John Cunningham is an accomplished landscape gardener who has worked as plant choreographer to some of Britain’s most prominent designers. As well as working in the U.K. – John has been involved in show and private gardens everywhere from New Zealand to Japan. He has taken time out from helping plan his 23rd Chelsea garden to help you prepare for summer.

John Cunningham: gold award winning plant choreographer


“The thing I love most about gardening? It has to be how every single season can throw up a new and exciting challenge. There’s never a dull moment. Especially when it comes to spring.

This month, I’m here to talk to you about how to make the most of the (hopefully) pleasant weather to get your garden all set for summer – covering everything from lawn care and mower maintenance to clever planting and window box tips.

Take a look through my top garden prepping ideas below.”

Top tip: before you head out in the garden – scrape your fingernails along a bar of soap. It’s a trick of the trade that makes cleaning dirt from under your nails a thing of the past.

Summer Gardening tips for beginners


1. Prepare for that first lawn trim

Before the first cut of spring, I always start by feeding and weeding the lawn. Then I’ll give it a light raking to remove any dead moss and get the grass standing tall for a high first trim.

Garden more than 200m2? A petrol or ride-on lawnmower is probably the best tool for the job. If so, I’d recommend investing in an annual spring service to sharpen the blades and ensure the engine’s running smoothly. It won’t just make for a better cut – it’ll save you time, effort and fuel too.

2. Perfect your watering routine

April’s the ideal time to start thinking about sowing hardy annuals, herbs and wild flower seed. And for them to thrive, you’ll need to keep the top 10cm of soil moistened well into June.

Mother Nature will probably keep your garden hydrated throughout spring. But, if a dry spell does strike, I’d recommend watering your lawn and new plants around once a week (twice during an extended drought). Any more and you run the risk of overwatering – and overspending on your next water bill.

3. Give your greenhouse a makeover

Before you start chitting your potatoes or plating your autumn crop – I’d definitely suggest giving your greenhouse a quick spring clean. By making sure the glazing is clear of any algae or grime with warm soapy water, you’re giving your new plants the very best chance of soaking up all that early summer sunshine.

Plus, it’s a great time to make a few bigger improvements, like installing ventilation and an efficient heating system to regulate temperature or a water butt to collect free, fresh and eco-friendly rainwater.



1. Invest in push power

Thinking of picking up a new lawnmower in time for summer? Lightweight, easy to store and free from polluting petrol fumes or energy-sapping batteries – a push-along lawnmower can be a great investment for gardens with relatively small, even areas of grass (anything under 200m2).

Just like an electric or petrol lawnmower, you can set various cutting heights – and most models come complete with a handy detachable bag to easily catch all of your clippings.

2. Hold back on the hose

Unless we have a spectacularly unseasonal spring drought – or you have lots of incredibly thirsty hanging baskets or potted plants in your garden – you shouldn’t really need to turn to your hose until mid summer.

In the meantime, I’d recommend investing in a water butt to make the most of those April showers. A standard water butt can hold anywhere in the region of 150 to 250 litres of rainwater. That should be plenty to keep one medium sized bed hydrated all summer long. All without touching a tap.

3. Switch out your seasonals

Planting in pots that you can rotate in and out to reflect each season is a fantastic way to give your garden a quick and simple makeover.

My favourites? You can pick up a pack of colourful rough annuals from as little as £3. Then there’s Heuchera – a simply beautiful plant that combines rich coloured leaves with a delicate flower. Pair these with a pot or two of tall ornamental grasses or wildflowers for a real spring transformation.


1. Think small

Small plots, balconies or courtyards can be just as interesting as grand, sweeping country gardens. All you need is a dash of creativity.

For example – If you have the wall space – trellis and climbing vines could be used to great effect to create a living ‘feature wall’. Bringing a mirror outdoors could create a bigger, brighter space. Or you can

get that open meadow feel by placing an aromatic plant like lavender next to your favourite sitting spot.

2. Put your windows to work

Flowers. Herbs. Vegetables. Window boxes are a great way to bring a touch of the outdoors in – even if you don’t have any garden space to call your own.

For the best results, I’d suggest a window that gets plenty of early morning sun. Pack your window box tightly with good quality compost and remember to water regularly (particularly if your window box is sheltered from the rain by an overhanging roof or balcony).

3. No garden? No problem

You don’t need acres of garden space to enjoy the great outdoors. In fact, you don’t need a garden at all. Quirky terrariums, indoor herb gardens and beautiful potted houseplants are relatively low-maintenance alternatives.

Just remember to water whenever the soil feels dry and to position your indoor garden somewhere where they’ll indirectly get a healthy dose of daylight – not in the window as this can lead to scorched, parched plants.