After a year of lockdowns, it’s hardly surprising we’ve been looking to enhance our outdoor living and entertaining areas.
According to a survey by home design platform Houzz.co.uk, 36 per cent of renovating homeowners now plan to upgrade their gardens, inspired by the pandemic.
“We’ve seen a spike in interest for outdoor projects, with enquiries rising by 116 per cent in January, compared to the same period of 2020,” explains Houzz editor, Amanda Pollard. “Our gardens have provided sanctuary throughout the pandemic and as restrictions begin to lift, homeowners are searching for solutions that are beautiful and functional to maximise theirs.”
Here’s what’s piquing our interest…
1. The fifth room
Gardens have grown into another room, essentially, with spaces set up for cooking, dining, relaxing and socialising. Recent photos uploaded to Houzz feature cosy garden seating areas with unexpected furnishings. These include rugs, floor cushions and 2021’s hottest garden accessory, the hanging chair.
Comfortable garden sofas, layered cushions and heaters are also helping create spaces to enjoy throughout summer, and even into the cooler months.
“We’re seeing a rise in clients who see their garden as an extension of their home, and want it to reflect their interior style. Luckily, outdoor furniture design has come a long way in recent years, with more stylish options and better weatherproof fabrics available,” says Chris Harrington of Harrington Porter, a garden designer on Houzz. “The technology for outdoor speakers and heaters has also improved, so gardens can be used further into the evening.”
It’s set to be the year of the pergola, with searches on Houzz dramatically increasing in popularity. “If you want to create an inviting outdoor living space, you’ll likely need shade to do it,” says Pollard. “A pergola is a relatively quick and affordable solution. These simple shade structures, which can be built and installed by a professional in a day or two, provide adequate shade for dining, lounging and other outdoor activities.”
As landscape designer Patricia Tyrrell, of Living Landscapes, points out: “From framing views to creating welcome shade and supporting climbing and twining plants, pergolas can play many roles in a garden. A vertical structure not only adds another dimension to your garden, it can act as a subtle screen, particularly if you’re overlooked by neighbouring properties. With simple wire trellis attached to the uprights, or overhead, and some well-placed planting, you can create a private space away from the world.”
With a focus on outdoor socialising, households are looking for ways to extend the use of their gardens into the evening too. “Lighting is key to creating a space that works equally as well in the evening, with searches for ‘garden lighting’ spiking in popularity,” says Pollard.
And the options are endless – from strings of solar-powered festoon lanterns, to built-in ground-level spotlights and everything in-between. For permanent options needing mains powered electricity, make sure you find an electrician.
The pros on Houzz also advise considering the mood you want to achieve, with bright white a good option if you’re after a well-lit space, and warm white a better option if you’re hoping to create a soft glow. “Do consider wildlife when you’re planning your outdoor lighting,” adds Pollard. “Use it sparingly and only when you need it, and switch it all off when you head indoors.”
4. Multifunctional gardens
Gardens now have many jobs, from places to work or exercise and spots to eat, relax and socialise with friends. With so many activities now taking place, professionals on Houzz say their clients are more frequently requesting gardens with clear zoning.
Worried about summer socials becoming a wash out if it rains? Cuckooland (cuckooland.com) has an Alvantor Pop-Up PVC Bubble Tent, with an entrance door that can be rolled up to let the fresh air in but keep raindrops out.
If you’re looking to break it up into different areas, try adding interesting contrasts by using different materials for each section, or varying the planting. Screens are another popular tool to add privacy, creating more secluded spots, perfect for dining.
Purpose-built garden rooms are also becoming more popular. For many, more flexibility in working from home means finding longer-term solutions to carve out dedicated workspaces, so garden rooms are a great option for this. They typically don’t require planning permission, however it’s always advisable to check.
“Make sure you know where you stand in relation to planning permission,” says Martin Lawson, of Swift Garden Rooms. “The majority of projects are possible without a full planning application, but there are many exceptions. When you’re making a significant investment, you owe it to yourself not to risk a knock on the door from a planning enforcement officer.”
An ode to joy, Nick Taylor of BOWA, a garden rooms specialist on Houzz, says they’re seeing a lot of enquiries from people wanting to create a space for entertaining: “Some are interested in the idea of BBQ rooms, or simply places to hang out and enjoy the garden from.”
They’ve also received enquiries from people needing office space, but often the brief will be to accommodate a mixed use, with gyms that feature a small workstation, or full offices with space for an exercise bike and weights. “It feels like we’re only starting to wake up to the potential in our gardens for improving our day-to-day life,” says Taylor.
Garden designers say their clients are moving towards more green planting schemes, with big leafy plants, ferns, palms and grasses popular on recent projects. Along with adding drama, using them in strategic points provides much-needed privacy, especially in an urban garden. Leaves usually last longer than blooms, meaning planting will look good for months or even, with the right choices, all year.
However, you still need to care for them. “These plants may look low-maintenance but they’ll need some upkeep,” says Harrington.
Planters and pots are a great option for smaller spaces. Try opting for various heights, sizes and styles to add interest to patio areas – and watch your mini garden grow.