Outdoor Living In The Winter – Is It Possible?*
With winter just around the corner, there is a definite chill to the air. It’s astonishing how quickly the seasons change, it doesn’t seem five minutes have gone by since we were spending, long hot sunny days in the garden. With winter weather on it’s way, we will more likely be found getting cosy in front of the fire with a hot chocolate. With space being at a premium in most people’s homes, the space lost from not being able to use the garden in the winter is a shame. There has been much research undertaken regarding the benefits of being outdoors, natural daylight is a mood enhancer, fresh air is good for our respiratory system and the vitamin D gained from sunshine is needed for good health. Is there a way of using our gardens more in the winter? With a little creativity it is entirely possible.
The key to using your garden year round is to treat it like another room in the house. Your home should connect and flow into your garden. Even if you only treat the area close to your doors as an extra room it will help its usage. To connect your home with your garden you will need to consider some kind of shelter from the elements. You could consider installing an opening roof over your patio area, which will protect you from rain and be retracted when it’s sunny. You could also consider installing bi folding connection to the outdoors. A glass conservatory connecting the garden would also be a nice option.
Sit down with the rest of the family and draw up a list of what everyone’s expectations are from the garden. Do you want a play area for the kids, a chill out zone for the teens and a seating area for the adults? Do you have pets to accommodate and where does the sun set and rise?
Building and structural work
Look at your garden as a blank canvas and clear away any unwanted structures, equipment, plants and trees. You will then be able to clearly view the space you have and start to draw up plans. In your seating areas you may wish to consider the type of flooring and shade. Build structures such as pergolas, sheds, summer houses and garden rooms. Make sure the garden is level and construct steps to connect different levels.
Consider shelter and heating options, which are essential for year round use. Electric or gas heaters could be installed or opt for a traditional fire pit, fuelled by wood. Shelter could be provided by a summer house or a retractable roof.
All rooms have a particular atmosphere, the dipped lighting of a lounge induces relaxation, whilst bright lighting in the kitchen promotes creativity. Lighting is therefore essential in your garden and it will really contribute to creating a relaxing, warm atmosphere as the sun sets. Electrical lighting can be easily installed by an electrician and don’t forget the wonderful atmospheric effect of candlelight. You could even add candles infused with essential oils to calm the senses and deter any pesky bugs.
For your garden to feel connected with your home it is a good idea to continue any internal decor to the outside. Perhaps you could paint a wall or fence in the same colour as the room connecting your garden. Use wall art in your garden as you would in your home, mosaics look amazing and maybe consider adding a water feature. This will all add to the “room like”effect. With all the effort made with the walls and lighting ensure that the effect isn’t spoiled by poor flooring. Choose decking or tiles and make sure everything is clean. It is possible to purchase garden rugs, which will add a hint of cosiness.
To add interest to the garden area consider adding a focus. This could be in the form of a statement sculpture or plant, a tree or water feature, all of which will be pleasing on the senses as well as on the eye. Accentuate the statement piece with clever use of lighting
For your outdoor space to be used as a room in which to relax, comfort is key. Try to purchase really good quality furniture, which is sturdy enough to withstand the weather. Make the seating more comfortable by using cushions and throws. A table will be essential for alfresco dining, reading a book or as somewhere to rest your mug of hot chocolate. If space is at a premium purchase a table which can be folded away when not in use.
What to grow
Flowers, plants and trees are essential in your outdoor room, it is their natural habitat afterall! Plants and trees are excellent for providing structure and shade. Choose plants which offer year round interest and try to create a display which holds interest throughout all the seasons. With a bit of research you will find out plants which have attractive berries during autumn and winter, there are even scented plants which come into their own during the colder months. Bulbs can be planted for a welcome splash of colour in the spring and there are many choices of plants for long hot sunny days.
All five senses
Try to create a room which connects to all five of a person’s senses. The sense of smell can be stimulated by planting scented flowers and herbs. Often the modern strains of flowers are lacking in perfume, go back to the more traditional variety and your sense of smell will be delighted! Sweet peas, stocks and lavender are all examples of plants which have a wonderful sense as well as pretty flower.
The sense of sight will be attracted by the plants you are growing, your wall art and statement piece. Your garden will be more attractive to relax in, even in the darkest of winter days, if it looks good.
Your sense hearing could be accommodated with sounds from your water feature, birds, insects and maybe you could consider installing a sound system into your garden, if your neighbours don’t mind!
By growing herbs, vegetables and fruits your sense of taste will be stimulated. There is nothing more wonderful than eating a strawberry or tomato straight from the plant. In winter, herbs will provide a welcome addition to warming stews, soups and casseroles or even tasted straight from the plant.
Your sense of touch will be used constantly with the feel of the cool water from your water feature, the softness of your furnishings and the flowers and leaves from plants.
Whilst you may not relish the prospect of wasps ruining your alfresco dining, a world without wildlife is a depressing prospect. Many of our gardens are becoming sterile areas with no “wildness” areas which is conducive to our native animals habitat. The overuse of pesticides and weed killers have had an alarming effect on our native species and animals such as hedgehogs need all the help they can get.
Hedgehogs are fantastic for keeping down the slug population in the garden, but unfortunately if they eat a slug which has eaten a slug pellet, the effect on the hedgehog can be catastrophic. Also our bee population is in decline, which is not only a problem for the honey industry. Bees contribute to the production of food on a global scale, without them there could be a huge worldwide food shortage.
Consider leaving part of your garden in a “wild” state. Leave some piles of leaves for small creatures to hibernate in, feed the birds and consider making a “bee hotel”. A garden teeming with wildlife will add lots on interest to your garden room.
Construct a garden room
If the thought of spending time outdoors in the winter doesn’t appeal, you could get a similar effect by constructing a garden room. A garden room is a stand alone structure which can be built and situated somewhere in your garden. They are fully insulated with power and can even have plumbing installed. The rooms provide a connection with the outdoors without actually being outside!
Many people use garden rooms as a home office and have internet and phone lines installed. You could also use the space as a home gym, hair salon, beauty parlour or simply a place to unwind at the end of a hard day. Teenagers would really appreciate the space to chill out with their mates. Retreating tro your garden room is almost like going out, but isn’t! It’s a space to get away from your busy “to do” list.
To conclude, in our climate it’s important to think a little out of the box in order to create an outdoor lifestyle. We are not blessed with year round wall to wall sunshine, but we can spend cosy evenings wrapped up, warming our hands around the firepit. Being in the great outdoors is good for us, so get your thinking cap on and discover how your garden could be used year round!