Thinking of selling your home? Better spruce up your front garden, say Hannah Stephenson and Jayne Howarth.
An attractive front garden can significantly increase the value of your home and add as much as £5,000 to the value of a property.
A report by PlantforLife, a campaign by the Horticultural Trades Association that aims to help people make the most of their gardens, shows that first impressions - or kerb appeal - really does count in these competitive times.
They found that 97 per cent of estate agents surveyed in the Midlands (out of the 532 surveyed across the country) said the front garden forms part of their sales pitch, while more just over half agreed that the appearance of a front garden is key to clinching that essential offer.
Incredibly, 67 per cent of the house sellers highlighted an attractive front garden in their sales pitch to potential buyers. Almost one-third said the appearance of a front garden was key to clinching that all important offer. But 45 per cent of them said that most people in the Midlands did not make the most of their gardens.
Some of the more bizarre items that estate agents have found in the front gardens include army tanks, an Elvis statue, a replica of Stonehege and a Second World War submarine.
So, if you are thinking of selling your house this year, you need to get cracking now. A good design can make a small space appear much larger, while clever planting can add privacy and security to your home.
Even if you have a tiny front garden there are still ways to use the available space to create positive first impressions.
A few carefully-planted, strategicallyplaced window boxes and containers near the front door can brighten up the entrance dramatically.
For summer colour, plant bedding plants such as petunias and nicotiana in late May. These can be replaced with pansies in September to keep the display going through the winter.
If you want the containers to look good now, choose evergreen shrubs such as skim-mia mixed with spring-flowering plants now abundant at your local garden centre, such as primulas, trailing ivy and a few ready-grown spring bulbs such as narcissi.
If your front garden space is used primarily for parking the car, use ground cover plants and containers in the non-driveway space to perk up the area. Check out the dead spaces in the corners which may lend themselves to some plantings. Alternatively try separating the driveway from the rest of the garden with small trees or shrub borders.
If there is soil available, plant low-maintenance ground cover plants such as creeping juniper or cranesbill geranium to help deter weeds and provide some colour.
If you like the minimalist approach and prefer surfaces covered with gravel or paving then there is enormous scope to design an interesting front garden. A simple paved garden could be enhanced with plantings of rosemary, lavender and thyme.
You should think about drainage when planning your front garden.
You don't need planning permission to pave an area if the surface is porous or permeable, but you may need to improve soil drainage by adding bulky organic materials or grit to the soil.
Have you unsightly walls and fences that climbers could scramble up? Clematis alpina cultivars, Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris, variegated ivy cultivars and ceanothus such as 'Delight' may be ideal for the job.
If you don't want to redesign, you can still brighten up your front garden to help sell your property. It may also be time to bring out the paintbrush. If you have a front gate, paint it and make sure it's working.
Some 64 per cent of estate agents agree quick fix solutions, such as tidying up the front garden with flowers and shrubs, will most effectively increase the perceived value of a property.
A mixture of evergreens and herbaceous perennials should be fairly low maintenance, along with some colour at the front of a small border.
PlantforLife has teamed up with property experts Barnard Marcus to launch First Impressions, a guide offering simple garden designs, flowers, plants and maintenance advice for all types of garden.
* First Impressions can be downloaded for free from www.plantforlife.info.