Longer days and impending sunshine means it’s time to head out to the garden. However large or small your outside space, some careful planning will ensure that it is flexible enough for playing games, entertaining or simply putting your feet up and relaxing, writes Katherine Sorrell

Today’s gardens are more like an outdoor room, used for playing, cooking, socialising and resting; they are multifunctional spaces that look good but also work hard for every member of the family.

If your garden is in need of an update, the secret is in the planning – how will you use the space and what do you want from it? Sketch a plan of your garden on graph paper, and gather samples of the materials you intend to use – such as slate, willow or terracotta – to ensure that they co-ordinate. If in doubt, consider consulting a professional, who will undoubtedly come up with practical solutions and inspirational ideas you would never have thought of.

In a large garden, the ideal layout includes separate areas for dining, relaxing and playing – perhaps with a ‘secret’ children’s area at the far end, including structures such as a swing, trampoline, climbing frame or tepee. A peaceful area away from both the house and the kids is ideal for a hammock or a deck chair – perhaps near some scented flowers or under a tree for shade. The dining area is best closest to the house, with space nearby for a barbecue or even an outdoor kitchen.

Consider changes in levels – they add interest and are easier to deal with than slopes, but avoid lots of steps between the door and the dining table. Flooring is key, too – will you choose stone slabs, gravel, bricks, decking, wood chips or perhaps tiles that complement your kitchen flooring for an inside-outside look? Just like indoors, your choice of garden flooring can signal a change from one area to another. It is also a question of practicality and cost: specify stone slabs for the dining area, for example, and save money with woodchips in the children’s play area.
Verticals are just as important, providing privacy, screening and dividing, adding visual interest and offering places for climbers to grow. Think about fences, hedges, walls, arches, arbours and pergolas – a simple metal archway over a path entwined with fragrant honeysuckle makes a lovely focal point, while a small wooden pergola can link two different areas of the garden and offer a shady spot to sit in.

Finally, furniture. Consider waterproof upholstery, outdoor sofas and all-weather rattan, choosing designs and colourways that link with the whole space. You can even accessorise outdoor sofas with scatter cushions and interior throws or blankets for when it gets chilly. If space is restricted, opt for folding furniture and play equipment that can be put away, or build seating into your hard landscaping – an extra-wide, low wall makes a great bench seat and you can even build in hinged storage for cushions.

The time is right to start planning your stunning summer garden, and creating more useable space outdoors is far more economical than a new basement or roof conversion – in fact, turning outdoor space into an extra outdoor room may add value to your property.

Syon relaxer set – £599, Wyevale Garden Centres, 0344 272 3000; www.wyevalegardencentres.co.uk
Bundle hanging chair – £395, Idyll Home, 01270 812717; www.idyllhome.co.uk
Shrewsbury six-seater set with parasol – £899; contemporary A-frame chimenea with cooking grill, £399; all Dobbies, 0131 561 6406; www.dobbies.com

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