How much to change when you move home

Unless you’ve just moved into a new-build house, chances are you’ll need to make decisions on whether to keep garden features and plants

While it may be tempting to raze everything to the ground and start from scratch, don’t. The best way to decide how much to change is to assess your site thoroughly over a period of time to see how the garden works throughout the year. There are a number of other reasons to hold back too – not least because keeping plants or re-working existing features will save you money.

Take your time

Getting to know your garden before you make big changes will save you time and money - spring may reveal beautiful surprises
Creating your perfect garden will take time, and there’s no reason to think you have to do it all in one season. It can be helpful to break your project down into smaller chunks, such as sorting out paths, patios and any other hard landscaping one year, and tackling plants and planting the next year.

This approach also makes sense if you’re on a budget, as gardens will amply repay you for buying the best quality materials you can afford. Also, gardens can be full of surprises – what looks like a bare patch of ground in summer could hide lots of beautiful spring-flowering bulbs: the best way to find out is to wait and see!

Tackling overgrown shrubs and trees

Pruning off the lower branches of trees and shrubs can transform the look and feel of your garden
Especially in mature gardens, you may be faced with trees and shrubs that have outgrown their space. But before you reach for the chainsaw, have a good look round and see why the plant was put there in the first place. It could simply be a mistake – or it could be hiding an ugly view, giving you privacy or sheltering you from the wind.

There are a number of ways that overgrown trees and shrubs can be made smaller. Some can be cut back to below their desired height and will respond with lots of bushy growth. Others can have their canopies reduced or thinned. One of the best techniques is crown lifting – cut off the lower branches of blobby shrubs and spreading trees to reveal their bare trunks. This lets lots more light through, yet keeps the sense of fullness and maturity you get from having

established plants in your garden.

Crazy paving?

Hard landscaping materials can often be re-used
Common design mistakes – like making patios too small to sit at comfortably, and concrete paths that slice down the middle of gardens – are well worth rectifying. Even if they’re not ‘mistakes’, features that suited previous owners may not suit you.

These hard landscaping elements can be hard work to change, but as they form the backbone of your garden, getting them right is time well spent. Sometimes what’s there already can form a base for new materials (such as laying decking over an old patio); other times it can be broken up and re-used as a hardcore base for new projects.

Dealing with ill-looking plants

Attend to diseased plants as soon as you can

One instance where you may need to reach straight for the spade or chainsaw is if a plant looks ill. For example, if a shrub’s leaves turn brown in midsummer, then it’s worth getting it checked out – if you’re an RHS member you can get this done by experts, for free. Occasionally physiological problems such as frost or drought can look a bit like diseases. Once you're sure of your diagnosis, dig up and destroy plants with serious, incurable diseases like honey fungus as soon as you can, to prevent problems from spreading.

Some plants live longer than others

Split up overgrown clumps of plants to give them a refresh
Different plants have an incredible range of lifespans – from just a few weeks to several thousand years. So it’s only natural that some plants will simply get too long in the tooth and need to be replaced.

In fact, most small shrubs, such as hebes and many herbs have relatively short lifespans, and don’t age very well. However much you prune that 10-year-old lavender, it will never become a nice bushy plant again, ever. So if they’re looking straggly, don’t bother trying to save them. Take cuttings and get rid of the old plants.

However, most herbaceous plants (those without woody stems that last from one year to the next, such as daylilies, asters, hardy geraniums) can live for many years. Generally they do best if they’re dug up, split apart and replanted every three years or so. That way you’ll have fresh, vigorous new plants that will flourish anew.

Simple changes to stamp your mark

Create instant symmetry with pots
Use bedding plants for quick temporary colour
There are a few relatively straightforward changes you can make to your garden that will make it feel yours. Painting walls, sheds and fences can totally change the feel of a garden very quickly. Changing the shape of your lawn is relatively easy to do: cutting the corners off a square lawn to make it circular will make it look much more ‘designed’ – and give you some more space for plants too.

Placing matching pots either side of a doorway, bench or path is another ‘quick win’ – use topiary for a classic effect or

bedding plants for some instant zing. Pots aren’t permanent, so you can move them around the garden as you wish. Meanwhile, out in the beds and borders, large, annual plants like sunflowers and amaranths can be useful to bring quick and cost-effective height and colour while you decide what to do with your space or save up the cash to create your dream garden.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.