Garden Leisure

A garden that is well planned and laid out should not only look beautiful, but should also be convenient and enjoyable for all the family to use. If your garden is really to become an ‘outdoor room’, then everything should be on hand to induce you to simply step outside to spend your leisure time, rather than driving long distances away from home.

Of course, you may not be able to afford to equip your patio in the manner of a smart dining room, but any investment you do make should prove well worthwhile. Relaxation in your own garden is a unique experience, for there you can not only enjoy looking at the fruits of your labours. Your garden can become a personal, private sanctuary — a peaceful haven for a few hours, away from the bustle of everyday working life.

Relaxation can take many forms. For some, nothing helps them to unwind more than the hard work of gardening. It becomes a positive pleasure, rather than a chore, to cut the grass or dig over the vegetable plot, and it’s certainly good exercise! For others, their idea of heaven is sitting back in a chair listening to the birds singing and the hum of life quietly going by. If this appeals, the first obvious requirement is that the chair in which you sit should be a comfortable one.

But comfort is not the sole consideration. If the garden is seen as outdoor living space, then the furniture and accessories should, as we have said before, complement the design and mood of the layout, and the style of your house, just as you would expect them to do indoors. Indoors you have complete control over setting the scene, but in the garden there is an added dimension, for the appearance of the furniture should blend with natural surroundings, and not create too harsh a contrast to plants and decorative features.

Garden furniture

Chairs made from collapsible tubular metal with striped canvas or nylon may be about the cheapest form of outdoor furniture, but they are not really very satisfying to look at.

When considering your choice of outdoor furniture, decide whether you are likely to use the garden for sunbathing or snoozing, to sit and read, to take jobs and activities like sewing or sketching outdoors, or for outdoor meals.

If you plan to spend a lot of time sunbathing, perhaps a sun lounger would be the most appropriate choice of furniture; this can be taken outdoors as required.

However, for most families an outdoor set of table and chairs that are always readily available for use would be a more practical proposition. This means the selection of a material that can be left permanently outdoors; perhaps only the cushions need to be taken in to protect from bad weather.

Treated timber is, of course, weatherproof, and it blends with almost any outdoor setting, being a natural material. A simple, fairly rugged rustic style would best suit an informal layout or a country garden. Most good garden centres and large stores have a selection of slatted, stained or varnished timber tables and chairs or stools. Wood is often a very expensive material, but prices vary and it is possible to find something reasonably priced that is nevertheless quite durable.

Several manufacturers market a ‘picnic table’ unit with integral benches, and this can be good value, although less flexible than a separate table and chairs. For the more sophisticated town garden, painted timber is rather stylish. This is usually sold painted white, but you could have fun painting the furniture in a colour to complement your garden scheme. Plastic, too, is weatherproof, and we feel that it is best used to make furniture in simple, modern, moulded forms. There has been a boom in plastic coated metal furniture in Victorian-style patterns during the last few years, but this seems to be less popular now.

The intricate Victorian patterns can blend nicely into a garden setting since they are so often based on leaf and flower designs. The original pieces were probably made in cast iron, at a time when the use of solid metal was popular and widespread. However, light- weight aluminium has become a more acceptable modern material for its dual benefits of lower cost and easier manouvreability.

Co-ordinating accessories

If you are going to use the garden for outdoor meals, why not co-ordinate all your accessories. This need not involve a great deal of extra expense — merely the exercising of imagination and care when buying. For instance, if you have upholstered chairs with your table and plan on buying a large parasol to shade the table and protect food from direct sunlight, ensure that the fabric of the parasol either matches that of the upholstery, or picks out a single colour in the pattern. In this way, the entire setting will look as though it is designed to go together, rather than the individual items having been added piecemeal, almost as an afterthought.

When it comes to the crockery that you use, you may not want to take the best china outdoors, just to make the table look nice. However, you can find low priced plastic table or picnic ware in bright, primary shades that will add a splash of colour to your table setting. The finishing touches can be added by paper napkins, also in a matching colour.

