In winter it’s often tempting to shut the back door and forget about the garden. It’s true that many plants are dormant throughout winter, and the backyard can seem cold and unwelcoming, but even mid-year Sydneysiders can be treated to warm sunny days. This year’s unseasonably warm May has meant that many of you have probably been using your backyards a lot more than you might have in other years.

The enthusiastic gardener knows that winter isn’t an excuse to be lazy. Now is a good time to plant citrus trees and it’s also your last chance to get those bulbs in for spring. If you have space, winter vegetables are a great way to make your garden productive. Winter is also a good time to do your pruning and to harvest valuable mulch from the fallen leaves and clippings in your garden.

However, a winter garden doesn’t have to be all about hard work. With a bit of forethought your backyard can be a place for relaxation and entertaining all year round. Creative landscaping is the key to making your backyard a place for all seasons. Especially if your home is small, any outdoor space is a potential valuable extension of your living room. Do you have a suitable space outside for outdoor dining? Is there an area to spread a rug or hang a hammock? The key to creating a useable garden in winter is sun, and a small reconfiguration might be all that is required to provide a sunny spot to relax.

For a truly successful garden, you need to have a full understanding of your block’s positioning, aspect and climatic conditions. Where does the sun fall in the morning, afternoon and at midday? Which parts of the garden are mainly in shade? Sun angles in winter are much lower than in summer. Even if your garden gets plenty of sun in mid-summer it might receive very little in the middle of winter but there are ways of channelling sun into your garden.

Deciduous trees are one good option for controlling sun throughout the year. As well as providing great shade in summer and a display of beautiful leaves in autumn, these trees will be bare when you want them to be -“ mid-winter. Of course they need to be positioned appropriately to derive any benefit from these natural sun-controllers.

You can also cut back non-deciduous trees and shrubs that are likely to overshadow your garden during winter. If the tree is on a neighbouring site, don’t be scared to discuss this with your neighbour. There might be advantages in it for them too, and they might be grateful for someone to take the job on. Removing lower branches of trees will allow more light to reach the ground below and reduce moss and damp problems.

It might also help to paint any blank walls facing your garden a light bright colour -“ white is ideal -“ to increase reflection of natural light. Be aware, however, that glare can be a problem in summer. Growing a deciduous vine over the surface might be a good way of dealing with this.

Another good way to allow more sun into your garden in winter is to ensure that any shade structures are adjustable or removable. The most efficient way to do this is with adjustable louvres, but this can also be expensive. A deciduous vine over a pergola will also do the trick. Otherwise, a canvas sail that can be dismantled or a retractable awning might be a good solution.

The design of in your garden should be based upon how much time you can commit to maintaining it. If you’d rather spend your weekends out and about, then don’t invest in plants which require constant attention. You should also think about water consumption: how will you keep your garden fresh when water restrictions are in place? Selecting species with low water needs is a start, but you could also think about investing in a rainwater tank or recycling household grey water.

Consulting a landscape architect or garden designer might be a good first step in planning your garden. Trained in site analysis and with extensive knowledge of plant species and their requirements, these professionals can suggest creative ways to make the most of your outdoor space. They will take into account your lifestyle and design a garden to suit. Often a trained professional will see possibilities you would never have thought of. Perhaps a raised deck would create a sun-drenched outdoor dining area. A vine-covered screen might prevent neighbours looking into your bathroom window. Astute removal of trees or shrubs might create space and light and completely transform your yard.

Whether or not you consult a professional, good planning and research will help make your garden a haven all year long.

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