The garden jobs you must complete before any hot weather arrives 

Getting your outdoor space in order can range from coppicing an overgrown hazel walk, to checking up on hedgehogs and celebrating magnolias

Cut costs and survey your garden yourself instead of hiring a professional Credit: Andrew Crowley

With more people than ever enjoying their gardens, the design queries keep flooding in. I find it impossible to design a space without a decent survey, but gardeners are always reluctant to do this.

If you cannot afford to get a professional survey done (this could cost from £800 to £1,500 depending on size) it is quite feasible to do it yourself.

To get the outlines of buildings, the plot, driveway and more, the new OS maps app is an excellent source (works with iOS, Android or web: There is currently a free seven-day trial, though a one-year subscription costs £29.99. If you put your postcode into search, your area will come up.

You can zoom out to get a usable scale – 1:100 is a useful scale for small to quite large gardens – and then print out the result. Many gardeners are surprised when they see their plot on a plan.

“Rectangular” areas are often nothing of the sort, and spaces are generally perceived by the eye differently from how they are in reality. This is why having a plan is essential to make your proposed design work.

From the basic plan, you then need to plot everything you want to keep: trees, borders, steps, pools etc. This you do using the triangulation method, which involves two long tape measures and a bit of legwork.

Having got the layout right, the next challenge is determining the actual levels. Often, gardens that appear flat are deceptive. For this, the Line Laser Level from Bosch (£29.99), which has a range of 20m, is helpful.

It is designed for working indoors at lower light levels, so it is best used when working on dull days or at dusk, when you can see the red laser dot more easily. Once you have an accurate survey of your garden you can then start to try out different designs using tracing paper over the survey.

Magnolias have a moment

According to Tony Kirkham, Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ seems more cold-hardy than some Credit: Chris Harris 

My Magnolia x loebneri are flowering superbly, as they do unfailingly every year. Our highly alkaline soil (pH8), which is thin and poor, is not a magnolia’s dream, but unlike many others, this one seems to thrive and it will also tolerate chalky soils.

The white star-like flowers come out of velvety casings on bare branches. The other big plus is that after quite frosty nights the flowers seem unaffected. Tony Kirkham, head of the Arboretum at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, says his favourite cultivar is M. x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ (above), as it never seems to be frosted and is a choice pale pink. It must have some form of anti-freeze in the tepals, he thinks.

Many other magnolias, such as M. x soulangeana, are blooming early this year and their magnificent flowers have been heavily hit by frosts. This turns the flowers to a brown mush “resembling used tea bags hanging on twigs”, as Tony Kirkham puts it.

John Anderson, head gardener of Savill Gardens, reckons the purple forms of M. x soulangeana are slightly more frost-hardy than the white and they disguise the damage better.

Baseless pots

Baseless pots can help to prevent disease and sickness in plants  Credit: Andrew Crowley

I was extremely surprised when the viewing numbers for my YouTube videos on baseless pots (which allow better drainage) clocked up nearly half a million, especially as I’m a newbie to social media. One of the non-stop queries is: “Where can I buy them?”

So we have risen to the challenge and designed a frost-proof, baseless terracotta pot that is guaranteed for 50 years. It is hand-thrown and approximately 50cm high x 70cm wide. We are doing an introductory offer for £390 each.

Email: [email protected] and put Pot Offer in the subject line.

Hedgehogs vs mowers

 Dr Hedgehog, AKA Dr Sophie Lund Rasmussen, is on a mission to protect this endangered garden visitor Credit: Christopher Pledger

Since my wholehearted support of robotic mowers, some people have raised the question of the danger to hedgehogs. Obviously this rang alarm bells. I contacted Dr Hedgehog, AKA Dr Sophie Lund Rasmussen, from Aalborg University in Denmark, who has been researching the problem and trialling 18 different robotic mowers, including the iMow from Stihl, which is the one I have.

The results are to be published in a scientific paper due out any day now in the journal Animals (visit, and apparently some mowers are more of a threat than others.

Many different factors contribute to hedgehog decline. Cars, habitat loss, pesticides, badgers and dog bites would be some of the most significant. Hedgehogs are mainly nocturnal, so if your mower is set to come out in the middle of the day, they are far less likely to have a collision. Also, robotic mowers are set to stop when they hit something, but the sensitivity varies with the make of mower.

