9 easy ways to turn your garden into the ultimate outdoor living space

Whether you have a small patio or large backyard, these nine ideas make it easy to transform your garden from overlooked eyesore to open-air living space

1. Get outside more

If you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor space, no matter how petite, make it your aim to use it more this year. Do whatever it takes to create areas that will entice you outside, whether it’s placing a lovely bench under a tree for quiet contemplation, sowing a gorgeous lawn to lie on or building a gently trickling water feature to sit beside. Even the smallest changes such as removing clutter and adding a few pots of scented shrubs will turn that average balcony or deck into an alluring, restful retreat.

2. Playtime

There’s all kinds of research indicating that our disconnection from nature is wreaking havoc on our mental health, so fill your days with lots of outdoor play for the whole family. If you have a lawn try out some new ball games or rediscover an old favourite. Use paved areas for outdoor chess or checkers, gravelled courtyards for pétanque, and utilise a sturdy tree to support a treehouse or climbing frame.

3. Get sustainable

Most of us are already adopting greener methods in our gardens but why not make a pledge to make yours even more sustainable this year? There are plenty of options including starting a compost heap or worm farm, using plantation-grown timber for your new deck, reducing your use of chemical sprays or using grey water to irrigate the garden. If that all sounds too hard, start with a small project such as making your own seed-growing punnets from old egg cartons.

4. Think small

Eating your greens takes on a whole new dimension when you’ve grown them yourself. As well as being grown organically (if you’re able to avoid using chemicals), they’ll be much fresher and more nutritious than store-bought ones. Don’t let a lack of space put you off – overseas trends indicate that small-scale food-growing will be big this year, and there’s a raft of growing kits and pods already on the market, many with self-watering systems.

5. Add light

Whether it’s candles, lanterns or the latest outdoor fittings, lighting adds an extra dimension to garden rooms. These days, garden lighting is no longer just about practicalities, it’s a must-have aesthetic feature for style-savvy home owners. You may like to think about investing in solar lighting, which is rapidly improving in look and functionality, with some innovative garden products now available.

6. Remember the bees

Don’t just stick to fail-safe shrubs and succulents – plant lots of flowers as well. They may need a little more work but the colour and variety of flowering plants will make your spirits soar and you’ll be providing nectar and pollen for our threatened bee populations. Remember, old-fashioned flower species are generally more nectar-rich than newer varieties.

7. Plant a tree

Do your bit for the planet this year by planting a tree, even if it’s just a lemon tree in a pot. Trees help to reduce ozone levels in urban areas and sequester carbon, helping to remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the air. No room outside? Grow a tree – such as a weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) – inside and it will help clean the air of toxins such as formaldehyde.

8. Take your seat

The best way to encourage use of outdoor spaces is to create beautiful and comfortable places to sit. Before you splash out on flash barbecues or outdoor fireplaces, make seating a priority for your garden this year. If there’s somewhere comfortable to sit, you’ll feel more inclined to stay outside long enough to justify those other big-ticket items. And don’t settle for one place in the garden – if you have room, place chairs, benches (homemade is good) and hammocks in various spots to lure friends and family further out into the garden. If there’s a reason for the seating to be there, such as a nice view, piece of art or a lovely tree, all the better to encourage lingering.

9. Mow less, relax more

Leave your inner control freak at the back door and aim to create a more relaxing garden. The trend towards wilder gardens means it’s okay to leave mowing the lawn a little longer so wildflowers such as buttercups, wild carrot and daisies can emerge.

Not only will your garden look more romantic, the kids, butterflies and bees will love it, as will the grass itself, as longer blades shade the roots during summer. Mow paths through this mini meadow for access and to create contrast with the longer grass. If a romantic meadow is not your style, consider laying artificial lawn. Some of the new products on the market are so convincing, it’s hard to distinguish faux turf from real grass.

Words by: Carol Bucknell.

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