Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


Get back in trim: Make the big tidy-up your new season's resolution

It's the start of a new season, and garden centres and high-class nurseries alike are trying to persuade you to start spending your money. But before that, think about the following ways to make a fresh horticultural start to 2011...


Nobody really wants to hear the word "cleaning" in conjunction with their garden, as opposed to the phrase "glass of wine and barbecue", which is highly desirable. But cleanliness is the best favour you can do 2011's seedlings, ensuring that they start off life disease-free. Wash up seed trays and pots. Resist the temptation to re-use compost: put old garden compost and growbags, likely now to be full of slug eggs, on to the compost heap. Clean and oil secateurs and shears with WD-40. Washing down garden furniture should extend its life span – but get it soaking wet before a cold night and you risk frost damage.


The best time to change your garden view is while your neighbours aren't looking; pick a moment early on a cold morning, when hopefully they will still be in bed. But there is a danger of going overboard. Do not chop more than three branches off anything before you stand back and have a look. After 10 minutes, go and make a cup of tea so that you can return with fresh eyes to assess your handiwork. Better yet, have a handy person standing by to tell you when you're going too far. Preferably not a neighbour.


One of the most annoying parts of a good day's gardening is having to dispose of all the rubbish. Leaves will eventually compost, but large sticks and twigs hang around for years, being scratchy. Some lucky types are allowed bonfires. Others have weekly green-waste collection, and some councils even collect on request, so check local websites. Otherwise, prepare to give your car (or preferably someone else's) a complete interior work-out on the way to the tip. To avoid the worst, use a Hippobag (£11.78, diy.com) to line the boot. Don't load up the car until you are ready to leave: bumble off for a cup of tea and a small population of grasshoppers will be living in your car for a week. Also, some plants give off toxic gases after being cut, so leave the car windows open if you insist on taking a cappuccino break.


Use up seed from last year – in most cases it will still work, though fewer seedlings will germinate. For new varieties, look out for magazine offers or seed swaps and potato fairs in your area. Resist sowing too many tiny plants – having a succession of seedlings is the most important thing, and will ensure that your garden doesn't peak all at once.


Think ahead. Start taking photos now so that you have a record of the gaps for bulbs to order this autumn. Buy a properly water-resistant pen to write on plant labels. And write down a genuine garden wish list (right), so that when it comes to your birthday or Christmas you can fend off any more slippers with cats on. 1

The ultimate wish list

The ultimate seed swap

Why buy a wholebag of seeds whenyou can just try acouple? Seed swaps happen all over the UK. Check out potatoday.org/potatodays.htm and seedysunday.org for local events

The ultimate water-resistant pen

Sharpies: pricy, but they last. The only downside is they're grey – but they get lost less easily if you tie a ribbon round them £3.59 for a pack of four, viking-direct.co.uk

The ultimate cleaner

Don't spend money on garden furniture cleaner, just use soapy water. But do consider a pressure washer – refurbished Kärchers start from £28.99 karcheroutlet.co.uk