The days may still be short and darker than we would like but in our gardens nature is preparing for another cycle. Hardy bulbs are bringing colour to drab winter beds and birds are preparing for the breeding season.
This is the time, when like the hedgehog emerging from his hibernation nest of leaves and twigs, we start to take tentative steps outside again. It can be a rather bleak and uninspiring sight as the lawn and beds are so sodden they will be no-go areas for some weeks yet.
There is one activity however, from which we can derive much satisfaction without getting covered in mud. Yes, next time the sun shines at the weekend why not get out there and prepare your patio or balcony for the summer. Here are a few tips on how to do a good job.
Remove all planters, patio heaters, barbecues, garden furniture, etc. Sweep up all the leaves, dust and debris that have accumulated over the winter months.
Wash down. If you have a power washer you are home and dry! If not a garden hose with a jet nozzle can do a decent job or, and many people swear this is the best method, fill a bucket with a solution of bleach and warm water and scrub the whole area with a stiff brush. Bleach is also excellent for removing the green algae that survive against all the odds on stone surfaces and can make them slippery and dangerous.
Inspect your patio furniture for damage. Check that frames are solid and that screws are not working loose. Barbecues and any other item which has metal parts should be inspected for signs of rust.
Clean. Garden furniture regardless of whether it has been left out over winter or stored indoors will still need a clean. The above methods for cleaning the patio surface will work equally well here. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions when it comes to cleaning cushions. Some will require scrubbing with the same bleach solution as the patio while others will need a much more gentle approach. Barbecues, birdbaths, planters and patio heaters will all look better after a good clean.
Oil or seal. If you have aluminium or rattan furniture you can miss out this step, but for those with teak furniture you may have work to do. This type of furniture is often sold as maintenance free and indeed it can be left to weather. If like me however, you find the resulting grey patina which admittedly looks great on old benches in some country house garden, just looks drab and shabby on your patio, you will have to oil it each year. Teak oil or a good quality linseed oil have been used in the past but nowadays teak sealers do a better job as they keep the wood looking good for longer.
Paint. If nothing is going to restore your teak furniture to its former glory you could try painting it with garden paint. Formulated to offer protection as well as colour there are many colours available and they will give you a whole new look relatively cheaply. If you have found any rusty bits on barbecues or patio heaters now is the time to deal with it. Minimum preparation is required if you use an anti-rust paint which you can either apply by brush or use a spray can.
Plan. If you need to replace some or all of your furniture now is the time to plan so that it can be ordered bought and in place by the time our summer arrives. With our climate you cannot afford to wait for summer to arrive or you may miss the sunniest days. Remember last year when summer was in spring!
Reward yourself for all your hard work by buying a pot of colourful bulbs or polyanthus. They will provide much needed colour now and can be planted in the garden when they have finished flowering so that they can give pleasure for many years to come.