When people extend at the rear of their houses, it’s often to achieve ‘indoor/outdoor living’ – a space that allows them to have easy access to the living areas of the house but to transfer the activities of dining and relaxing outdoors. This week it’s Chelsea Flower Show and with the weather as nice as it’s been for the last fortnight, I have to say sitting in my garden is one of my favourite ways to spend time at home. I have french doors from my dining room to the patio and for much of the next few months they will stand open. We eat breakfast on the patio and lunch in the garden, but dinner it’s sometimes too cool in the shade to be completely comfortable, so back to the dining table we go.
Having this flexibility with my living space is one of the reasons I bought the house. Even though the garden is shady from mid afternoon onward, I still spend the bulk of my time out there in the summer months, so planning how to use this space is as important as the thought put into how your kitchen and dining room will work. Not only do you have to consider things like lawnmowers and parasols that need to be stored when not in use, you also need to think about the orientation – the way the garden faces. A garden that faces North-East, as mine does will have next to no sun in the winter and this will wreak havoc with your grass. That might sound bizarre and somewhat extreme, but consider if you will the very wet winter we had. I now have a lawn that is 3/4 covered in moss – and the moss is thick and healthy! That’s too big an area to ‘patch’, so what on earth am I going to do with it? In the nearly three years since I’ve lived here, my lawn has gone from lush to lame – and I have fed it.
On the other hand, if my garden faced South-West I’d have another problem; the area closest to the house, usually where people have their patio’s, would be too hot to sit in, even with a parasol.
Outdoor space at this time of the year becomes an additional room, but it’s totally dictated by the elements. This may sound obvious, yet people are often mystified when they can’t quite use their gardens the way they want. Of course if your garden is huge, none of this applies, but for a garden in town you are very much at the mercy of your neighbouring properties. Big trees are either a problem because they shade your side of the fence and the neighbour won’t get it pruned or a delight and you’re terrified that the neighbour might decide to pull it down!
I have a bit of a thing for trees I have to confess, but this spring I took the decision to remove one that was cutting a lot of light from my garden. Given the grass situation and the fact that I have 10 trees in an area 5m x 12m, I wasn’t sorry to see this one go even though in the aftermath of last winter several people I know have large trees that are now at risk. Their roots haven’t held in the saturated soil and these landmark trees are now dangerous, leaning badly and must be taken down. Sad.
Rooflines do the same thing where light is concerned, especially if a loft conversion goes up and you suddenly lose your sunshine. In our first home, we consented to our neighbours putting in their loft conversion and our garden changed completely. No longer could we sit in the sun for lunch, unless we wanted to eat after 3! Can you see why I say it needs thought?
Making the most of your outdoor space is more than simply putting in some decking and buying outdoor furniture. To be able to use the space the way you want, your patio might be better situated as an island away from the house. It depends on whether you hanker after basking in the last rays of the evening sun and sipping on a ‘sundowner,’ or if you’ve always dreamed of breakfast on the terrace. This is the type of question to ask yourself, it’s not enough to say let’s put in a summerhouse and then find that it never gets used. As with all space planning, the garden needs to be considered as a whole – even if the work is done piecemeal. And this is one situation where you really are better to have lived in the property for a while, so that you know where the sun rises and if the shed is actually the part of the garden that gets the most sun! It’s worth moving things around to make the most of your gardens natural attributes. If my lovely garden shed were on the other side of the garden, I’d have sun until about 7pm…
So back to planning the way you use your garden. As with any ‘room’ – and garden designers do talk about themed areas of the garden as rooms – flexibility is key, so zoning the garden with areas designed to be used at different times of the day is actually quite practical. It enables you to create plantings and privacy in those areas which will introduce a journey as you move through it and reveal different aspects of your personality in the same way you would indoors. It also allows you to hide the bicycles and compost bin – or create a fire pit… Marshmallows anyone?