Spring into action: As our gardens burst into life a little hard work now can keep them that way for years to come

The season of fugitive beauties is upon us – carpets of fallen cherry blossom, huge pink camellia petals, and scarlet rhododendron trumpets. While the pleasures of the garden are coming and going this rapidly, it's easy to relax, but even in summer, it's always worth taking the long view: almost every gardener can cite at least one tedious job they wish they'd tackled years ago, because by now they'd be reaping the benefits...

Think long-term

Seven nice things you could do for your garden that won't pay off straight away

Asparagus: The ultimate long-term crop; plant it now and you'll be able to eat it come 2013. By which time, yes, I know, you plan to be living in Italy in your own olive grove. But do it anyway. Just in case. 10 crowns, £14.99 thompson-morgan.com

Palm trees: Buying a palm that doesn't cost a bundle requires accepting one with two leaves and about six inches of hairy trunk. But I planted mine that size 15 years ago, and it's now visible from halfway down the street. The secret is to forget about ever moving house. 15cm 'Trachycarpus' palm tree, £7.95, palmcentre.co.uk

Peonies: Over the next few weeks you will be tempted by the gorgeousness of these plants in full pinky-white bloom. But getting them to flower again after you've bought them can take years as they're notoriously slow to establish themselves. Plant them high up relative to the soil surface, in full sun, then feed well, and be patient. Raspberry Sundae, £9, claireaustin-hardyplants.co.uk

Blackberry and apple crumble: Fruit is quicker to mature than you think, but even the fastest apple tree (inset right) will have you waiting a couple of years. Lidl is selling fruit trees for £6 each, and two for £10 (lidl.co.uk)

Hedges: When I first moved to my house, I thought about planting yew hedges as an elegant, classic dark-green backdrop. Then I thought, that'll take way too long. A yew hedge would have taken some eight years to get 6ft tall. I've now been here for 15. You do the maths... Pack of 10 four-year old plants from £23.99, hedgenursery.co.uk, which provides all the RHS's bare-root hedging plants

Garden trees: A single well-chosen tree can change the whole feel of the tiniest garden, provide that delicious green shade on hot summer's days, and be a welcome screen from overlooking neighbours. Try a silver birch for modern minimalist style, or Amelanchiers for bouquets of wedding-confetti white. 'Planting with Trees' by Andy McIndoe (£14.99, David & Charles) is full of great ideas for garden trees

Grow an oak from an acorn: Kids have a natural tendency to pick up acorns, conkers, pips and berries. So why not encourage it, and this autumn sow a seed tray of wild fruits and nuts? They will need at least one winter to germinate, so don't fret if nothing sprouts till the following spring. Then watch your tiny oaks grow, and begin pestering your country-dwelling friends for space for your seedlings and a tree-planting ceremony.

Think short-term

Look no further than your nose for almost-instant satisfaction

Opium poppies: A crop that flourishes with little fuss in the sun and rain of Afghanistan's winters also enjoys an English summer. One packet of seed sown now will produce a crowd of blooms on beautiful tall grey-green foliage, which will seed again the following summer for free. 100 seeds Violetta Blush, £1.49, thompson-morgan.com

Mint: Buying pots of garden-centre herbs is relatively pricey, but provides an instant jolt of flavour in cooking. Always plant mint in a container separate from other plants as it's a profligate spreader – then sit back and enjoy the Pimm's. Mints from the Atlas Mountains to Tashkent, from £3.50, jekkasherbfarm.com

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