Best of the bunch - Magnolia

Often featured as a stand-alone centrepiece in a garden, with its majestic white or pink blooms, the magnolia is a tree to savour if you have the space and the right soil. Most magnolias don't like chalk but will thrive in reasonable garden soil.

Among the most popular is M. soulangeana, which reaches around 3.2m (10ft) high and produces goblet-shaped white flowers with a purple tint at the base, which come before the leaves.

Other lovely varieties are 'Lennei' and 'Alba Superba', which is white. If you have limited space, go for the star magnolia, M. stellata, which grows to around 3m (9ft) but abounds with fragrant, creamy white flowers in spring.

Some gardeners grumble that the relatively shortlived flowers leave an awful mess under the tree when their blooms drop, but the spectacle of those teacup-sized flowers in spring makes it a price worth paying.

Good enough to eat... Colourful chillies

Don't let your patio veg get the doldrums this summer - add a bit of oomph to your cooking and your outside space with some tasty chillies, in sizzling yellows, oranges, reds and purples.

They are sub-tropical, so you'll need to start them off in a greenhouse or conservatory until the threat of frost has passed.

Sow the seeds in trays now and place in a warm spot at around 21C (70F) and don't let them dry out. When large enough to handle, prick out the plants and transfer to individual pots in a warm spot. Terracotta pots are perfect, ideally fairly small ones which can be moved inside during cooler weather.

Once they have been placed in their final pots, water well and pinch out when they reach around 15cm (6in) to make them bushier. Their final position should be a sheltered spot against a south-facing wall. Plants should be taken inside if the temperature drops below 18C (65F).

The first fruits should appear around 15 weeks after planting. If you like your chillies mild, pick them at the green stage. The more sizzling the colours become, the hotter they are likely to be.

Three ways to... Cut down on maintenance

1. Plant hardy bulbs such as crocus, scilla and daffodils in the autumn to provide a maintenance-free spring show. Low-growing lilies which don't need staking are an ideal easy-care summer bulb.

2. Reduce the need for bedding displays with decorative pebble mosaics, wall art and stylish sculptures to provide maintenance-free highlights.

3. Incorporate drought-tolerant plants in your schemes such as lavender, rosemary, houseleeks and pelargoniums and silver-leaved plants, which won't need much watering.

What to do this week

:: Prune out the frost-damaged stems of shrubs and climbers.

:: Keep recently planted trees, shrubs and climbers well watered during dry weather

:: Lift and divide congested clumps of autumn-flowering bulbs and replant in a well-prepared piece of ground, discarding any bulbs which appear damaged or diseased

:: Thin out hardy annual seedlings sown in open ground last month.

:: Feed plants in containers with a liquid fertiliser.

:: Plant out sweet peas which were sown earlier in the year.

:: Transplant and pot on vegetable seedlings sown earlier this year.

:: Plant maincrop potatoes.

:: Plant new pond plants and oxygenators.

:: Clean up garden furniture in preparation for all those sunny days ahead.

:: Pot on small plants of tender perennials raised from cuttings last year.

:: Take basal cuttings from lupins and delphiniums.

:: Cut off dead hydrangea flowers, shortening thin or old shoots to their lowest bud.