What can you do in 30 minutes that will make a real difference to the garden? Not much, you might think, aside from planting a rose bush in full fling. For those who think that gardening takes more time and labour than they care to offer, there is positive news: armed with the right tools, and stocked up on sundries such as compost so you're ready to go, you can achieve much.
© Gap Photos/Clive Nichols/Designer: Chris Maton of Olive Bay
So believes gardening expert Jenny Hendy, who has pulled together over 122 speedy garden tasks and transformations in a book, 30-Minute Gardening, that she assures each take no longer than half an hour.
When you first venture outdoors on an early spring day, the thought of clearing and cleaning the garden can make you rush back inside. But Hendy sensibly suggests doing a spring makeover in half-hour stages, keeping to one task at a single session so you can focus without distraction.
WEED THE SEEDLINGS
Pulling out annual weed seedlings as the weather warms will save digging out them and their many offspring later in the season; mulching around plants with spent mushroom or home-made compost will nourish the soil and help keep moisture in, so cutting down on watering later.
Spend 30 minutes this weekend pruning bush roses as well as shrubs buddleia, lavatera, fuchsia and Hydrangea paniculata and you are guaranteed better blooms this summer.
Take five minutes to chop Clematis viticella and texensis varieties back to 30cms from the ground, above a pair of strong buds, and you will have no more tangles, but plenty of flowers.
On the patio, cleaning off winter and getting ready for spring takes an estimated two hours, broken up into four half-hour, sleeves-rolled-up stints: pressure-wash the paving, first using a hard-bristled broom to sweep away loose debris; clean pots, going over each with a stiff brush before scrubbing with hot soapy water and a dash of vinegar; clean wooden garden furniture with scouring pad and warm soapy water; protect wooden furniture by brushing on teak oil with a clean paintbrush.
Levering up a paving slab and planting in its place a burgundy phormium, and decorating another by embedding glass florists' beads into grout, add up to an hour well spent in brightening up a bland patio.
© Gap Photos/Friedrich Strauss
Hendy also reminds us what we can sow and plant in just half an hour right now, to reap the benefits later in the year: a window box of salad leaves, bought as young plants from the garden centre; a potful of compost, sprinkled with radish seed; a sack of three sprouted potato tubers, covered with compost, delivering a far bigger harvest just a few months on.
A trio of tree lilies, their eight-foot stems laden with huge trumpet flowers, could be gracing your patio come July, if you spend a scant 30 minutes — 20 at a push — burying the fat bulbs beneath a landslide of John Innes No 2 in a large patio pot before March is over.
For a flowering meadow, Hendy suggests spending 30 minutes marking out using posts and string. The shapes can be organic, with meandering pathways, or formal, perhaps with a sequence of squares or rectangles.
From spring, when you mow, leave the marked areas to grow, and after a few cuts, you will see those areas clearly against the short turf, and can remove the string.
If you want to add to the ensuing colonies of daisies, buttercups, red clover and long grasses, you can buy plug plants from wildflower nurseries and plant in autumn or spring, as well as naturalise bulbs. This last task might, even Hendy admits, take a little longer than 30 minutes to do and a lot longer before you see the results, but with such a rewarding project, who's counting?
* 30-Minute Gardening (DK) costs £12.99, but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £9.99 including p&p by calling 0845 130 7778 and quoting the code DKLES.