Hedgehogs may sometimes be active during the day for several different reasons, such as disruption to their habitat during garden work. It is also quite often seen that mother hedgehogs teach their hoglets to forage during daylight hours.

Therefore, the solution is to not only refrain from running the machine during the hedgehogs’ normal activity periods at night. The ideal scenario would be that the garden owner checks for any active hedgehogs, or other potentially vulnerable wildlife such as leverets, amphibians or baby birds on the lawn, before using the robotic mower during daylight hours.

Bulbs in the green

I have been planting native anemones and bluebells (Anemone nemorosa and Hyacinthoides non-scripta), while they are in leaf and actively growing (known as “in the green”). The anemones look like thin woody twigs with the odd shoot and leaf, which I plant just below the soil surface.

The bluebells have far more green, and as it is so dry I am having to soak them regularly to prevent them from shrivelling up. I am planting them in the shade in front of my pigsty, much to the fascination of new piglets Dotty and Daphne. Bulbs in the green are sold by

The joy of coppicing

Cutting back overgrown hazel to let more light onto plants beneath Credit: Andrew Crowley

My garden had no shade when we arrived more than 35 years ago, but now many trees, shrubs and roses are becoming too large, so I have spent a lot of time doing some major cutting back. This would have been fairly heavy work were it not for my cordless pruner. I have a Keo from Bosch (from £71.19) and Stihl does one, a battery pruner, GTA 26 (from £124.99) which is excellent.

My mighty little saw makes light work of slicing through branches up to 8cm diameter. So tackling my hazel walk is no big deal. It is highly satisfying to lighten the canopy, as the balance of light to shade has got a bit out of hand.

In order to favour the shrub roses (‘Windflower’), which are studded through a selection of ferns, hellebores, violas, topiary and honesty that grow beneath and beside the nut trees, I am hacking back a fair few.

I should have done this before the leaves started to break, but I am on the back foot this spring and hazels don’t “bleed” sap, so should be OK.

Play away 

Keep kids safe with help from rubber flooring and saftey mats  Credit: Alamy 

I have always found that a garden that appeals to children is not only a simple way to keep them productively occupied, but also hugely beneficial to their development, mood and well-being.

Children love challenging play equipment and using it in extreme ways often makes parents’ hearts leap into their mouths. Purpose-made surfacing for play areas does help to cushion falls and calm nerves. We have been using recycled rubber safety grass mats (, which you just lay on top of the grass.

The grass quickly grows through the holes, so you don’t even see the mat, and you can mow over them.

I like them because they protect the grass (no bald areas or mud under the swing) and they cushion falls. They are around £24 per 1.5 sq/m, so money well spent.

White asparagus, ricotta and anchovy crostini 

By Charlie Hibbert, head chef at Thyme 

These delicious morsels are perfect as a mid-afternoon snack  Credit: Thyme 


Four as a bite


  • ¼ loaf of stale sourdough bread, unsliced
  • Olive oil
  • 3-4 spears of asparagus, tough ends removed
  • 100g ricotta
  • Juice of ¼ lemon
  • 4 anchovies (salted), the best quality you can find, sliced into 3 on an angle across the width of the anchovy
  • Maldon salt flakes
  • Freshly cracked black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 160C/Gas 3.
  2. Slice the loaf into the thinnest possible slices (leaving the bread in the fridge overnight can make it easier to slice).
  3. Lay the slices flat on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and season with a little salt.
  4. Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.
  5. Bring a pot of water to the boil, salt the water and add the asparagus. Cook for approximately 3 minutes until just cooked through.
  6. When it is cool enough to handle, peel or slice the asparagus into strips from top to bottom. If you prefer, bite-size chunks of asparagus work, too.
  7. Dress the asparagus in a little olive oil and lemon juice.
  8. When you are ready to serve, use a butter knife to spread ricotta on to each crostini, followed by a strip of asparagus and a piece of anchovy.
  9. Drizzle over any leftover olive oil and lemon juice asparagus dressing and season with a touch of salt and black pepper.
Book tickets now

On Sunday April 18, join Sarah Raven and Arthur Parkinson online live for How to Create the Ultimate Edible Garden. Visit Gardening Made Easy at