With the summer holidays only a few weeks away, many of us are starting to get our gardens and patios ready in preparation for the BBQ season. Al fresco dining has become so popular over recent years that some people view the decoration of their garden as being as important as they do that of their house.
After a long cold winter, our gardens and patios often don't look the most appealing places to sit. However, with a small budget and a little imagination, you can transform them into a relaxing oasis where you can sit back, put your feet up and enjoy the warm summer evenings.
If you have wooden garden furniture, it may well have been affected by the cold and wet weather, and will no doubt need a good tidy up. Cleaning with a wire brush, followed by a lick of paint will really make a difference and is much cheaper than buying a brand new set.
Adding some colour always helps to make the garden or patio look more attractive. If you have flower beds, a tidy up and some cheap bedding plants can really make a difference. Pots full of blooms will transform even the barest of areas. Check out some of the bargain stores for planters and hanging baskets and fill them up with colourful flowers, lavender or small shrubs. If you're not very green fingered, why not fill your pots with windmills.
Garden accessories like bunting, fairy lights, wind chimes and wall art have become very popular and can be relatively cheap if purchased from some of the high street discount stores. They will help to dress up your garden and give it a bit of texture and style and you can take them down during the winter and use them again next year.
Solar lights can be used to illuminate your garden and there are lots of different types, ranging from as little as a pound. Put them in your plant pots and window boxes and watch them start to glow as the evenings close in. You could even wash out old jam jars and pop in a tea light.
As darkness falls, so does the temperature, so fire pits and chimineas are a great way to keep warm and can be much cheaper than patio heaters. They also provide a lovely atmosphere and a focal point to sit around. There are lots of really cheap ones on the market, but if your budget won't stretch,you can make your own. If you have an old metal bucket, give it a good clean out, cut it down to size and load it up with wood to burn and you have your very own heat source.
With the ever-changing weather, we can't always plan an evening outside in advance. Investing in a gazebo will allow you to enjoy the outdoors, even when it rains. You can pick these up for as little as £30, but I would recommend investing in a good strong one so that it doesn't blow over.
MoneySense is a free, independent programme by Ulster Bank for schools and parents covering topics including banking, borrowing, budgeting and running a small business. Find out more ways to make your cash work harder in Jill Smyth's column next week