I’m still on the road filming House Doctor for C5 and Cash in the Attic for BBC1 and as a scurry up and down the M1 visiting people’s homes I’m always astonished at how much outdoors you can get for your money beyond the South East.
After roaming the acres of garden you get with your 150 thousand pound house in Yorkshire, I come back to my 2 bedroom flat in Whitechapel and despair of ever becoming Charlie Dimmock.
Still, I’m lucky enough to have a terrace on 2 sides of the flat and as the summer creeps on in, my thoughts do turn to outdoor spaces.
Visiting houses across Britain, I’m always astonished at the neglect of this “extra room outdoors”. Perhaps because UK weather isn’t always conducive to sunbathing or perhaps because we’re notoriously addicted to our privacy, outdoor living never really caught on here. But it should.
Despite what we feel, the weather is often OK in Britain. Infact, I’m convinced we Brits think our weather’s so lousy, simply because we never leave our front rooms to see the sunshine.
Yet many British homeowners are lucky enough to have gardens of their own, others may have a terrace or a balcony, and some make do with only a window box. But all three variants of the great outdoors have their benefits.
The greatest amount of work, but the greatest return.
It’s amazing – despite the cornucopia of Gardening shows on the TV – how many people neglect their gardens. What’s crucial is not begonias and hardy annual borders but access.
The golden rule is to make the garden/house borders as fluid as possible.
A friend of mine bought a little terrace house in Walthamstow and with almost Olympian effort knocked down the back wall of his kitchen extension and put in a three panel French window – so now he has effectively made the garden an extension of his kitchen. To enhance this illusion, he floored the whole ground floor with stained wooden boards and extended them out into the seating area of the garden. When you walk in the front door the indoor space seems to flow out into the garden.
This is a rather labour intensive way of bringing the outdoors in but there are lots of less backbreaking tricks:
Don’t seal your garden off from the house through a back porch or a tiny door. Clear windows with a view to the garden and ruthlessly clear any trees near the house which block light and views. Be aware that a view over a garden brings a big block of green into your interior. If you accent green in your sitting room, the eye will automatically be drawn out into the contours of the garden.
TERRACES & PATIOS:
Think of your terrace as an extra room and you’re heading the right way. And even if summer is relatively advanced – it’s never too late to sort it out.
Get yourself some nice garden furniture and by nice I mean comfortable. You don’t want cast iron terrace that leave a welt in your thighs after half an hour. You want loungers, you want cushions and you want sunshades. Basically you want to be able to tumble out there one sunny morning and feel comfortable in the sun all day.
Everything else stems from that seated vantage point. Once you’ve got yourself out on the terrace for breakfast, I can guarantee that you’ll start noticing things to do. You’ll do a little weeding with coffee in your hand. You’ll come up with an idea for a three-tier planter over a croissant and plan to plant up some grow-bags while munching muesli.
Don’t procrastinate. So many people let the moment pass and find themselves in October glumly complaining about their lack of a homegrown tan. Believe me, once you’ve made that initial effort to sweep the crazy paving or pot up some tomato plants everything else will come naturally. You will have freed the inner Titchmarsh and nothing will stop your green fingers growing.
The most difficult to have breakfast in but the easiest to keep up.
Window boxes are the whole essence of gardening in microcosm but without the hard landscaping. A window box contains all the life truths of horticulture…
I often talk in this column of the importance of your home being more than just cash and bricks and gardening is one the most profoundly spiritualised aspects of home owning. Plunging your hands into the damp and earthy soil makes us feel like kids again making mudpies in veggie patch. Watching seeds germinate and grow is a similarly schooldays experience. Looking after budding seedlings and nuturing our prize blooms has the same kindly effect as stroking pets and playing with babies. And finally, accepting that even our favorite flowers wither and die or get eaten by slugs is a salutary schooling in the facts of life.
Thus tending a window box makes us better people. Plus – scatter a packet full of rocket seeds one spring morning and you’re guaranteed delicious and fashionable salads all summer long!
So what are you waiting for? Percy Throwers of the world unite! Get out there and add an extra room to your propery before the summer’s gone.