There are many ways to enhance your garden and turn it into a beautiful living space but the ultimate outdoor area should look and feel like an extension of your home, while adding functionality.
A summer house offers the perfect solution, marrying style and comfort with the added benefit of another indoor room to enjoy.
What is a summer house?
A summer house is a freestanding, roofed building or structure, usually in a garden. Depending on how it’s set up and decked out, it could potentially be used all year round.
Why get a summer house?
Ever fancied your own pub or a craft room to paint and get creative in? Perhaps your house is too small for the epic man-cave you’ve been dreaming of, or a mini-library full of books and a large, comfy chair?
A summer house could be anything you want it to be, and you can easily put your own, personal stamp on it, when decorating. By styling it to complement the rest of your home, you’ll create a lovely garden feature that you can show off to guest and the perfect hub for outdoor parties.
If you’ve been thinking about extending your house with a sunroom or converting the spare room to a home office, a summer house could be a good alternative. It’ll save you using up existing indoor space, and could significantly increase the value of your home.
Have you considered…
Will you buy or DIY your summer house?
Could an existing shed/outhouse be converted?
What will you use your summer house for?
Ready to get inspired?
There’s a million and one ways to use a summer house; from a modest but quaint garden shelter to protect against rain and sun, to a fully powered, insulated and connected living space.
Why not create a safe haven for when you need to escape chores and unwind? Furnish with a lush mattress, futon or sofa, and lots of cushions. Add dimmed lighting or lanterns for a peaceful atmosphere and play some relaxing music. If you’re into yoga or meditation, it’s the perfect venue for some tension-releasing exercise or mindful reflection.
Turn a good-sized summer house into a cosy garden bedroom providing friends, extended family or teenage kids with their own sleeping quarters. It doesn’t have to include facilities, but having an extra bedroom is always handy, especially if you are pushed for space in your home.
The private bar
Fancy yourself a bit of a mixologist? Your summer house could become an elegant cocktail bar, full of your favourite spirits, mixers and garnishes, that reflects your personality. Tall bar stools, coloured spotlights and drinks menus will help add to the fun factor. Or turn your outdoor space into a beer garden, complete with a summer house microbrewery!
The play room
Have you considered an adventurous play room for the kids? Young children will love having their own domain, especially on rainy days. Use it as a handy place to store the overflow of toys cluttering up your house. For older children, a summer house could be converted into a cinema, study or games room.
The social space
Whether it’s morning coffee, afternoon tea or an evening martini, a more conventional summer house can be a great social space for relaxing with your partner, or catching up with a few close friends. Think of it as an extra lounge or dining room, with all the fresh air you could ask for and a lovely garden view.
What’s your style?
Whatever you decide to use your summer house for, take some time to think about how to decorate it. There’s no reason your summer house and garden can’t be just as stylish as the interior of your main house. Ideally, they should complement each other and show off your personality.
If your home is full of colour, quirky ornaments and unusual pieces of furniture, see the eccentric style through in your garden and summer house with the likes of low-level seating, outdoor rugs in a mixture of patterns, and bright fabric sails.
If your home has a country house feel to it, House to Home recommends combining rattan furniture with floral accessories. This extends an informal and conventionally stylish look to the outdoors.
For more summer house and garden style ideas and inspiration, have a look on Pinterest.com.
Organising a sophisticated garden party takes careful planning and some creative thinking. There’s a lot to consider like what food and drink to delight your guests with, setting the tone with music, and how to style your garden to impress your guests.
Arriving in style
First impressions count. Let your guests know they’re in for a special night the second they arrive. Set out a path of flickering lanterns and greet party goers with flutes of bubbly, charming cocktails and mouthwatering nibbles
Create an enchanting atmosphere
Draw inspiration from your surroundings and the seasons to set the scene; in summer, make the most of the colourful flowers, warmer nights and go for a bohemian feel. Enjoy a garden party all year round and on a crisp winter evening, wrap up warm for Bonfire Night and stoke up the fire pit.
Music is important for setting the mood, so why not get your guests involved? Send a party invite or email, asking for everyone’s favourite tunes and set up playlists for the event. This will keep everyone happy and throw up some interesting song choices. Dancing in the garden is a necessity at all garden parties.
Once the sun sets, use fairy lights to add ambience and place candles on stairs and outdoor furniture to add dimension to your garden. Lights are a great way to combine functionality with style, creating a cool and intimate atmosphere.
Food and drink
Who said fine dining’s for indoors only? True, finger food is easier to snack on while mingling, but there’s more to party nibbles than sausage rolls and quiche.
How about delicate and healthy caprese skewers with mozzarella, tomato, avocado and fresh basil eliminating the need for cutlery? Or tempt kids and adults alike with home-made sweet potato and parsnip chips, accompanied by spiced mayonnaise.
