Wednesday 16 October 2019

Best ways to enjoy your garden space

The best gardens offer somewhere to enjoy the view, writes Gerry Daly

'Every garden should have at least one place to sit and admire your handiwork.' Stock image
'Every garden should have at least one place to sit and admire your handiwork.' Stock image

Gerry Daly

Every garden should have at least one place to sit and admire your handiwork. Big gardens can have several sitting areas, strategically chosen, but even the smallest outdoor spaces should have a spot or two. In fact, the view from a bench, hammock, deckchair or garden chair is one of the best ways to enjoy your outdoor space. Instead of standing looking at your garden through the window, when you sit outside, you feel more part of the surroundings, closer to the colour, form and scent of a garden's flower and shrubs, more enveloped.

But since the trend for decking is now officially over, what is the best way to incorporate a sitting area?

The answer is that it can be very simple or quite elaborate, depending on the style of the garden and the budget available.

There are several elements to consider in choosing which spot will work best: there should be shelter, privacy and a view - something to look at, a focal point.

Shelter is a benefit though not an absolute requirement. However, a seat in an exposed place will not be used as much as one that is sheltered from overlooking houses. Privacy is important because people like to feel comfortable and not 'on show' to a neighbour's lace curtains.

The next question to consider is whether there is a good solid barrier to the back of the space - a wall, fence, earthen bank, hedge, dense shrubbery or some such. This is an important aspect of privacy, giving a sense of security so that the sitter doesn't feel they can be surprised from behind. Raising a sitting place above the viewable area guarantees the space is more likely to be used.

For a successful and pleasant design, the seated viewer should have a vista of some sort. Perhaps an attractive view across the countryside or urban landscape, or across the garden itself, or towards a feature such as a pond, an ornament or even a good specimen plant.

When framing a view within a small garden, or in a larger one, it is important to 'close' the view if necessary. If a view runs off to vanish at a distant hill or wood, there is no need, but if the view stops within the garden, it will need a backdrop to appear controlled, self-contained, and some plants to soften the backdrop.

Those are the basic elements of sitting and view. The next priority is a seat of some kind - timber, metal, stone or concrete. Some kinds of seat, such as timber, are more comfortable and warmer to sit on, and so are more likely to be used. Swinging chairs are newly popular but will either need to be suspended from a fixed point, or to have their own cradle to sit within. Or you might opt for the simplest seat - a tree log, a large rock or a grassy bank that can be used during dry summer weather.

The ground is best paved with slabs, gravel or stone for comfort and ease of access when grass is wet. But this might not be at all appropriate in a natural garden where simple grass paths or paths of bark or fallen leaves might be better suited.

Sometimes, it can be effective to place the sitting spot centrally in the garden, in plain view, and use it as a focal point. This kind of location would give broad formal views. But a sitting place could also be tucked away, not immediately obvious so it provides a touch of surprise and adds interest.

This approach is more suited to large gardens and especially country gardens, especially a long-established mature garden. But even in new or smaller gardens, trellis could be used for quick results disguising or framing a sitting place, like a hidden look-out point.

Festival fever

n Picnic at Ballintubbert Gardens? Or polytunnel course at Dunmore Country School? Or maybe you'd prefer a free talk from Dermot O'Neill? Laois Garden Trail and Festival runs June 8 and 9 with gardens open to the public, and green-fingered talks. For more information, visit laoisgardenfestival.com.

Take time out

n Join an expert guide on June 8, 2.30-3.30pm, at the National Botanic Gardens at Kilmacurragh, Co Wicklow, for a stroll through the summer meadows. Everything from wild Irish orchids to yellow rattle will be on view in the regenerated meadows. Free; see botanicgardens.ie

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