If you had a house where you could only use the kitchen or bathroom for six months of the year, you’d probably think that was a pretty bad deal.
Yet many of us seem to accept that our garden is only useful during British Summer Time, and ignore it as soon as temperatures start to drop.
This year of all years is the perfect time to break out of that way of thinking - with a little bit of imagination and planning, our gardens can be useful, beautiful spaces whatever the weather, perfect for relaxing, getting some fresh air, and even socialising.
We’ve found the six things that can make your home garden into a year-round space, so grab a blanket and a hot drink and cosy up...
We can’t pretend that it doesn’t get cold outside in autumn and winter - we don’t have a Mediterranean climate, so you’ll have to warm things up yourself.
It seems like plenty of other people have had the same idea over the past few months as more of us have spent more time at home - department store chain John Lewis has reported an 82% rise in the sale of patio heaters in recent weeks, while Homebase has similarly seen a 35% rise in the sales of chimeras and fire pits.
There are multiple ways to add heat to your garden:
- Gas patio heaters come in all shapes and sizes to match whatever look you’re going for, and provide a nice area of warmth if they’re well placed next to seating. They’re also easy to set up with no trade help required. However, they can be quite inefficient, and use a lot of fuel.
- If you want something more permanent, you could have a heater built with a gas supply to create a fire feature, which would be an impressive centrepiece for any garden.
- Solid-fuel burning heaters are also a popular option for rustic gardens, where you can use coal or wood to get a real campfire effect going. As with gas patio heaters, you can just buy them ready to use, or you could have one built out of brick or stone. As with a campfire though, a solid fuel heater will create smoke, so take care with placement so it won’t be blowing back through your windows or into a neighbour’s property.
Finally, there are electric heaters, which don’t need costly fuel or create unsightly smoke. Infrared heaters can be mounted on walls or in a structure like a gazebo, and provide instant heat at the push of a button.
Some models - those under 3kW - will need to plugged in, which is a good reason for installing an external power socket (which can also come in handy for lawn mowers and other outside gadgets).
More powerful models will need to be wired into the mains, needing an electrician to install.
We can’t pretend it won’t get cold, and we also can’t pretend that it won’t sometimes rain. But rather than sit outside with a brolly and a grimace, or huddle under a cheap nylon gazebo that could blow away at a moment’s notice, you can invest in a proper shelter that will keep you dry and keep your garden usable for years to come.
Pergolas, gazebos, even summer houses are all ideal solutions for adding some shelter to your garden, keeping the elements off while still letting you enjoy the great outdoors.
Depending on your budget there are many ways you can approach it, with cheap self-assembly kits you can put together yourself, or bespoke options where you can work with a tradesperson to create the right solution for your garden.
It is unlikely you’ll need planning permission for any garden structure as permitted development should cover it, but there are some restrictions you may have to follow.
So there’s a good chance it will be wet, and there’s a good chance that it’ll be cold, but after a certain point, there’s a 100% chance that it will be dark outside, which is where good lighting comes in.
Rather than rely on the inconsistent or harsh light of your heating options, or just hoping that leaving lights on indoors will be enough to keep you illuminated, it’s worth investing in some quality lighting that will make the space more usable and encourage you to keep making the most of it.
As with heaters, there are a range of options that can fit different budgets, from free-standing lanterns, to simple solar LED powered lights that you can put around the garden, up to stylish wired bulbs that can be draped around the beams of a pergola to create gentle mood lighting.
If you install fixed lighting, make sure everything is waterproof and done to standard by hiring an experienced electrician who can self-certify their work.
We eat in our kitchens, our dining rooms, our living rooms, even in our bedrooms, but we rarely bother to eat outside unless it’s barbecue season. However, taking meals outdoors is a way to really feel like your garden is a useful space, and cooking outdoors only serves to drive that home.
A gas barbecue is a solid choice for year-round cooking, as you can fire it up and get grilling at a moment’s notice, without worrying about drizzle dampening your burgers or smoke stinging everyone’s eyes.
However, for serious grillers, there’s nothing better than cooking on wood or charcoal, and the best way to do it is on a purpose-built barbecue. Lots of good brickies would jump at the chance to express their creativity working on a bespoke barbecue set-up, which can even incorporate chimneys to help funnel the smoke away.
Another option is a pizza oven, which is sure to impress any guests you might have. Popular brands such as Ooni say demand for their ovens is 15 times greater than it was last year, so don’t get left out - but if you really want to commit, building your own oven from scratch, or getting a tradesperson to help out, will really impress your diners.
5. Patio or decking
One of the things that can really help an open space like a garden feel more useful and give it more purpose is zoning - small things that turn one space into several smaller spaces, giving each one its own identity.
Planting, trellises, and the use of colour can all help this effect, but nothing does more to create a space within a space than using patio or decking.
While the lawn might be for football, an area with solid floor at the back of the house creates a definite space for more sedate activities, one which can be decked out with furniture and other civilising features.
Your choice of material can have a huge impact on the look and feel of the garden - a rustic flagstone patio can give a country cottage feel, while dark hardwood decking can give a sleek, modern look - make sure you source good quality, sustainable timber.
There are a huge variety of options to choose from, so speak to an expert to get the best result for your garden.
Like with adding a patio or decking to your garden, planting is a great way to create discrete spaces in your garden - while can be doubly emphasised with the use of planters.
You can create planters with a variety of materials, from reclaimed wood such as railway sleepers, to brick or smooth rendering which can be painted whichever colour you prefer.
Using raised beds gives an element of height to the garden, almost acting as walls to create separate rooms.
If you want to go all out, you could combine them with more heavy duty landscaping to create a sunken area, and embrace the kind of space that making different levels allows.
A landscaper can help come up with a design and execute it to a perfect finish.
Once you’ve decided on the planting, you also have the fun of choosing the plants. Autumn is a great time of year to plan ahead for next spring and summer, choosing flowers that will bloom once the weather starts to warm up again.
You can also fill your garden with evergreens and perennials that will keep some colour and life in the space throughout winter.