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Reinvent your garden

Jardin looking a bit 'meh'? Time to think big! Don't be scared - we'll show you how to Grand Designs your outside space like a pro.

I’m plonked on a sun-lounger, gazing around my garden as a write (the benefits of self-employment, eh?). While it’s a lovely spot, I tend to just leave it to do its own thing, bar a bit of watering and mowing. It’s interesting how many of us will spend, say, £20k on a kitchen but balk at coughing up to reinvent our exterior spaces.

The Muddy lawn, pre-drought

Maybe it’s a lack of confidence or vision in what is possible. Landscaping your garden sounds like something that’s the preserve of stately home owners but, actually, whatever the size of your patch, it can be improved with a bit of thought and planning.

Simon Murfitt, founder of landscaping, design and maintenance experts The Oxfordshire Gardener (clients include Blur bassist turned Kingham cheesemeister Alex James) came over to my house a few weeks back to give me some advice on how I can improve my space when I eventually get my hands on some money (though I have to be honest, my mother’s in worryingly fine fettle). Below are some of his ideas, but if you actually have some to invest in a beautiful garden space, get him around to give you some bespoke words of wisdom – he’s super-friendly and a real pro. Over to you Simon.

 

ENTER YOUR OUTDOOR LIVING ROOM

A plain old driveway transformed into an edible garden

If you currently think of your garden as the place you plonk your laundry airers and have to mow once in a while then it’s time to think again. We make home improvements to make the space more liveable and add value – we should apply that same thought process to our gardens. There’s a million and one things you can do and it’s all about making your landscape much more ‘liveable’. In the same way that kitchen diners and open plan areas revolutionised the way we live in our houses, it’s worth thinking in really practical, aspirational ways about how we can really ‘live’ in our gardens and exploit them as a space.

So many ways to do this from large to small scale – like an architect, garden designers will often ‘see’ your garden in a way you perhaps haven’t. It might be something radical like creating separate zones or using a large water feature, but it’s not necessarily a massive hard landscaping job that you need. It might be more about creating vistas. For example, are there walls around the edges of your garden that could be used to train espalier fruit trees? Cluster pots, troughs, vintage watering cans and lanterns to create something lovely to look at.

Placing grasses, for instance Stipa Gigantica, in line of sight adds interest throughout year, as it sways in the wind prairie-style and, when frost-covered, adds a little drama to an otherwise dormant garden. Well-placed evergreens also keep the garden from looking empty, while shrubs with berries will provide autumn colour. Swathes of narcissus bulbs naturalising in the distance look great when viewed from the house as yellows really catch the eye – plan a succession of bulbs now for planting this autumn. And edible gardens are popular at the moment, especially for city dwellers, with many of our central Oxford clients asking for seating area designs including lighting, raised planters, herberies and climbers. We’re massive fans of kitchen gardens (we manage the one we created in the pic above for its owners) – everyone cares about the provenance of their food, we’re all trying to boost veg levels in our diet and there are zero food miles or plastic packaging involved. Plus once you’ve eaten a sweet, ripe home-grown tomato, you’ll never go back.

 

THINK BEYOND SUMMER

We associate pottering around in the garden with the warmer months of course, but a good garden will work for you all year round. If you’ve got a large space, how about adding a stand-alone office or conservatory? This would provide colour, interest, warmth – and mean you’ll venture outside in the frozen months. Or consider open-sided/fronted wooden structures such as generous roofed pergolas or verandahs. These can be designed to suit any garden big or small, and with a variety of finishes, from the rough-sawn rustic to the smooth-planed contemporary.

On a smaller scale, check out sleeper floors – where sleepers are laid level within a lawn – for sitting out in areas further away from the house. These areas could be sheltered with arbours or surrounded by raised beds, creating a hidden retreat for a cup of hot chocolate in the milky winter morning sun. And create usable pathways around your garden, with stone paviours or self-binding gravel, to make access in the colder months easier.

 

MAKE IT MULTI-GENERATIONAL

If you make the space work for everyone in your family then hopefully you’ll spend a lot more time together. So you could build a Wendy house for little ones in eyeline of the house so you can keep an eye on them. A covered table tennis table area for teens. An outdoor cooking area housing the BBQ and pizza oven for menfolk who are mad for outdoor cooking. Not forgetting a bench in quiet, sunshine-y spot so you can escape the lot of them and read the Sunday papers. Just make sure you zone each space so you’re not tripping over each other.

 

ACCESSORIES ARE EVERYTHING

With this heatwave not going anywhere how about installing a hammock? Not only are they obviously divine to loll around in, they give you a completely different view of your garden. Speaking of outdoor furniture, ensure you give it as much consideration as you do when buying a new sofa for your living room. Don’t just head to Homebase and buy the first reduced raffia set you see. Think about style and colour, size, durability, comfort, location, use (do you want a table to eat your dinner from or put your coffee cup on?).

When it comes to finishing touches, vintage-style accessories remain big news – retro containers and planters, Victorian-style garden mirrors, even chandeliers placed on low-hanging tree-branches or suspended above seating areas. And what about a firebowl? These are another a huge trend right now. They’re another good way to make your outside space autumn/winter-friendly as they throw off some serious heat. They come in a variety of sizes and tend to sit at shoulder height (when you’re seated) so there’s no need to bend over to toast your marshmallows. We work with an interior designer so can source everything if you want the whole hassle taken off your hands but some people love to do the shopping themselve and that’s fine.

[Editor’s note from Hero: start at Rosara for the best value outdoor furniture and accessories, or pick off the best of the high street – we discovered amazing retro, bright, and comfy Homebase outdoor chairs last week for £38 each!]

 

DO YOUR RESEARCH

My Instagram inspiration includes Christian Horgan, an award-winning photographer who shoots incredible landscapes (among other subjects) solely on his iPhone and Tom Stuart Smith, a leading landscape gardener. He designed the walled garden at Broughton Grange, the country estate near Banbury, which is private but open to the public on Wednesdays. I’d recommend a wander around there to get your creative juices flowing.

The Garden Barn, Kirtlington Business Centre, Kirtlington, Oxfordshire OX5 3JA. theoxfordshiregardener.co.uk

 

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