Spring is the perfect time to get your gardens into shape for the summer ahead. Here are my tips on how to achieve an outdoors space that is just as stylish as your home.
Whether you have a rambling cottage garden or a sleek urban space, when it comes to the style factor, many of us have come to view our gardens as just as important as the rooms in our homes. Implement a few clever design features and, weather permitting, our gardens can be utilised as a second living space when the sun comes out. Here’s how to make the most of yours.
If you are fed up with looking at grass that has seen better days, tired plants and uninspiring borders, then it may be time to call in the professionals. If budget allows, professional landscapers and garden designers are experts in reinventing even the smallest spaces to suit the needs of you and your family. Even if gardening is not your forte, they will come up with genius solutions to make your garden a joy rather than a chore.
Alex Graham-Cameron, owner of Demeter Garden Design (01354 740 401; www.demeterdesign.co.uk) gives some advice: “The design stage is crucial. I would urge anybody thinking of redesigning their garden to really think how they intend to use it and what they want out of it. Make a list of things you would like included and things you need and don’t be afraid to change things that you’ve ‘lived with’ for years. Think of the design in two main parts, the first includes all practical aspects of the garden, such as paths, lawns, sitting areas and other features you may wish to consider. The second part is to think about the planting and how this can be added to enhance and add interest to the garden.”
Talking through these needs with a designer is a crucial first step. Think about how you and your family use the garden. Young children, for instance, may need a play area, while an older family will have different requirements. If you entertain a lot, you may want to focus on an expansive patio or canopied dining area. You may want to grow your own fruit and vegetables, so it would therefore be important to carve out a practical vegetable patch and suitable areas for trees. After all, everyone has a different take on what their ideal garden looks like.
Ian Farbon, owner of garden designers Landscape Evolution (01223 258924; www.landscapeevolution.co.uk), gives some tips on how to create that idyllic garden.
“A good place to start is to create a mood board of images that inspire you. Source from magazines, books, postcards and take photos of any garden features that you like when out and about. Include styles of garden that appeal – such as formal, modern or traditional – as well as different plants, types of paving and furniture etc. You’ll soon see what works well together and what doesn’t. Getting it right at this early stage will save time and money before any ground is broken.
“The way in which a garden is designed is always constrained by budget,” Ian continues. “We all know how much it costs to build an extension or garage but we are less knowledgeable when it comes to gardens. The more ‘hard’ landscaping you have (such as brickwork, paving and built structures) the higher the budget will need to be. Good landscapers will ensure the project runs smoothly and professionally. It is worth noting that a good designer way well save you more in build and material costs than the fee for the design so don’t be frightened to commission one to help you create your dream!”
Bringing the ‘inside out’ is one of the latest trends in garden design. Starting with the fashion for Miami-style weather-treated rattan furniture a few years ago (previously only seen in conservatories and glitzy hotels), we’ve now got a penchant for furniture and accessories that wouldn’t look out of place in our living and dining rooms.
Jon Holloway, founder of Garden Trading (0845 6084 448; www.gardentrading.co.uk), agrees: “The trend for buying high quality furniture for the garden that will stand the test of time will continue into summer 2014. Timeless, neutral hues will create a relaxed and coastal look to last the whole summer through.”
Take the innovative outdoor fabrics from British manufacturer Extex (01634 718871;www.extex.co.uk)for instance. They were originally created for use on super-yachts, due to their water repellent and stain resistant qualities, but are now being used on chic furniture and cushions in some of the UK’s most stylish gardens and are instant ways of bringing a lifestyle look to a garden. The huge choice of fabrics (in over 100 colours) includes sophisticated neutrals as well as vibrant, three-dimensional patterns and a new pioneering glow-in-the-dark material.
Approach your garden like you would if you were decorating an interior room. Style spaces with accessories, cushions and lighting – you may be outdoors but it doesn’t mean you can’t be cosy or on-trend. The high street is full of affordable items that can add a pop of colour to your greenery. For affordable options, check out the new garden range from Sainsbury’s, which includes brightly-coloured lanterns and floor cushions, and the hot pink and turquoise metal chairs from Out There Interiors (020 8099 7443; www.outhereinteriors.com).
Mix these in with investment buys, such as the contemporary Wallflower outdoor lighting from FLOS (0203 328 5140; www.flos.com) and modern firepits from Morsø (01788 554 410; www.morso.co.uk) – this will add instant impact and give a twist to an average garden.
