Now the weather’s finally getting warmer, and you can spend more time outside, thoughts always turn to making sure that the garden furniture, patio areas and pots are all looking good for the summer. Hard surfaces will always benefit from a good spring clean with the help of a pressure washer as, depending on the aspect, a thin layer of dirt and algae will have accumulated over the winter. Even dirty hardwood furniture will come up looking like new after a blast from the pressure washer! Pots may need a scrub too, before planting up for the summer. So you may be reading this thinking that your paving needs more than a spring clean, and that it’s actually time to replace your existing patio, or, install a brand new one somewhere, so where do you start? The main considerations are choosing the right site within your garden and selecting the most suitable materials for construction.
As far as the site is concerned I always like to incorporate more than one sitting area into a garden if space permits, usually somewhere to catch the early morning sun, and hopefully sometimes have breakfast, and another area that would be designed for evening use – this would be your ‘outdoor dining room.’ Why not consider having a ‘secret’ sitting area, secluded behind screens, trellis or tall plantings, this is a really good option if your garden is overlooked by neighbouring properties, and although it’s nice to get a blast of warm morning or evening sunshine it’s also good to have somewhere to relax in dappled shade too.
Your outdoor dining room will be best if it’s not too far from the kitchen, but if it is consider using a nearby existing outbuilding to fit out with a mini kitchen. Lighting is important too, so that you can relax even after the sun goes down, and your choice of light fittings can suit the style that you wish to create, whether it’s formal, relaxed or contemporary. Most important though is to give yourself enough space, you should be able to walk around the outdoor furniture without tripping over pots or stepping onto garden areas, and great consideration should be given to steps and any changes in levels.
The choice of your hard landscaping materials should reflect the style that you have chosen for your garden, consider the architecture and period of your house when making your decision too. It’s also worth looking at local materials, particularly if your house is constructed from the same type of stone, however, you will usually find that most real stone products available are imported from around the globe, but the advantage with this is that the price of real stone has come down considerably. Try to visit a specialist paving centre, where you can see displays of products laid as patios, and then arrange to take samples home to make your final selection. An integral part of a well designed garden is the having the right balance of different surfaces, Most gardens will comprise of an arrangement of lawn, gravel and hard surfaces such as paving or decking, so always consider the whole garden when planning a new area, maybe repeating a material already used elsewhere to give continuity.
After furniture, all hard landscaped areas benefit greatly from some well positioned pots. Pots and other containers provide an opportunity for seasonal colour and interest, and may be used as focal points or to frame a view, or flank an entrance. Very large pots or urns are usually best left unplanted, the pot itself is the star, and is being used as a sculptural element. The choice of pots or containers is very much about personal preference, but really they should follow the same style as your outdoor area. Painted wooden planters, often referred to as ‘Versailles Planters’ are quite smart and formal, whilst terracotta pots may be used formally or informally. I would always recommend that pots in one area should all match each other, and if planted the plantings should match too. Always buy good quality, frostproof pots, they may be more expensive to start but will outlast cheaper alternatives by years, if not decades! The larger the individual pot the better too, it’s best to have fewer, larger pots than a clutter of smaller ones. Large pots make more of a statement in their own right, and provide a greater volume of soil for plants to grow in, thus giving a better floral display as well.
Planting possibilities for pots are endless, from traditional summer favourite mixtures of Pelargoniums (‘Geraniums’), Fuchsias and Petunias to more formal alternatives. If you are opting for a summer floral display try limiting the amount of plant varieties and repeat the same mixture in each pot, this gives a much stronger impact. Also consider a colour scheme such as all white flowers, or just plant for foliage effect. The Peppermint Geranium, Pelargonium tomentosum, is a favourite choice of mine for this type of planting.
For a more formal look with permanent plantings use clipped box, or in mild areas, clipped bay. Camellias also look good and will give you winter or spring flowers depending on the variety, surprisingly they respond well to a light clipping with secateurs after flowering.
Other less formal permanent plantings include evergreen grasses, Lavenders and Phormiums, again just choosing one variety and making an impact by repeating it in every pot.
So now’s the time to cast a critical eye over your outdoor rooms, and do any spring cleaning or refurbishments as required, so you can sit back and relax this summer.
Images by Richard Lucas