During the coronavirus pandemic our gardens have become a welcome sanctuary: a place to grow fruit and vegetables, to keep the children entertained, or to simply relax and unwind in.
Having spent a lot of time indoors, more and more homeowners are rethinking their priorities and considering a move away from the city to the rural countryside. Being able to work from home and reap the benefits of a bigger garden and wide open spaces is an attractive prospect for many home buyers.
It’s long been recognised by scientists that gardens and outdoor spaces can improve physical, social and mental health. Whether your garden is large or small, there’s plenty of scope to transform your outdoor space into a beautiful tranquil retreat that not only adds value to your property but also improves everyday living and wellbeing.
The key to making the most of your garden (whatever size it may be) is to think of it as an extension to your home and consider how you want to use the space (somewhere to eat, relax, play, explore or work in perhaps).
If you are happy with the structure you already have you could enlist the help of a landscape gardener to maintain the space and enhance the existing planting. Or if you want to maximise your space (and have a budget to do this) you could consider commissioning a garden designer or landscape architect who can undertake garden projects on a big or small scale, taking into account any challenges that might affect the design, as well as opportunities for improving and enhancing the space. Ask them to provide references and check if they are accredited to leading trade organisations such as the British Association of Landscape Industries (www.bali.org.uk/home) or the Society of Garden Designers (www.sgd.org.uk/).
Chartered landscape architect Katherine Craine, who lives and works in the Cotswolds, says: “Large or small, if designed well the outdoor space can add significant value, not just monetarily to the property, but can vastly improve standards of living and personal wellbeing.
“As time goes by, with good maintenance and love, and unlike some indoor home improvements, the value of the outdoor space literally goes on growing.
“When choosing what to do with your space, think about the things you need (such as a dining area, seating, lighting, shade, colour, garden studio, outdoor workspace, or compost bin) and then think about how these pieces fit together. Think about the way you circulate through your space (for example entrances and destinations) and how to make it beautiful and fascinating to you, your family and friends, and the wildlife that would probably like to share it with you.”
Bring a touch of the Mediterranean to your garden with some alfresco dining on a warm sunny day. Create an outdoor dining area taking into account where the sun and shade will be during the day, particularly at meal times, and the surrounding view. Invest in some new garden furniture and include some provision for lighting (either mains or solar powered) to add a warm glow to your dining area on long summer evenings. Use lush planting to create a sense of enclosure and intimacy and plant some evening scented plants like honeysuckle or star jasmine.
If you are considering installing a work studio in your garden think carefully about where you position your workspace in terms of light and shelter. You will probably need an electricity supply so consider where this will come from too.
Katherine, who is accredited with the Landscape Institute (https://my.landscapeinstitute.org/directory), says: “It’s very easy to mole cables through the garden from the house with the help of a qualified electrician but carefully check where existing underground services might be first.
“There are a whole host of ‘off the shelf’ studio/garden building options on the market. Decide on the size you’d like and remember to choose something that will stand up to the weather. Be bold and go for something elevated in a tree or over a bridge of a water feature, make it difficult to find if you can and if not make it beautiful.”
Fill your garden with plants and flowers (you can use container pots if you don’t have a large space) to provide colour and interest throughout the year. Or plant a wildflower meadow, this is a good alternative to lawns and borders and will encourage butterflies and bees.
Create a vegetable patch – you don’t need a large space to do this and it’s easy to grow your own delicious veg and herbs to use in the kitchen. For more advice visit the RHS website www.rhs.org.uk/advice/beginners-guide/vegetable-basics/planning-a-vegetable-garden.
Being outdoors is good for the mind, body and soul and with a bit of careful planning, even the smallest of outdoor spaces can become a beautiful and functional extension of your home that will bring you and your family much joy for years to come.