How To Make The Most Of Your Outdoor Space

How To Make The Most Of Your Outdoor Space


We’re now allowed to host socially distanced groups of up to six in private outdoor spaces, which makes it a good time to get yours in order. Covering gardens to balconies, three experts gave SLMan their tips and quick wins for making the most out of your outdoor space…

We’ve heard there’s been a bit of a surge in people looking to do up their outdoor space – is that true?
“There’s been a real increase in people who are serious about investing in their outside spaces, particularly roof terraces. We’ve seen a 20% increase in commissions this May compared to previous years, which says a lot about how people are defining value and lifestyle priorities.” – Tony Woods, designer at The Garden Club London
“Given how life has changed lately, people’s outdoor space has become more important than ever. We’re spending more time at home and we want to make those homes as comforting as possible. As a result, we’ve seen a huge increase in interest in both outdoor and indoor plants.” – Meg Spink, plant doctor at Patch
What’s everyone looking to do in particular?
“We’re seeing a lot of interest in outdoor plants that can be used in cooking. Both our lemon tree​, which will grow fruit throughout summer, and our ​bay tree​, which you can use in lots of cooking, are really popular. As a bonus, they both smell wonderful too.” – Meg

“The biggest trend we’ve seen recently is for outdoor structures that can provide shade or protection from light rain. With so many people now working from home, and set to throughout the summer, they are the perfect compromise when you might not have room for something as permanent as a garden studio.” – Tony

What are the easiest ways you can spruce up an outdoor space?
“Paint is a really good starting point. Often small urban gardens will have lots of different boundary finishes, so the garden looks even busier and smaller than it needs to. Painting the boundaries with a calming neutral or moody dark tone will completely change the vibe. You can accessorise easily with outdoor rugs, which are a great addition to any garden. Opt for bold geometric patterns and hard-wearing materials. Lighting, such as lanterns or lamps, can add to the ultimate summer evening vibe too.” – Tony

“You could try growing plants up a wall – or a trellis if you’re renting and don’t want to permanently attach anything – to create a feature wall. We have two different kinds of ivy which would look fantastic across a wall. They keep their leaves all year round too.” – Meg

“I’d recommend cutting neat edges on the lawn after mowing the grass. Try clipping hedges, washing down paving and tastefully painting fences, sheds and other artefacts.” – Guy Barter, chief horticulturist at the Royal Horticultural Society

If you’ve got a bit of green space, what are the essential tools you need?
“You can get by with just a spade and a penknife, but a trowel, rake, hoe and fork all make life so much easier. Secateurs and some shears are very valuable too. Don’t forget a watering can, buckets and ideally a wheelbarrow.” – Guy

Talk to us about urban gardens… What exactly are they and how do you create one?
“An urban garden is a place to escape and seek solitude from the busy city, whether it be a small balcony or a lush back garden. We have lots of clients who have little knowledge of gardening or no time to garden but, over the last decade, we have perfected amazing outdoor spaces that are low maintenance. The urban garden is essentially an outdoor extension of the home.” – Tony

“Outside space is at a premium in urban areas. If you have any outside space at all, you can use plants to turn it into a haven. Humans naturally like to be close to nature, so a bit of greenery can be very relaxing. Plants like ​Japanese maples​ can make a space feel tranquil, or a big ​palm​ can give a focal point to a space. They don’t need lots of care either.” – Meg

How can you make a small outdoor space like a balcony or courtyard more inviting?
“Keep it simple! Don’t go for lots of small pots. Instead, use big bold statement pieces such as large planters with a feature olive tree. These take less care and also don’t dry out as quickly as small pots and planters. Another common mistake that people with a small space make is pushing everything to the sides. This actually makes the space feel more cramped, so try breaking up planting and seating areas, while keeping the overall balance of light and space.” – Tony


Is there anything you can be planting right now?
“Annuals, which you can sow up to the end of the month – for example, godetia, California poppies and sunflowers. Also quick-growing vegetables such as baby carrots, beetroot, spinach and runner beans. Herbs too can be sown now: coriander, basil, dill and parsley are solid options.” – Guy

If you’ve got a space that doesn’t get much sunlight, what are the best things to plant?
“Go for foliage: ferns, bergenia, hosta and statuesque false castor oil plants (fatsia) are great. Don’t rule out colour though – busy lizzies, fuchsia and begonia often flower reasonably well in light shade.” – Guy

What about on a balcony?
“Anything in pots. Sunny balconies might be best suited to drought-resistant aeoniums, convolvulus cneorum, lantana, lavender, lotus berthelotii and salvias. For shaded balconies, green shrubs such as camellia, euonymus and sarcoccoca can flourish.” – Guy

Does it matter what pot you use? Or soil?
“As long as the drainage holes are big enough any pot or indeed any container such as tin cans or plastic buckets will support most plants. Most plants also rub along well enough in any reasonable garden soil or potting compost. Plants can usually get along without feeding, but in most cases some fertiliser, compost or manure will greatly improve their growth. Acid-loving plants – heathers and rhododendrons, including azaleas –will need acidic soil or ‘ericaceous’ potting compost.” – Guy

Do you need to water plants daily?
“In dry weather, potted plants might need to be watered daily, but ones in the ground can get along well with watering every ten days. Trees, shrubs and climbers established for more than two years can get by on the moisture reserves in the soil and need no supplementary watering.” – Guy

“The best way to find out if a plant needs water is to stick your finger in the soil two inches down and feel how dry it is. We recommend giving your plants the finger-dip test at least once a week. If you’re a forgetful waterer, you could try ​water dispensers​. Stick them in the soil and they gradually release water as needed.” – Meg

For those that haven’t got any outdoor space, what are the best indoor plants?
“Most houseplants are pretty easy to look after, but if you want something that takes very little effort, there are lots of great options. At Patch, we’d recommend Rapunzel,​ the devil’s ivy, which is a beautiful, easy-care hanging plant, and ​Big Ken​ the Kentia palm, which is a really impressive large plant that can work in any space.” – Meg

“There are lots of options. Easy-care houseplants that can be repotted every spring and need minimal winter watering include monstera (the Swiss cheese plant), sansevieria (mother-in-law’s tongue) and spider plants. These only need water when the top two inches of potting compost is dry.” – Tony

Finally, if you can’t get to a gardening centre right now, where can you go online?
“At Patch we are still shipping regularly and offer a range of both indoor and outdoor plants.” – Meg

“There are many independent nurseries and growers now offering a mail-order service – and they need our support more than ever. You can visit the RHS website to find a list of the exhibitors who were due to appear at each of the RHS shows this summer and who you can buy plants from. Most of these specialise in particular types of plants and are the real experts.” – Guy
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