SPRING has sprung, and the sun has begun to make an occasional appearance. Time to fling open the door, time even to venture out in the garden again. Trouble is, after a winter of wear and tear and gross neglect, your garden's an eyesore, a tangle of cat-pooh-scented weeds.

What you should do is weed and tidy, sow and plant, and look forward to a little blooming and flowering some time this summer and a beautiful garden some time next year. But you never did have green fingers. And anyway, you don't want to wait until summer. You want a garden and you want it now.

zap those weeds

First, you need to decimate the jungle. "You need to start by separating out anything that is not weed," advises Mary Keen, Independent on Sunday gardening writer and garden designer. "Cut off anything brown and rake away any leaves and rubbish. Then if you happen to recognise any of the worst weeds, dig them out - don't pull them - dig them out." You can, of course, poison the lot, but you'll lose everything and you then have to wait two or three weeks and poison the more persistent weeds again. In any case "digging can be very rewarding", says Mary Keen.


Next, it's time to prune. And you can be brutal, according the Simon Haines of Clifton Nurseries in London. "Very few things can be damaged by a good pruning, and this is a very good time of year to do it." Use secateurs to cut plants and shrubs right back, making a cut just above a bud.

get planting

You'll now be left with a rather sad, bare space with very little green and even less colour. Just what you now put in it depends on how impatient you are and how much you want to spend. You could simply decant the entire garden centre into your flower beds, but "it's such a mad way to do it, it's so expensive," chides Mary Keen, whose forthcoming book, Creating a Garden is a paean to long-termism. For instance, she points out, snowdrop bulbs by mail order cost under pounds 10 per 100. From the garden centre you'll get five in a pot for pounds 3.

But since we're talking about instant gratification, primulas, bellis daisies, nasturtiums, and marigolds are all flowers of exceptionally flowery appearance. Bulbs will at least salve your conscience since they'll pop up again next year however sorely you neglect them: crocuses and daffs are already out and tulips and irises will be doing their stuff before long.

Shrubs are good value and will help to fill large spaces. Mary Keen suggests viburnum carlesii, which produces white, pink-tinted scented flowers in spring. Simon Haines favours evergreens such as Mexican orange blossom, which will give you white, scented flowers throughout the summer and pleasing shiny green leaves all the year round.

Before planting any of the above, prepare your soil with mulch to lighten it, and fertiliser - such as well rotted manure - to feed the earth and help to smother any weeds.

the lawn

If your lawn is basically there but just looking a bit bald, you can simply re-seed it and you'll start to see little green shoots within two or three weeks. If it's completely past it, you now have a choice. You can seed your lawn (signs of life in two or three weeks, a lawn in two or three months if you keep it well watered). Or you can just turf it for instant effect. Turf costs around pounds 2.50 per yard (it comes in rolls). You'll need to give it two or three weeks to root before you walk on it, but it will look like a lawn straight away.

hang on, i don't have a garden

If all you have is a window sill, you can cheer it up even more quickly. A window box will cost you anything from pounds 7-pounds 8 for plastic to pounds 90 for lead-look fibreglass. If you already have a window box, replace all the soil. Bulbs are best for spring and will poke prettily up to window level to improve the vista from indoors. Add trailing plants such as ivy to soften the edges.

Louisa Saunders