As a procrastinator, I tend to wander around my garden (imagining how I would like it to look) while achieving nothing. Knowing that company is coming and having a deadline, however, motivate me to act. Over the years, I developed a strategy, a six-point plan, to neaten, improve, and dress-up an outside space. Choose those tasks from my plan that you want to accomplish depending on your budget, style, and time. Then enjoy sharing your garden with others.
- Assess the State of Your Garden
It’s difficult to judge the state of your garden when you see it every day. Take photographs and scrutinize them carefully. Stand where your guests will gather, look around, and identify the less satisfactory areas. I know my guests usually head for shady spots on a hot sunny day, so I look for weeds and dead branches, for example, in those places. I also examine areas that have the most flowers, like my cottage garden in the summer, and determine the work I need to do there. In order to make a good first impression you must have a clean, tidy and inviting entrance, whether it’s the front door or the garden gate. Tackling the most noticeable spots will have the greatest effect.
- Clean Up, Declutter, and Conceal
Once you decide which areas to improve, make sure those places are clean and uncluttered. Put away children’s toys and pick up the trash. With a storage option, such as a garden chest, you will have garden paraphernalia tidied away in no time. Clean up after your pets. It won’t matter how lovely your flowers are if they are surrounded by dog mess. Clear away garden waste, rocks, and rubble for an instant improvement. Sweep and clean the deck and patio using a power-washer to remove dirt build-up and algae. A deep clean will make an enormous difference to the overall appearance of your yard. Renting a power-washer is affordable and the quickest way to achieve this. Wipe down outdoor furniture. Drain birdbaths, clean out any debris, and add fresh water. Consider screening to hide the areas in your garden that are not going to look great no matter what you do: garbage can storage, compost piles, propane gas bottles, and the like. Willow, bamboo or lattice screening are easy to install and will give your yard an instant facelift. I prefer to purchase a roll of bamboo fencing that I quickly put in place using zip ties. Or I pot up a large plant for an instant, living screen.
- Focus on the Flowers
Guests are naturally drawn to flowers, so look for anything that may detract from your beautiful blooms. Deadhead where necessary. This means pinching or cutting off the stem below spent flowers and just above the first set of full, healthy leaves. Deadheading makes the plant tidy and has the added bonus of encouraging more blooms. Remove unsightly leaves and stake flopping stems. Pull up unhealthy or dead plants, roots and all. If necessary, add new ones to the beds closest to the main gathering areas. Bury whole plastic containers of plants in the ground to avoid transplant shock and save time. You can plant them properly after the visitors have left. Remember to water the new flowers daily. To avoid distractions from your blooms, pull large weeds but don’t get carried away; no one will notice a small one. Put together a grouping of containers with your favorite flowers or create one big, beautiful focal flowerpot. In midsummer, I like to use perennials for this purpose then in the fall I plant them in my flower garden. Favorite long blooming perennials include black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta ‘Indian Summer’), yarrow (Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’) or (Achillea millefolium ‘Paprika’), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Alaska’), and garden phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘David’). To save time you can just drop them into your planters without removing them from their nursery pots.
- Cut the Lawn
Mow, trim, and edge the lawn. Instead of mowing in straight lines, you may cut your lawn at angles for a golf course or baseball field look. Don’t mow too low or your grass may turn brown. Also, you encourage weeds when you eliminate the weed-suppressing shade of taller grass. A crisp edge to your lawn can make a significant difference in its appearance. This will not take much time especially if you have access to a power edger. A round-point spade is an effective edger (without the pollution.) Hold the spade at a right angle, insert it into the soil along the border, and push it forward for a clean cut. I use rocks around my flowerbeds (well, this is the Poconos where they are free!) and a power trimmer quickly neatens their appearance.
An organic mulch of wood chips or bark is the perfect quick fix, serving as a splendid background for new plants and providing a finished look. Apply a fresh layer or simply rake the existing mulch lightly. Buy the finest-textured mulch you can find for a simple, uncluttered appearance (bearing in mind, however, that it will not be as effective a weed suppressor as course-textured nuggets or chips.) I use cedar mulch because it is less likely to produce nuisance fungi like the artillery fungus that shoots spores over your house siding. Cedar mulch contains a chemical called thujaplicin that inhibits bacteria and fungus growth. Current research shows that mushroom compost suppresses the shooting spores. Pennsylvania State University researchers recommend using a mulch mix of 40 percent compost and 60 percent bark (not wood) if you are concerned about an artillery assault. In any event, when sprucing up your garden, if you do nothing else, apply fresh mulch.
Hosting an outdoor wedding is the perfect time to invest in a structure such as a gazebo, arbor, or fountain, especially when you can enjoy it for years after the wedding is over. Less expensive accessories include a colorful outdoor rug to cover a boring or damaged patio or deck. Improve the look of your outdoor rooms with throw pillows or a centerpiece. Set the mood with string lights, tiki torches, solar landscape lights, or citronella candles. I love to hang mirrors in my gardens to add space and depth. You can find low cost ones in thrift stores and flea markets. If you like music in the garden, set up a mini outdoor sound system with a docking station for your smartphone.
You do not have to do all the work yourself; give the whole family trowels or brushes and get them outside. By adopting some quick fixes and working together your event will be one of the most enjoyable of the year.