Enjoy the outdoors - turn your garden into a haven
Even the smallest garden space can be turned into a haven for summer with paint and accessories, writes Eleanor Flegg
Summer is coming and it's time to get out into the garden, preferably with a gin and tonic. In fairness you'd need a stiff drink before facing my back yard.
I'm not a natural gardener and the patch at the back of the house accommodates a washing line, several bicycles, and the dog. It's hard to imagine it as somewhere that you'd want to linger. But the experts assure me that there are easy ways of making outdoor spaces more habitable.
"You have to start thinking about the garden as an external room," says Roisin Lafferty, interior designer and one of the judges on RTE's 'Super Garden'.
"The design principles are the same – it's all about breaking up the space. You need to create a sense of enclosure around the dining area."
This applies whether you have a large garden, a small urban space, or even a balcony.
"Irish gardens can be very flat so you might want to introduce some vertical elements. I've seen people make raised beds from crates and railway sleepers to give a bit of height, or even use an old chest of drawers as a herb garden. I don't think that people realise that you can bring old furniture outdoors, so long as you paint it with suitable weather shield," says Lafferty, who also happens to be a colour consultant for Cuprinol.
Colour options in outdoor paint and preservative coatings, traditionally as dull as ditchwater (rust brown, dark brown, snot green), have suddenly become more interesting than they used to be.
The formerly unsexy brand Cuprinol now comes in 73 different shades – from subtle to downright in-your-face funky – along with the promise of four years of protection from the Irish weather.
The new funky stuff costs €27.99 for a 2.5-litre can at most DIY stores and the makers will be showing off a lot of stuff slapped up with it at Bloom in the Park this month.
"I'm doing a couple of things in my own garden this year," says Lafferty.
"I recently made myself an outdoor dining table from a salvaged door (€50). I gave the door a lick of paint and propped it up on trestle legs from Ikea (€25 each)."
If you are going to slap a few loud colours about your back yard, remember that, generally speaking, high-impact hues are best kept to the detailing, and large areas, like boundary walls, tend to work well in softer tones.
There is also great fun to be had with accessories. The Nomad's Tent look is very current, with chevrons and zig-zags in all the shops. Marks and Spencer's Aruba range offers vintage kilims (€270), chevron cushions (€16), and multi-weave throws (€109).
Dunnes Stores has a cool range of Zig Zag melamine tableware (€2-6) for outdoor dining, but my favourite is the Lhasa outdoor rug (around €55) from Cuckooland. It looks like a kilim (180 x 120cm) in orange and violet chevrons, but is made from hand-woven (and highly weather-proof) polypropylene.
Ms Lafferty is also a big fan of upcycling. "I love the idea that you can bring unusual things out into the garden. Mac's Warehouse in Islandbridge is a treasure trove of everything."
I'm with her on the joys of salvage. Mac's Warehouse has old Belfast sinks (€60), a cast-iron mangle (€300), old railway sleepers (€28), and a range of chimney pots (from around €60) all begging to be reinvented as garden furniture.
Architec-tural Salvage has ornate cast-iron benches (around €300), stools made from tractor seats (€80), assorted granite troughs (€550), and limestone finials (€300 for a pair).
The Irish weather can be a limiting factor on outdoor living but there's a great new yoke in the DIY shops, or new to me at least.
It's called a chiminea and is basically a freestanding pot-bellied stove with a vertical chimney. Traditionally, chimineas are made of clay – there's one for €35 from B&Q. Metal versions may be more durable in the Irish climate and are not a huge outlay either. Cast-iron chimineas start at €89.99 (93cm high) at Woodies.
And what if you don't have a garden at all?
Darren Robinson of Decor, possibly Dublin's craziest interiors store, is no stranger to the idea of bringing unusual objects outdoors. He's just moved in from the suburbs to a city-centre home. "We love living in the centre of things but we missed having a garden and so we built one on the roof," he says.
"The floor is decked in deal and I built a seating area from the decking. We've got a barbecue and Indonesian statues, and a bay tree and strawberries."
www.cuprinol.ie, www.kingstonlaffertydesign.com, www.decor.ie, bloominthepark.com, www.macswarehouse.ie, www.architecturalsalvage.ie, www.cuckooland.com, www.woodiesdiy.com, www.diy.com/ie, www.marksandspencer.ie