When it comes to drinks, let your imagination run wild. Give classic cocktails a fresh twist by flavouring and garnishing withhome-grown herbs, straight from your garden; or create a signature cocktail for the party. Ask the mixologist at your local bar for tips on flavours that work well together, or check out TheBar.com for inspiration.
Ready for anything
As long as you’re well prepared, it’ll take more than a bit of wet weather to get between you and a good time. Put a canopy up in the garden and deck it out with chairs, throws and lights for a comfortable, sheltered party space outside.
Great gardens call for great drinks, and nothing beats the zingy freshness of ice-cold, al fresco gin cocktail on a sunny day or any day to be honest. But when was the last time you got creative with your gin?
The G&T is a classic favourite, but we’re in the midst of a ‘ginaissance’, and with so many exciting gin flavours and recipes to try, why stop at tonic?
Let’s get mixing
Gin gets its name and zesty flavour from juniper (the essential ingredient) and is complemented with a range of rich botanicals, like coriander seeds, angelica and orris root making it a perfectly crisp and flexible base for cocktails
We asked John Burke from the Craft Gin Club to pick his top three recipes for lounging outdoors, including herbs to garnish with. Check them out, then wow your friends with some mean mixing skills and freshly picked ingredients straight from your garden!
Classic Gin Martini
What’s in it? Your favourite gin, vermouth and ice.
How do you make it?
Pop the vermouth and ice in your stirring glass or shaker, stir and strain. Add gin, stir and then strain into cocktail glasses. Start with 1 part vermouth and 45 parts gin, but feel free to experiment.
“It depends on how you like it; wet, perfect, dry or dirty with decreasing amounts of dry vermouth as you work your way from left to right.” John Burke, Craft Gin Club
And to garnish?
Instead of the usual olive or lemon peel, add some rosemary for a distinctly fragrant martini.
What’s in it?
Equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth.
How do you make it?
Add gin, Campari, vermouth and ice to a glass, stir and enjoy.
And to garnish?
This drink is traditionally garnished with orange peel, but for an alternative citrus flavour, try it with some lemon verbena.
What’s in it?
Gin, Angostura Bitters, ice.
How do you make it?
Pour gin over ice cubes and add a few dashes of Angostura Bitters it really doesn’t get easier than this!
And to garnish?
Try it with some thyme, rosemary or star anise, and a slice of your favourite fruit.
Cutting out alcohol? Try this mouthwatering mocktail.
What’s in it?
Mint leaves, apple juice, lime juice, soda water and ice.
How do you make it?
Crush a small bunch of mint leaves at the bottom of a glass, add juices and some crushed ice, then top it up with soda water.
And to garnish?
A fresh sprig of mint.
Accessorise your cocktails with flower and herb ice cubes. Simply add your favourite herbs and edible flowers to an ice tray, pour over water and freeze.
Experiment with flavours
Not that you’re armed with some delicious recipes, it’s time to get creative with your coWhat makes the perfect gin cocktail? Impress your friends with delicious recipes this spring and summer, using fresh ingredients straight from your garden.cktails.
Find inspiration in your garden and grow your own fresh mint or rosemary for added aroma; try some fresh basil or coriander leaves for a peppery twist; or if you have lavender growing outside, pop a stem in your gin for a sweet, flowery taste.
Spring-cleaning your garden is a lot like personal grooming – if you do the basic maintenance regularly, you’re laying the foundation for something that looks inviting and is easier to care for in the long-term.
Putting a little bit of work in now will pay off when you’re having fun with family and friends in a lush, green extension to your living space.
1. The grateful dead
Winter can be unforgiving on your outdoor space, so it will appreciate a helping hand getting ready for the warmer months. Clear away everything that’s dry and dead, to allow the underlying glow to emerge and blossom.
The first thing to do is “exfoliate” the garden by trimming, pruning and weeding (easier in spring than summer, thanks to shorter roots), and removing dead matter from your ornamental grass before the regrowth starts. Woody herbs can be lightly clipped, but pruning times for other plants vary, so don’t get too scissor-happy.
Dead leaves, twigs and mulch will stop sunlight reaching areas that might need it, so get to work raking any debris up.
“It’s important to burn any diseased material if you’re able to.” Professional gardener Tom Watson, Edinburgh
Consider hiring tools to help cut back damaged trees and turn discarded wood into mulch. This prevents having to send unnecessary waste to a landfill site.
Homemade mulch also tends to be slightly heavier than what you might buy in the garden centre, which means it’s less likely to get blown around.
2. Hose down and spruce up
To make the most of your garden, give grotty old paths, paving stones and patios a good scrub down, and hose away slippery, unsightly dirt and growth.
