A bit of a professional first for me this month. I have stepped outside.
This is the space I was tasked with improving. Not only was the patio rather tired but what perhaps isn't clear by this photo is that it was laid on a slope- no use to anyone other than those on roller skates. Plates slid off a table and the rain water pooled at the bottom.
The first thing to do was to level it out. We created 3 different levels to combat the change in height which varied by about 600mm from the top by the lawn to the bottom. This gave the space more interest than a single level and clearly defined 3 areas which were to become; the access to the space, a dining area that can seat comfortably up to 10 people and a small seating area. A pergola above the dining area further helped define the space and added more interest at a height. It will also allow bit of shelter from the rain, sun and wind in the future with the use of climbing plants and a canvas or willow screening.
Then came the finishing. I am no gardener- far from it. So this was a project more about style than plants. It's a cliche but I really did treat the space as an extension to the home and employed all the same skills and techniques I would within the home.
Here are my top tips for creating a great indoor/outdoor space.
1. Floor Finishes
Many of us are happy to make a decision between decking and a stone patio but the consideration shouldn't stop there. Add interest and define a space by throwing down a rug. Rugs add colour, pattern and interest at ground level and can be laid as you would inside to break up a large area. Borrow a rug from inside (just remember it probably won't be suitable to stay out all night so bring it in) and spread it across a patio, or source a rug specially designed for outside that you can leave 24-7.
2. Furniture Garden furniture design has come a long way in recent years with a huge choice which goes beyond teak sets and plastic tables, so shop around until you find a style that represents you and your home. This may not necessarily be from a specific garden centre or retailer but do make sure it is suitable for outdoor use and unless you have the storage space, can be left out all year round. Don’t stop at a dining table and chairs either. If you have the space, create an outdoor sitting room. Plan out and approach your exterior space just as you would a room inside. Arrange it like a sitting room by positioning armchairs around a coffee table and a firepit or chimenea to prolong the time you can use it- later into the night or on cooler Spring and Autumn evenings.
Just as a room in your home wouldn't be complete without accessories, artwork and all the objects of our lives, neither is your patio. Give your guests lots to look at by using planting and pots to add texture, height and interest just as you would artwork, vases, family pictures and objects of interest. Chose a variety of shapes, height and coloured plants to add texture and interest. Scatter some cushions too. A big floor cushion is a versatile addition to the garden. They can be picked up and moved easily, and are particularly appealing to kids and teens.
4. Colour Palette
Consideration of your colour palette is just as important outside as it is inside. Here I have kept the colour palette quite restricted using blues and greys throughout the planting, pots and furniture. You needn't be as restricted. If you have an eclectic feel in your home, carry this mix of colours, textures and pattern outside but do it consciously rather than going into a garden centre and just buying up all those brightly coloured plants. Mix it up with colourful, patterned textiles, candle holders and plant pots. Bring the colour ethos of your interior out for a cohesive "extension" to your home.
Lighting is hugely important both inside and out. Its function is 2 fold. The first is to provide functional, task lighting and the second and just as important is to add atmosphere and drama. I always recommend a mix of sources for the best, most adaptable solution inside and the same rings true for outside. Use lighting to create a mood and add it at different heights to give the eye something to look at. The suspended tealight holders work as a pendent light fitting would over a table, adding interest at eye level whilst the fairy lights above on the pergola add another height dimension that is more difficult to achieve in a garden where the sky is the limit.