergola, which provides a mixture of shade and 'Mediterranean-style' dappled light, which is so alluring. It's great for escaping the hot summer sun as well - an especially important measure for children, who are most at risk from skin cancer. Their skin is not only thinner and more delicate than that of adults, but it also produces less protective pigment - and, given half a chance, they'll happily run around in the sun all day.
Sit back and relax
We enjoy alfresco meals under a grapevine-covered dining area, the perfect setting for healthy salads fresh from the garden, with a bottle of crisp, chilled wine. Try placing seating areas in the sunniest, west-facing position in the garden - preferably somewhere sheltered, so perfumed plants can really perform. Scented shrubs and flowers certainly come into their own in the evenings, releasing their perfume to attract night-time pollinators, such as moths. Honeysuckle and jasmine, which are wonderfully scented, are perfect for climbing up a trellis or over a pergola-covered seating area. And herbs such as mint, oregano and rosemary really add to the mix, creating a heady, aromatic atmosphere. Lillies, which also create a spicy perfume, work well planted in containers. They can tolerate partial shade, and you can leave them in large containers for a few years, re-potting with fresh compost in the spring.
There's nothing quite like the presence of water to help you feel cooler, and as sudden exposure to cold water sends blood rushing to your internal organs, it really gets the circulation going. We usually haul out the paddling pool and the water slide for the children to splash about in and I often take a deep breath and jump in myself (though I don't know what the neighbours must make of the accompanying loud screams!).
Humans have tried to harness the therapeutic value of water for centuries, and I find the delicate sound of running water really soothes the senses. You can pick up simple reservoir features, where water is pumped from a concealed container, in most garden centres and DIY shops. Most will require mains voltage and should be installed by a qualified electrician. If space is tight, try a simple water garden planted with miniature water lillies. I really like wandering around the garden, picking off flower heads to float in bowls (left), and place on the table - a simple yet beautiful idea I picked up in Thailand.
The fruits of your labours
Gardens can also provide you with a small feast in the summer. Peas, salad onions and rocket leaves are just a few of the things that can be easily grown in containers in your backyard - the height of convenience and a delicious way to tempt your taste buds. Edible flowers, such as nasturtiums, hollyhocks, roses and dandelions not only add unusual tast and colour to a summer salad, but they also make stunning frozen flower ice cubes. Simply place petals in half-filled ice-cube trays, freeze, then add more water to bring the level up to the top, and freeze again. They look so pretty in summer punches.
Herbs are especially suited to container-growing in summer, as many common ones originally come from hot, dry areas. Placing them right outside a sunny back door makes the picking easier. Growing vegetables in containers is a great way to involve the children in gardening, and special watering duties give them a sense of personal responsibility.
The best part for everyone, though, is always the eating! The advantages of fresh produce you've grown yourself are more than obvious. With suprisingly little effort, you can greatly enhance the health of all the family.
Home-produced vegetables mean you can be sure that no unexpected chemicals have been used in the growing process, and you'll know that they are as fresh as they come. Have them on your plate within an hour or two of picking, and keep in all the important nutrients as well as that garden-fresh flavour.
All that remains is to relax, put your feet up and enjoy the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of summer - a time when your garden becomes a feast for all the senses.
Ward off the mossies
Mosquitoes, once described as 'a small insect designed by God to make us think better of flies', can make life very uncomfortable. Citronella essential oil is excellent at keeping the mossies at bay. And garlic is a great natural remedy - it causes the skin to secrete a natual insect repellent, and also has many other health benefits. It can protect agains heart attacks because of its blood-thinning effect, and is a potent antibiotic and antiviral food. Try garlic capsules if you don't like the taste.