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I’m a gardening expert – my 25p hack keeps slugs away and I have a sneaky way to save £40 on your kids’ sand pit too

SUMMER has been a mixed bag – and it  could mean your outdoor space is  looking worse for wear.

With schools breaking up for summer in two weeks, parents will be hoping for July sunshine so they can get the children outdoors  instead of spending the holidays stuck inside.

Victoria Emes’ garden before its makeover
Victoria Emes
Victoria Emes’ garden after its makeover
Victoria Emes

That means there is no better time to tackle pesky garden niggles such as patchy lawns and annoying weeds, brought about by changing weather.

Influencer Victoria Emes, 41, is a mum of two who has turned her back garden in London into a family-friendly oasis using cheap and easy tricks.

Whether you want an adult chill-out zone, the perfect playground for kids, or both, Victoria ­– who has more than 400,000 Instagram followers – shares her budget buys and clever hacks to create a welcoming outdoor space.

STOP SLUGS IN THEIR TRACKS

A bug bear for almost everyone who has a garden with plants is slugs. No matter how manicured your flower beds might look, an influx of slugs means plants might not survive the summer, which is frustrating and costly.

Victoria says: “I don’t know what’s wrong this year, but slugs have gone absolutely mental.

“The amount of them in the garden has basically quadrupled.

“There are some plants, like rosemary or lavender, which they won’t go for.

“My biggest tip for getting rid of them is broken eggshells.

“If you put them in your flower beds and leave a little bit sticking up, they can’t crawl over them so they can’t eat your plants.

“It’s quick, easy and, best of all, free.”


SAY GOODBYE TO WEEDS

Rain one minute and sunshine the next is an invitation for weeds to thrive — and they even creep into hanging baskets.

But is there a magic way to get rid of them for good?

An easy homemade recipe involves mixing one-part salt and two parts water together and pouring directly over weeds and into patio cracks to kill the vegetation. 

But Victoria says: “My best advice for this is just to keep on top of them and keep pulling them out.

“This is another great job you can get your kids involved in.

“They love helping out with stuff like this because it means they get to yank things out of the ground.

“You just have to hope they don’t accidentally nab one of your nice plants at the same time.”

 SAFE SPACE FOR KIDS

When you have got kids, everything is a hazard and even the safest looking, closed-off garden can sometimes be a minefield. 

But there are some easy ways to make sure your kids avoid getting into trouble.

Victoria says: “Being mindful of what you plant when you’ve got really little children is a big thing.

“Foxgloves, in particular, can be toxic for humans.

Victoria Emes

Gardening influencer Victoria Emes shows you how a great garden doesn’t have to cost loads[/caption]

Cavan Images

The kids love getting involved in garden tasks[/caption]

“Plant things like herbs   — rosemary, sage or mint  — because then it doesn’t matter whether your kids touch them and then put their fingers in their mouths.

“Rosemary in particular is great for a stress-free garden because it’s cheap and pretty and lasts all year round.”

Victoria says: “If you have space, it’s a good idea to get a shed or some kind of out-of-reach storage space so you can make sure anything dangerous — like tools or fertilisers — can be kept out of reach of children.”

TWO BUCKETS FOR THE CHILDREN

There are loads of cheap and even free ways to encourage your kids into the garden, from getting them involved in practical activities, searching for unwanted animals or turning everyday household items into fun play.

Victoria, who has a small back garden, is a big fan of items that can be easily stored after the kids have used them.

She says: “The one thing both my seven-year-old son and daughter, five, play with for ever is two buckets of water — one with soap in and one without.

“They will clean things all day long meaning that they’re entertained.

“Another good tip is finding all the snails in the garden and putting them in a bucket.

“It’s another free activity because we then take them to the park and release them back into the wild.

“Obviously, getting them involved in what you’re doing is another big winner.

“My daughter absolutely loves planting with me — she’s got her own spade and helps me dig plants, which is really easy and cheap.”

CEMENT TRAYS AS SAND PITS

You do not have to spend a fortune on expensive toys — which are going to drain your pocket and blight your garden — to keep children entertained during the summer holidays. 

A mud kitchen can slot easily into a small space, and tomatoes can be grown on a sunny balcony or doorstep.

Victoria’s favourites are cheap items, which are easy to get out and easy to put away, especially if you are short on space.

Victoria says the best thing she bought for the kids to play in was a builders’ sand tray
B&Q
A really bright idea is to decorate your garden with solar-powered lights
B&M

She says: “The best thing we bought for our kids to play in was a builders’ sand tray, so not even an actual kids’ toy. 

“A regular sand pit can set you back around £60 but the builders’ trays do the same job for £20. 

“They’re also really flat, so it’s super-easy to store them.

“You can put sand or slime or water, or a mix of everything, in there and it keeps the kids entertained for hours.”

She adds: “I also let my kids draw on the patio with chalk, which is appealing to them because they feel they are doing something they shouldn’t. 

“But it’s so easy to rinse off after they’ve finished.”

FIX DRY AND PATCHY LAWN

For a quick, short-term solution to fix bald lawn patches, create a paste using toilet roll, water and clover seeds to make a clumpy solution.

Pour over patches of dead or balding grass, keeping the paste wet for two weeks by watering it every other day. 

For the longer term, Victoria suggests putting down clover lawn, which grows quickly and works even in dry weather.

Victoria saw results within six weeks of laying.

She says: “I love my clover lawn.

“It’s really low maintenance, costs £22.50 a bag, you have to mow it less and, once it’s down, all you need to do is water it.

“It might not be the ideal time to put it down now for this summer, but I would still recommend laying it and seeing what happens.

 “It’s a good long-term investment for next summer, if nothing else.

“I use my water sprinkler on it, which my kids also love. 

Victoria suggests putting down clover lawn, which grows quickly and works even in dry weather

“They spend loads of time running in and out of it which means it doubles up as an activity at the same time.

“It’s so much better than a paddling pool.

“It uses less water and doesn’t leave your lawn a wreck like a paddling pool can.”

IN THE ZONE 

When the kids have gone to bed, it is time for some summer-evening adult time and there are plenty of cheap ways to create an adult ambience on a budget.

Victoria says: “You can get a string of solar-powered fairy lights for as little as £6 from B&M and they are brilliant.

“They just look beautiful. 

“I’ve put mine all around the outside of the garden and they make such a big difference.”

Victoria is also a big fan of “zoning” which helps keep adult and kid spaces separate and helps to make smaller gardens look bigger.

She says: “I’ve got raised beds that sit at the end of my patio before going on to my lawn, which makes it feel like there are two parts to my garden.

“It gives the illusion of more space even in the smallest gardens.”

AND RELAX…

Egg chairs provide an extra, quirky seat and this one from B&M, below, is reduced to £125. 

B&M

Egg chairs provide an extra, quirky seat and this one  from B&M is reduced to £125[/caption]

Victoria’s favourite is a cheap sofa.

“I’m a big believer in having a proper sofa and chair set in your garden instead of just a table and chairs, to make it feel more informal,” she says. 

“I’ve got three separate seating areas and I’ve made sure they’re all as comfortable and informal as possible.”

A pergola is among 2024’s hottest garden trends for giving shade.

But if money is tight when the sun reappears, Victoria says: “I’ve got three umbrellas in my garden.

“The ones in B&Q are reasonably priced.”

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