Embrace the great outdoors

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Make the most of summer sunshine by ensuring your garden is a great place to relax and entertain.

Every outside space, no matter how large or small, has the potential to become an extra ‘room’, whether you plan to use it for tending plants, entertaining friends or simply relaxing in the great outdoors, in the sun with some music and a book. And, just as you would do with indoor rooms, it is worth spending time considering how to make your outdoors room in the garden both practical and beautiful. Perhaps just a few quick, inexpensive changes will do the trick – or you may wish to push the boat out and consider an entire redesign.
Look at the bigger picture first. As well as your budget, you’ll need to consider what you really want from your outdoor room in your garden. To begin with, sketch a scale plan of the space on graph paper and decide what will go where. Revamping your landscaping is a major job, but if this is the aim then consider what materials you intend to use – for paving, fencing, pots, furnishings and so on – and ensure that they co-ordinate. Set the dining area nearest the house, with space for a barbecue nearby or, perhaps, a wood-fired pizza oven (build your own or buy one off the shelf) or even an outdoor kitchen, complete with worktop, storage, sink and bar. In a large garden you could fit a play area at the far end, with swings and/or a climbing frame, trampoline or tepee. And a peaceful area away from both the house and the children would be ideal for a hammock or swing seat – perhaps near some scented flowers or under a tree for shade. You can signal changes of function by altering the flooring materials and introducing interesting changes of levels.
Think about lighting at the earliest possible stage. While solar and battery-powered lights can look amazing, an outdoor lighting circuit (installed by a qualified electrician) will allow your garden lighting to be even more flexible and effective. Consider what elements of your garden would benefit from illumination, whether it’s steps to the seating area or a particularly sculptural tree and add enough general lighting to allow you to enjoy the garden into the evening. Wall lights (perhaps with motion-activated sensors) are ideal for paths and passageways, while strings of lights can be wound around trees, posts and trellises for a party atmosphere.
If you are not starting your garden design from scratch, there are still plenty of quick, inexpensive fixes that will make a big difference, including simply moving or re-arranging the furniture, adding a canopy or sunshade or setting out a few large pots with dramatic planting. Fit a simple metal archway over a path for a pretty focal point or install a small wooden pergola as a shady resting place. Consider refreshing walls or fencing with a coat of paint – matt black and very dark blue are both very on-trend and provide a fabulous backdrop for the vivid colours of plants.
To make your outside space feel even more like an indoor/outdoor room, add comfortable seating, whether in the form of deck chairs, loungers, low-level chairs or even sofas covered with waterproof fabrics. Put side tables nearby for books, drinks and phones, and consider accessories such as outdoor bean bags, rugs and cushions. For eating, it is worth investing in solid, durable dining chairs and tables, bearing in mind that, to make it last longer, most garden furniture should be stored away when not in use. That said, second-hand garden furniture is often readily available at a good price and can be easily disguised with a lick of paint or a pretty oilcloth. Add a selection of plates, bowls, pitchers, tumblers and napkins in this season’s hot, tropical shades and you have transformed your garden into an oasis for outdoor living.

Small spaces: cool spaces
Tiny gardens, courtyards, decks and balconies can be wonderful places to hang out and relax – and have the advantage of being incredibly low maintenance.
All you really need is a couple of chairs and a small table. If they fold up out of the way, so much the better. Alternatively, cleverly designed built-in furniture can maximise corners and any awkward spaces.
Furniture that doubles as storage (a chest used as a table, for example) is invaluable for holding gardening equipment or picnic paraphernalia.
Make the most of vertical space with tiered and hanging planters, even a living wall.
Paint the walls bright white and, if your plants are in pots, choose reflective containers.
Avoid dark corners by installing a variety of lighting, from battery-powered string lights to solar torches stuck into pots.
Increase the sense of space by hanging a mirror on a sheltered wall to reflect the light.
Don’t mix too many different materials. When choosing hard landscaping, pots, furnishings and accessories, stick to a limited palette to avoid a jumble of colours and textures.

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