Do the same for bird baths and water features, checking for cracks that might have appeared during winter. Be honest with yourself: if these items still don’t look good, consider scrapping or replacing them – it’ll make such a difference to the space.
There’s a lot to be said for organising your garden tools and supplies too. Scrub off the rust, get rid of any caked-on mud and check the blades on mowers and trimmers. It’s a dreary job, but now’s the time to make sure your drainage ditches are clear.
Spring is also a good time for repairing fences and trellises, as there is less vegetation to work around.
3. Give your lawn a makeover
A nice-looking lawn requires a fair amount of care and attention, but the reward is worth the effort. Start your lawn spring-clean by raking away dead grass and other organic junk, trimming (not too short on the first cut of the year, though, particularly as it won’t have grown much over winter), and applying moss killer where required.
Check for bare and damaged patches, reseed these areas and aerate the whole lawn space. Fertilise with liquid feed that’s rich in nitrogen except if you’re planning to plant a wildflower mini-meadow. Keep the edges trim and tidy.
4. Time for bed
Your flower beds are where the real magic happens, so it’s worth treating them right. Start by removing all the old mulch, or working it back into the topsoil if it seems well composted. It doesn’t hurt to add some good compost or well-matured manure at this point.
Tidy up the edges of the beds, take a step back and perhaps consider adding a new border for some definition.
“You can bring the growing season forward by a few weeks, if necessary, by warming up the soil; just cover it with clear plastic or horticultural fleece before sowing.” Professional gardener Tom Watson, Edinburgh
5. Delicious compost
If you don’t already have a compost heap, consider getting one going. The variety of compost bins on the market means you don’t need a massive garden, though bigger ones are more effective.
Ideally, you should position it in a shady area as the micro-organisms that turn waste to compost work best when conditions are constant. The Royal Horticultural Society recommends a blend of 25% to 50% green materials (lawn cuttings, kitchen waste, or manure) with the rest being woody, brown material, such as wood chippings, paper, straw and dead leaves.
Avoid letting any one material dominate the compost heap as it might get slimy. Turn it once a month to keep it well aired.
6. Enjoy your space
This is the best bit. Never stop thinking about the fun you can have in your garden. If looked after properly, it can be used year-round as a tranquil oasis to relax in, a family playground, or the perfect venue for an outdoor party. Think of it as your stylish second living room, or a lounge under the stars.
Whether you’re starting from scratch, considering a redesign or simply looking for inspiration, the Royal Horticultural Society’s design advice section has lots of great tips and ideas to help get you started.
The sun is setting, the evening getting cooler. The fire pit is being stoked and you’re in your garden with the whole night ahead of you. Sounds pretty perfect, right? Right.
Having a fire pit is a great way to spend more time outdoors with friends and family, and we all like the sound of that.
What is a fire pit?
A fire pit is a kind of outdoor fireplace; it can be portable or fixed, and is typically (though not always) open on all sides.
The great thing is, a DIY one can work just as well as a bought one, even if it doesn’t have the same polished finish. It is essentially a structure that can take many forms, including a fire pit table, that burns real wood, or is fuelled by propane, natural gas or clean-burning gel.
Want one? Consider this
What’s your style?
There is a huge variety of fire pits on the market, from small, portable, metal bowls and square-shaped,
wrought iron fire grills, to large stone or stainless steel models and elegant fire pit tables.
Whether your outdoor space is sleek and minimalist, charmingly eclectic, or rustic in style, think about the look and feel of your garden and find a fire pit that adds to the atmosphere you have created.
Limited for space but still want a fire pit? A free-standing, portable fire pit may be just the ticket. You’ll easily find basic models that are 5060 centimeters in diameter great even for tiny patches of lawn or decking. In a larger space, you’ll have more options, including DIY fire pits and natural gas models.
What is its purpose?
Ask yourself what you want to use your fire pit for. Fancy al fresco cooking and star gazing by the heat of a real fire? A wood-burning fire pit might be your best option. Maybe you’re more interested in adding a fantastic design feature to your outdoor space? A natural gas or propane fire pit might be a better match.
Gel fuel fire pits are easy to use and look good, but they don’t give off as much heat as many other fire pits. Not a problem, if convenient, stylish accessories is more of a priority than outdoor cooking and heating.
What fuel to use?
Wood-burning (and charcoal) fire pits
Great source of heat
Good for cooking
A fire pit that burns wood is the closest substitute for an actual campfire, with the crackle, smoke and heat providing an authentic outdoors vibe. Wood and charcoal fire pits can also be superb alternatives to a traditional grill, for year-round outdoor cooking.
