The key is to do less, but better

Gardening programmes on TV fuel the imagination. But will a nice garden sell your house?
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There cannot be a better time of the year to sell a house with a lovely garden. Lush greenery and June roses will improve even an unremarkable patch, while exceptional gardens shown at their peak are worth a premium or, at the very least, a quick sale at the full asking price. If you have the luxury of being able to choose when to sell, hold on until late spring or summer, is the advice of the experts.

There cannot be a better time of the year to sell a house with a lovely garden. Lush greenery and June roses will improve even an unremarkable patch, while exceptional gardens shown at their peak are worth a premium or, at the very least, a quick sale at the full asking price. If you have the luxury of being able to choose when to sell, hold on until late spring or summer, is the advice of the experts.

Since television has shown garden designers creating an instant paradise from urban deserts, the number of armchair gardeners has increased rather than buyers clutching soil testers. Everyone expects more of the outside space, but that doesn't always mean they want to spend all their leisure working in it. Estate agents are quick to point out nobody buys a house they dislike just because they love the garden.

"Real enthusiasts will take on a garden with potential, rather than one in perfect order, but generally in the country the maintenance involved is what makes the difference," says Henry Holland-Hibbert of Lane Fox. "Some buyers will look at a very large, well stocked garden with a huge number of beds and calculate they would have to pay a gardener about £12,000 a year or spend every weekend gardening. What they really want is privacy and grass that is easy to run over with a mower. On the other hand, a scruffy, neglected garden will decrease the value of a property."

Where cottages come with large, if beautiful, gardens, they can even prove a sticking point as people interested in a small property would not be keen to employ anyone, says Simon Barker of estate agents Michael de Pelet, in Sherborne, Dorset. And he points out people do not normally stipulate what kind of garden they want. "Occasionally we get buyers asking for walled gardens, but not many people are specific in case it limits their choice."

When it comes to serious spending on the garden, the towns and suburbs tend to steal a march on the country. It is quite easy for more money to be spent on an 80ft by 40ft garden than on 10 acres in a rural spot. Marble fountains, exotic plants, summer houses and stone fencing can devour pounds as quickly as slugs eat through delphiniums.

"The key is to do less but better," says Deon Steyn of Cluttons' Battersea office in south London, a hot spot for the garden landscaper. "It is definitely worth putting in a natural stone or wooden decking patio. If the garden is nice problems such as proximity to a railway line become far less important. I get requests for south and particularly west facing gardens and buyers will pay more for those than an identical house that faces north. "

In prime London, property price wise, sellers would be mad not to spend on their gardens, even if it is a tiny courtyard or a shady beanpole shape overlooked by other houses. Lulu Egerton, of Lane Fox's Chelsea office, says every square foot of garden space counts. "We have just sold a basement flat with a nice garden that we put on the front of the brochure and it made all the difference. It is pretty, simple and almost like an extension of the flat. But the same applies to the £2m houses. Make the most of the garden. Put in raised brick beds, a stone patio, lighting and an automatic sprinkler. If you are selling , get rid of the plastic garden furniture and get solid wood."

She warns against fussy landscaping, with too many levels. "The sound of running water is delightful but forget the fountains and gargoyles. As for large ponds, however fashionable, they can look dreadful if neglected."

And you can find style with a sense of humour. A house for sale in King's Road has a large topiary squirrel in a pot outside the front door instead of the more usual discreet planting.

Fencing: avoid cheap panels. Instead go for robust close board fencing with trellis to train the plants.

Patios: create an attractive hard surface and make sure there is enough room for tables and chairs.

Paving: York is wonderful but it is expensive. Try looking for natural Indian stone, which is fairly new to the market, wooden decking or simple but varied concrete slabs. Blues and pinks should be forgotten.

Greenery: climbers, evergreens and shrubs make a huge impact. The fence might be expensive but it is better if you can't even see it.

Break it up: a rambling scented rose makes more of an impression that neat bushes lined up like soldiers.

Grass: If it won't grow then use bark chippings, gravel or cobble instead. Don't persist with bare patches.

Clutter: Hide all the rubbish behind trellis or a bamboo, hazel or willow screen.

Lighting: it really can transform a garden - even in winter it looks magical.

Pots: Fill 'em up and keep them that way all year round.

Front gardens/driveways: Don't forget the "kerb appeal". Keep them weeded and make them strong. Gravel should be edged by brick so it doesn't spill everywhere.

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