For an actual living space in the outdoors, a summer-house or garden room is a must. Forget the styles of old as these days outbuildings are getting more and more elaborate. Permanent Oriental-style wooden gazebos are great for dining outdoors, while pretty, pastel, Hamptons-inspired summer-houses are just the thing for whiling away the summer days. But for the ultimate wow-factor, you can’t beat a Farmer’s Cottage Garden Pod, available at John Lewis (01223 361292; www.johnlewis.com).
The futuristic spheres have UV-tinted windows, waterproof interiors and dimmable lighting. They can be adapted for sleeping, dining or as a place for some downtime and many can also rotate and have sliding doors.
Jo Alexander (01954 267857; www.joalexander.co.uk) is a one-stop shop for covetable garden furniture and accessories.
Owner Jo Alexander comments: “With a little imagination, your outdoor space can become an extension to your home – for relaxing and entertaining with family and friends.Choose furniture, cushions and garden accessories that reflect the way you live and make your garden as inviting as the rest of your home. Choose a wicker or teak sofa with comfy cushions, for example, and add a coffee table for the all-important drinks and nibbles and you’ll create a living room in the sun. Just sit back and unwind in the comfort of your own garden.”
EXTENSIONS OF THE HOME
Patios, decking and verandas are natural extensions to your home. Clear the clutter that can naturally gather near the house and make the most of these areas by adding in ‘homely’ touches, such as fire-pits, grills or even fireplaces. Popular in the USA, outdoor kitchens are also gathering momentum in the UK and, by adding, dining or lounge furniture and pretty lighting, you can quickly create a stylish entertaining area.
Garden House Design (01903 774 774; www.gardenhousedesign.co.uk) is an award-winning garden design specialist based in Cambridge and an expert in creating gardens of all shapes and sizes – from urban courtyards to rural spaces. Working closely with clients to create something perfectly suited to their lifestyle, the company’s aim is to maximize the time we are able to really ‘live’ outdoors in our gardens. The company supplies the cutting-edge Algarve and Camargue terrace covers, which have gladed roof systems that can be closed off with Fixscreens, glass sliding walls and panels.
“Our company mantra is ‘live outdoors’ and we want people to see their garden as an extension of their living space and to use it in the way they would use any other area of their home,” says Debs Winrow, marketing manager at Garden House Design.
“Whatever your budget or size of garden, there’s lots of clever design ideas that you can use to transform your outdoor space into a room just as elegant and beautiful as any other room in your home. You can kit out your garden with firepits, baths, sofas and even outdoor kitchens.
“But don’t expect to leave all your accessories out all year round,” she advises. “Simply allocate a little storage space indoors, in the garage or shed and store pretty candle holders, soft plump garden furniture cushions, and maybe velvet throws to simply take and dress your garden at a moment’s notice.Get good with creating lovely “picnic” type suppers and your garden will soon be a favourite place to hang out for your friends and family. We not only offer a full design and construction service, but also offer a Garden Styling Service to add the finishing touches to your precious outdoor space.”
GREEN GREEN GRASS OF HOME
Take care of your lawn and you are halfway there to having an impressive garden. After all, there’s nothing as pleasing as looking out on to a lush, healthy expanse of green. Keep your lawn looking neat by mowing regularly and trimming edges. Feed regularly to keep it looking green and pull up stubborn weeds. Little and often is the general rule of thumb for keeping your lawn in tip-top condition.
Ian Farbon at Landscape Evolution also advises to take care when planning: “If you want to update your garden, the most important job is the initial stages. Draw up your existing garden, marking the boundaries and the main features and in particular those you would like to keep or must remain. Whilst a designer will create an accurate plan at an appropriate scale, a sketch of your garden (a birds eye view) would be a starting point on a pad of A4 or A3. This is the bit I love most, sketching lines, shapes and ideas over the page (without thinking of ‘what’ those shapes might represent) and how the shapes relate to the house. As you refine your sketches the new garden will start to take shape on the page and you will find areas that will become the lawn, paving and paths.”
To add interest, introduce different textures and shapes. Cut your grass in curves around gravel areas and stone paths, for instance. Create witty vignettes to bring your lawn to life with grouping of statues, classical water features or small areas featuring upcycled furniture. Scour flea markets for interesting objects, such as old bikes that can be painted in a bold, primary colour and then use it to store plants in its basket. Arbours, love-seats and old wheelbarrows can be used as romantic touches to transform even the most boring of spaces. All it takes is a little imagination.
A version of this article was written by me for the March 2014 issue of The Cambridge Edition