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I love decorations. How can I light up my garden and tree this Christmas?

Answered by: John Hughes, DIY expert

Having spent a couple of hours outside putting up Christmas lights this year, I thought I'd share a couple of stories with you - still DIY, kind of, right?

We live in a fairly dark cul-de-sac in a rural area, and lighting up the front garden really brightens the whole place up, at very little cost too. Nothing over the top I have to say, and the neighbours keep saying how glad they are that I take the trouble - truth is, I'd thought about not bothering after our daughter moved out, but now it's kind of expected every year!

It's no trouble really: our front garden is around 40' long and 20' wide, and apart from grass with a hawthorn tree stuck in the middle, the complete absence of any other kind of plants or foliage reveals the complete absence of gardening knowledge or enthusiasm by the occupants.

Turning a hawthorn tree into a Christmas tree is really very quick & easy though - it took me under an hour using two sets of outdoor lights which cost under 30. The other ingredients needed are:

Ladders
Nylon cable ties, or wire ties
Cutters
A spade
Gloves

Our tree is only about 20' high and quite "spindly" once all the leaves have gone; however I don't even climb all the way up - the top branches are very flexible and easy to pull down to a reasonable working height to tie the lights on.

With all the lights draped and tied round the tree, the next step is to cut a narrow channel to bury the mains wire in - this is simply a case of pushing the spade about three inches into the ground, and widening the cut into a V shape, all the way back to the house since the transformer has to be located indoors.

I'd say this is probably the 'hardest' part of the whole thing; however as the ground is soft & mushy at this time of year {another reason not to venture too high up on ladders, although I suppose it would be a relatively soft landing.......}, it only takes about fifteen minutes.

I put up one set of non-flashing coloured lights {set with 200 bulbs}, and a second set of programmable lights which flash, chase, fade, and blink - around 200 clear bulbs.

Now the really incomprehensibly stupid thing about these lights, is that the control box is located right where the lights end, and then you have 20 metres of wire leading to the transformer - in other words, although they're sold as "outdoor" lights, you're usually limited to putting them around doors & windows since the control box is supposed to be located indoors too.

The electricians amongst you will probably be horrified at the thought of leaving the controller box outside in the rain and snow, and running unprotected wire under the ground; however in my defence, it's very low-voltage, I use 2 amp fuses, and in all the years I've been doing this I've never experienced any kind of problem whatsoever. I also never leave the lights on all night {or if we go out} - just from when it gets dark at around 3.30pm until bedtime.

I wrap the control box in several layers of clingfilm, secure it with tape, and place this inside four food bags tied tightly around the wire a few inches below the box. Then, with the knotted part facing downwards, I secure it to the tree a foot above the ground - usually enough to keep it above the snow line, even in Scotland!

Next job is to press the wire into the V-groove, and then step on each side to 'seal' the channel. If you use a slight twisting motion with your foot as you do this, the scar in the grass is barely noticeable. Removing it later is a breeze - even after severe frosts, it simply pulls up.

Next thing is to run the wire in through a window to plug into the transformer. Now crushing wires by closing a window on them is another practice which I doubt is recommended in any electrician's bible; however if you do this very carefully and gently {avoiding any sharp areas or locking points on the window frame}, the wires won't be damaged. Also, the wire is so thin, it doesn't compromise the window seal at all.

The final touch was to run 40' of outdoor "falling snow" lights along the baseboard of our bungalow - even simpler to do, as they come supplied with clips which you attach to the guttering.

That's it - switch on was at 4pm this afternoon, and I expect the carol singers {and drunks....} will turn up any time now!

At the risk of sounding like a girl, it's all actually very pretty too, and will look even better once we have some snow as it reflects a lot of the coloured light. An hour well spent, I reckon.

In our last house our back garden was completely enclosed by trees, and I'd built a little pond with a fountain at one end. We also had a conservatory, and one evening it occurred to me how nice it would be to have some exterior lights - because the minute it got dark, all you could see was your own reflection in the glass.

A couple of coloured underwater lights, four small post lights, and three strategically-placed coloured spotlights pointing up at the trees, and wow - it was just like DisneyWorld!

No, seriously - I was amazed at how this completely transformed the garden at night, and the conservatory became our favourite place. Sitting in the dark with a glass of wine, favourite CD playing, and just watching the ever-changing colours in the dancing waters of the fountain, convinced me that this had really been one of my better DIY ventures - so peaceful, relaxing, and profoundly therapeutic. Or maybe that was just the wine........

I'd love to do the same thing with this place, but first I need to get round to building a conservatory, and a pond. That's another story though, and definitely not for the faint-hearted!

All I'll say here is that you can pick up a good-size DIY conservatory kit for under two thousand pounds {shop around on the internet - avoid garden centres!}, and while it's very, very worthwhile doing {added 10,000 to the selling price, especially as I'd added central heating}, the harsh reality is that you have to stain and varnish the "pre-treated" wood yourself.

Twice.

What they don't tell you, is that there are sixteen million individual parts which have to be stained, and somehow stored till they're dry.

{Top Tip: Only solution I could see was to use miles of string in our garage to create hundreds of little "slings" to put the varnished wood on. Standing each piece upright against a wall led to lots of drips, puddles and run marks}.

Having said that, the BIG selling point which every single viewer commented on, wasn't all the work we'd put into the conservatory - all the "oohs, ahhs, and Oh My God's" were centred on the pond, the fountain, and - the lights. Everyone totally loved the lights - probably didn't even notice the house!

So there ya go - not a very difficult DIY project, but something as simple as sticking a few coloured lights outside your house can transform it completely.

For now, I'll have to make do with our flashing hawthorn tree, but watch this space - next year......

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