Of course, it is doubtful that you would be so enthusiastic about living graciously that you would take the trouble to ensure that the table looks exactly right every time you take a tray of tea outside. But if you have all the necessary accessories on hand, you will find that you spend more time outdoors because you can take meals out with relatively little fuss and upheaval. You may also feel more confident of inviting visiting friends and relatives to eat on the patio, in the knowledge that you are able to ‘do things properly’.

If you are a keen do-it-yourselfer, you will possibly resent paying the price charged for a set of timber furniture that you could make at less cost and without too much difficulty. Your knowledge should enable you to find ideas than can be adapted and modified from ready-made garden furniture and from specialist magazines. It can also be fun to convert items that others would regard as ‘junk’; you can still find the solid, ornate metal bases of old-fashioned sewing machines and these make a perfect small table for the garden with a timber or even marble top from an old dresser. Consider also installing ‘built in’ furniture to your patio, as an integral part of its design. This will means that a seat outdoors — either timber or stone — is always handy, thus encouraging frequent use of the garden.

Barbecues

The interest in barbecuing has obviously increased in this country, during the last few years, because an increasing number are sold every year. Nevertheless, the enjoyment of outdoor meals cooked on a barbecue can hardly be said to have become part of our way of life.

There are probably several reasons for this apparent resistance to an enjoyable activity. Firstly, we tend to be cautious of anything different, often seeing the barbecue as essentially an American activity or better suited to youth clubs and girl guides. Secondly, the weather puts us off. We tell ourselves that hot, dry weather can be relied upon so infrequently that it simply is not worth the effort.

Finally, we cannot contemplate enjoying a barcecue in the garden if we feel exposed to the view of the neighbourhood, or if our own garden is an overgrown mess or barren waste that does more to put us off our food than to further its enjoyment.

Neither of the first two objections is really valid. A barbecue can be great fun for a small group of family and friends, and we generally enjoy at least a few hot, sunny days or warm evenings in the course of the summer. As for the lack of a pleasant, sheltered garden in which to appreciate the food, this site is devoted to helping you overcome that particular problem!

The cost of buying a barbecue and the necessary accessories varies from a few pounds for a simple metal fire-bowl and grill for the table top to hundreds of pounds for a trolley-mounted grill that is powered by calor gas cylinders. Barbecue models that are portable or fold-away are also available. The basic principle is the same — the charcoal burns at a high temperature to cook the food above it on the grill. Grill heights are often adjustable, and accessories such as a rotary spit for chickens can be added. A whole range of tools and gadgets are also available, but initially you can almost certainly manage with ordinary kitchen utensils.

When positioning your barbecue, try to find a sheltered spot where the wind is blowing away from your family or guests. A further safety factor is that a lighted barbecue should never be left unattended. In any event, it is wise to have a bucket of water on hand, in case of disaster.

Charcoal can be readily obtained in pre-packs. Also obtainable are barbecue firelighters, and these should always be used in preference to paraffin and methylated spirits, which can be dangerous and spoil the taste of the food.

As regards the food for your barbecue, you will find it easier to cook only one item of each course by this method — usually the meat or fish. Have salads, sauces, bread and other accompaniments ready in advance for guests to help themselves because you will need to devote your full attention to the barbecue cooking.

Barbecued meat need not be the best steak. Try home-made beef-burgers, using good quality minced beef, lamb cutlets, hot dogs or chicken drumsticks. You should trim any excess fat from meat, since this can drip into the fire and cause a flare-up.

A built-in barbecue on the patio will always be ready for use, and add a touch of luxury. Use bricks or manufactured walling blocks (these are now available in a barbecue kit form) to build up a simple box, with adequate shelf space for charcoal and a grid built in to the top course of brickwork. This should finish at waist height, to make it convenient for cooking, and can form part of a unit with a ‘table top’ surface immediately beside it, and even a cupboard underneath for storage of charcoal and tools.