Propane fire pits
Easy to use
Good heat source
A propane fire pit is a convenient option if you have space, that is; they tend to be large. Fuelled by a propane tank, they switch on and off in an instant, without the need for a gas line and with no ashes to worry about.
Gel fuel fire pits
Easy to use
Very versatile and easy to move
Gel fuel fire pits are also convenient and flexible. They use tins of eco-friendly fuel, or gel, which burns without giving off any smell, smoke or mess. The fuel can be used in many different types of fire pits, but doesn’t tend to give off a lot of heat.
Natural gas fire pits
Good source of heat
Stylish garden design feature
Affordable to run once installed
A natural gas fire pit can offer your garden a stunning statement piece. They are often beautifully designed, with sunken and raised models available and you’ll never run out of fuel. They are fixed, though, and you’ll need to install a potentially pricey natural gas line.
Not just a fire pit
There are other, simple outdoor heating and cooking options that you might want to consider:
A chimenea is a freestanding, front-loading oven or fireplace, but unlike fire pits, chimeneas are contained and have a flue or chimney.
Outdoor fireplaces are usually also contained, but with the added safety of a hatch or screen at the front.
A fire basket is pretty much what it sounds like a metal basket that you burn firewood in. It’s easy to use and move, but not suited for windy weather.
Top tips for your fire pit
Add a sprinkle of sage to your fire pit to help keep mosquitos and other flying nasties away.
Fill apples with granola or crumbled oatmeal cookies, wrap in tin foil and cook in the embers of your fire pit for a delicious, warm dessert.
Put a grill on top of your fire pit and transform it into a barbecue.
Need more inspiration?
Still not sure what kind of fire pit to get, or how to make the most of it? Check out this House to Home article, featuring 5 fantastic fire pits and Gardens Illustrated ’s top nine fire pits , for more ideas.
Another great place to look for inspiration when it comes to creative fire pit designs and DIY tips is Pinterest. So what are you waiting for? Log on now and start the hunt for your perfect fire pit.
Being able to pop out and take a snippet of something fresh to cook with, or make tea from, is a simple pleasure. Homegrown herbs look and smell great, and they could help attract some garden wildlife.
Herbs are pretty resilient, and many of them don’t need much attention.
If you’re starting from scratch, it’s worth doing a bit of research to make sure you’re planting in optimal conditions: while many herbs are tough and will flourish just about anywhere, others are quite fussy about the amount of sunlight they require. They all, however, require a degree of shelter.
Herbs that prefer sun
Herbs that prefer partial shade
If you’re new to herb gardening, a great shortcut is to start with seedlings rather than seeds. That way, you’ll get a clearer idea of what each species should look like, and how they should grow, as a young plant.
Most herbs prefer soil that’s well drained and fertile, with plenty of organic goodness. If yours is clayheavy, incorporate some compost or grit to improve the drainage. Or get round the problem of dense soil by creating a raised bed.
Herbs tend to be happier in soil that’s neutral to alkaline, but can take a little bit of acidity. If there’s too much of the latter, counteract it with some lime.
Annual, biennial and perennial herbs
If you are growing from seed, you should first distinguish between annual/biennial herbs.
Annual and biennial herbs
As the names suggest, annual herbs have a life cycle of one growing season, and for biennial herbs two growing seasons. They tend to grow fast and might need to be resown regularly.
Both annual and biennial seeds can be sown from March to August, and can be resown every few weeks to ensure a fresh regrowth.
Perennials have a much longer life span, consisting of multiple growth cycles. These grow more slowly and need a more permanent home.
Most perennials, should be sown in covered seed trays and then planted in their final positions when their roots seem strong enough. Some need a transitional period of getting used to lower temperatures outdoors, so it’s best to follow the instructions on the seed packets.
Annuals and biennials
Where to plant
If you’re lucky enough to have plenty of space, you can plan a traditional herb garden with gravel walkways between sections and raised beds. This will require more of your time as you’ll need to plan your design carefully, use the right type of herbs, and ensure raised beds are kept in tip top condition.
Herb wheels, a multicompartmental planter, and raised beds are useful for keeping species separate, and you can also plant herbs as borders in existing flower beds.
If you’re pushed for space, you can plant straight into grow-bags, set up a mini in-kitchen
herb garden or make the most of your windowsills (south-facing is best).
Growing in popularity, micro-herbs, also knows as micro leaves, such as coriander and basil are harvested a week or so after germination and are flavoursome and easy to grow; all you need is a windowsill in a warm room that gets plenty of daylight.
Popular cooking herbs
Herbs for attracting wildlife
Herbs with edible flowers
Woody herbs need a light pruning in the autumn or after flowering to prevent them from getting even more woody. Softer ones should also be cut back after flowering to encourage more growth.