There is a common misconception that winter is the time to enjoy the indoors and avoid the garden until the weather warms up again. It doesn’t have to be this way. If you design your garden well by considering how you can use it year-round, then creating a protected, inviting, comfortable living space where you can entertain during the cooler months makes perfect sense. You will find yourself drifting into that space all year and maximising the return on your investment.
There are four main elements to consider: a wind block, an overhead cover, a comfortable place to sit and a source of warmth to ensure a pleasant stay outside, despite the weather.
Protection from the winter winds is paramount. If the space is open and the wind is blowing, the word ’retreat’ will soon be shivered from between your guests’ clattering teeth. Identify where the winter winds are predominant in your area; this will indicate where your protection needs to be. A wind block can be designed in many different ways, considering cost, scale and aspect.
- Hedge – A hedge is a great way to redirect the wind. It can be located right next to the seating area, but works better as a block of foliage a few metres away. Hedges tend to break the wind up rather than completely stopping it.
- Screen – A slatted timber or steel screen works well. Make sure the gaps are minimal or flush if the winds from that direction are really harsh. Timber helps to soften a space and visually keep it connected to the earth.
- Solid wall – This is a fantastic way to finish off a seating area and provides the most protection from the wind. If linked to the house, it can also evoke a feeling of security and connection to the house and be more inviting when viewed from indoors.
Treat the wind block as feature rather than a purely functional element and design it in a way that creates some intimacy to the space and guides the eye in the direction of a feature or view. Materials such as planting and timber create a more intimate feeling, whilst masonry and stone or steel may need softening with fabrics, planting and thoughtful lighting to keep them inviting in the middle of winter.
On a starry night a cover overhead is not really desirable, but on but on a cloudy, gloomy night it might be just the thing to keep the party going. It will create more intimacy and warmth and provides the opportunity to hang lights, heat pads and even speakers in the space.
- Retractable awning – These are fantastic as they provide complete versatility. They can be left open, or close them up when it feels a little exposed. They also come in an array of colours and stripes that can brighten up a space and add a touch of casualness.
- Enclosed roof – These are a little restricting and can remove the feeling of being outside. However, they do provide maximum protection, meaning the space can be enjoyed even in the rain.
- Pergola – These don’t really provide any protection. Having said that, they can create an illusion of being in a room. A bit of a placebo effect, but designed well they can make a beautiful outdoor room.
- Louvered roof – There are several on the market that, when combined with a well planned pergola, can provide a year-round outdoor living area. The roof can be open and shut depending on the weather conditions, giving the space the ultimate versatility.
This is one of the most important elements and can be provided in so many different ways. The seating can be built to suit the space and even include weatherproof storage cupboards to store your haberdashery. It can be an outdoor lounge bought off the shelf, beanbags, fold-out chairs or fixed chairs. Fill it with comfort that is easy to set up and you will be amazed at how often it gets used.
This may just be the most important element to draw you outside into the winter garden. Whether it is heat pads, a mushroom heater, a pizza oven or outdoor kitchen, this will be the main drawcard. I am yet to meet someone that doesn’t like sitting around an open fire. In fact, most people are even happy to stand around an open fire all night. Get this element right and you may not even need all of the above, just a couple of logs or a rug.
Sitting outside on a winter’s night with a bottle of red, a comfortable place to sit and an open fire is in many people’s minds the perfect setting, so why not create your own winter wonderland?
Images: Landart Landscapes.
About the Author – Matt Leacy
Matt has over 15 years experience in landscape and design, founding company Landart Landscapes over 10 years ago. Qualified in horticultural design and structural landscape, Matt is driven by creating spaces that become more appealing with maturity. Matt has presented on several top-rating gardening shows, including The Garden Gurus.