Garden lighting

Your barbecue will not be very pleasant — or safe — if everyone is groping in the dark, unable to see what they are doing. The answer to this problem is some form of garden lighting.

Lighting does not only make your garden more usable after dark, it also extends the time available to you to enjoy looking at the beautiful setting you have created. And if there are parts that you would rather not see — well, leave them in darkness. The nice thing about lighting is that you are in control, and can highlight only the most desirable features of your garden layout.

It is possible to achieve a range of effects, depending on the position of your lights. For example, if a specimen plant is lit from behind, its silhouette will be highlighted, but if it is bathed in a gentle glow from the front, the details of flowers and foliage will be picked out. These can take on an intriguingly different appearance in artificial light, due both to the colouring and the depth of light and shadow. It is also important to achieve a balance of intensity between indoor and outdoor lighting, since bright indoor lights will prevent you from seeing anything but reflections in the window.

Lighting can be a useful safety factor, showing up a step or an object that people are likely to trip over, particularly in the front garden, and beside entrances. There are several ways of illuminating the garden, some per-manent, others of a more temporary nature for a special occasion. High powered lights can be installed as permanent fixtures, but it is essential to ensure that cables are of the correct material and properly earthed and laid so that they are safe and weatherproof. Most manufacturers recommend that they should be installed by an experienced electrician.

A much simpler form of outdoor lighting is a group of low voltage lamps. These are readily available from garden centres and stores, and work on a safe, straightforward principle. A lead is connected to a convenient electrical socket indoors, and runs to a transformer, which converts the power to a very low voltage. Weatherproof cable leads from the transformer into the garden, and lamps can be fixed at any point along the cable. This can be tacked on to a wall or concealed just beneath the surface of the soil. Lamps have brackets for wall fittings or spikes for fixing in the garden.

A selection of four or five inter-changeable filters enables a choice of four colours, but it is generally most effective to stick to a colour scheme. Use either a combination of cool blue and green to highlight leaf colours (a lamp can even be concealed in a plant’s foliage) or the warmer glow of red and orange, which can pick out flower colours or the tones of brickwork.

A rock feature is always worth looking at after dark. Rocks, like plants, can take on quite a different character; a new, almost mysterious dimension is added to their appearance. One fascinating way of introducing lighting to the rock garden is in the form of ’light rocks’. These are large, artificial pebbles made from moulded, textured fibreglass. A low wattage bulb is concealed inside the mould, and a lead runs to a socket indoors. The ‘rocks’ cast a very gentle glow, and are available in varying sizes; a group provides a real talking point! A pool with waterfall or fountain looks particularly attractive with lights playing on the dancing water, and this can be achieved by positioning lamps on spikes in the ground beside the pool. However, it is possible to add an extra dimension by the use of sealed, waterproof lamps that are designed to be submerged beneath the pool water. These lamps run from a transformer on the same principle as the regular outdoor lamps, and are supplied in pairs. They cast a soft, diffused glow, again in a choice of colours, that can add a magical quality to your pool. However, we feel that it is best to avoid using a combination of many colours, since these will tend to create an effect that is more appropriate to a seaside resort.

Temporary lighting

If you are having a barbecue outdoors, or want a summer party to spill over into the garden, then it is possible to add temporary lighting for the occasion. Coloured, slow burning patio candles are sold in protective glass containers and these can either stand on a table, or hang from a tree, wall or even the washing line in a specially made bamboo holder, giving something of an oriental look to the garden.

Many outdoor candles have the added bonus of being insect repellant. This can be very useful for midges, gnats and other nocturnal insects can spoil everyone’s enjoyment of the great outdoors. If you want a pretty, reasonable form of lighting for a party, try floating a couple of burning candles in a bowl of water, with just a single perfumed flower for decoration. Another very cheap form of temporary lighting is the use of flares. These should be placed in a heavy bottle on a firm base, and allowed to burn slowly. Their flicker will add atmosphere and a touch of excitement to the proceedings.

14. August 2013 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Fruit Trees | Comments Off on Garden Leisure

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