Make better use of your garden in 2015 – as an extra space to work, rest or play

If you’re a horticultural expert, your garden planning for 2015 may focus on planting – new colour schemes or varieties to experiment with, or some ideas you picked up at a gardening show like Chelsea. But for many people, garden planning is more about lifestyle choices than botanical ones:

  • how to turn the garden into a living or entertaining space, rather than an expanse of slightly neglected lawn, and
  • how to utilise the space in your garden for hobbies, storage or work.

But I don’t know anything about gardening ….”

Don’t be intimidated by horticulture jargon or garden design experts. Making better use of your garden can save you the expense and upheaval of moving home, or having an extension built. It can also open up new hobbies, interests or sources of income, so it’s a worthy investment of some creative energy.

There is also a huge choice of affordable garden buildings, to be used as anything from breakfast room to the birthplace of a business empire. And even having a cramped city garden doesn’t preclude outdoor living, because there are solutions specifically designed for small backyards, such as corner summer houses that maximise the space available.

Five easy ways to make your garden more interesting

We all have easy options for garden living, and it’s relatively simple to transform your garden without knowing a huge amount about design or plants.

  1. Introducing themes, such as a Chinese or North African design, can be done easily and cheaply with garden furniture, containers and lighting.
  2. Breaking up the space into ‘rooms’, by using screens, trellises, pergolas or planting is effective no matter how small the garden. It’s more than interesting than having a rectangular lawn, and it can make a garden more child-friendly; some zones ‘belong’ to the kids and can house a trampoline or playframe, others can be used for plants that would otherwise be flattened by rogue footballs.
  3. Outdoor rattan or wicker sofas and loungers are more comfortable than traditional wooden chairs and benches, and can transform a patio into an extra sitting room.
  4. If you don’t like gardening or lying on a sun lounger, introduce more things you can do in the garden. A hot tub, with a gazebo to provide privacy or shelter from sun and rain. A weatherproof table tennis table that folds up when not in use. Or a garden room where you can do anything from painting to yoga.
  5. Decking, gravel and artificial turf are lower-maintenance ground surfaces than the traditional lawn, and more practical underfoot if you want to use the garden as an extra living space.

Add your own garden retreat or workspace

Garden buildings are an easy and quick option for transforming a garden into an extra living, entertaining or business space. A summer house or garden room is durable and sturdy, if you maintain the wood properly, and cheaper than a bricks and mortar extension. A garden office is more flexible and convenient than renting commercial space, and can easily convert into a games room, personal gym, art studio, storage or sleepover space at a later date.

Traditional style summer house designs still look wonderful in some gardens and make a great backdrop for entertaining. But if Downton Abbey is not your thing, there are more 21st-century garden building designs, with sleek lines, geometric shapes and modern door and window styles. They complement the elements and materials (such as smooth concrete and steel) popular in modern garden design.

Spaces to chill without the chill

The summer house of previous years could be a chilly place. Draughts sneaked in through doors, floors and roofs, and for much of the year there was a slight smell of damp. No more. High-quality timber, better insulation and construction methods mean that even in cold climates affordable garden cabins can be used comfortably all year round, if you buy carefully:

  • look for timber grown in cold, Nordic climates – the trees grow more slowly, so the wood is denser and better insulated
  • in the UK climate, cabins made from 34mm timber should be warm enough to eat, relax or work in during spring as well as summer. Cabins with 40mm or 70mm logs should be suitable for all-year-round use.
  • double-glazed windows also provide extra insulation and protection from draughts.

Rugs and wall hangings can provide extra insulation against draughts and cold. They can also add ‘psychological’ warmth – a summer house with wall hangings and soft furnishings in deep, rich colours and woollen rugs or kilims underfoot can provide a great space to entertain or relax in winter or autumn as well as summer.

And finally, if you go for an interior design theme inside a garden building, continue it into the surrounding garden. Garden living is about merging your interior and exterior spaces, seeing them as a continuation of each other – whatever the weather.