Make the most of the outdoors

The key to creating a beautiful backyard for alfresco entertaining is planning, writes Susan Edmunds.

From container gardens to raised beds, big, lush open lawn spaces to paved courtyards, the options for a New Zealand garden are many and varied.

Whether you have more space than you know what to do with or are trying to make the most of a cramped outdoor living area, sensible design can really transform your garden and change the way you use your home this summer. Too many people think of their home and garden as two separate entities.

Garden designers say they should be one package, with indoor spaces flowing out to outdoor rooms, each set up to cater to a different purpose.

Before you start your garden makeover, get out a pen and paper. Sketch out the space you have, which areas get the most sun and where the rain collects.

Add in details such as which areas you use most currently and which areas you'd like to spend more time in. Consider setting aside space for things such as an outdoor reading space, an entertaining area and a spot for kids to play.

Fences and hedges dividing a garden into sections can make even small areas look bigger-and are great for hiding unsightly utility areas containing things such as the compost bin.

Plan your planting. When you go to a garden centre unprepared, it's easy to spend a lot of money without noticing any real difference.

Talk to the experts about the conditions in your garden and get plants to suit. You may love a particular native tree but if it's going to wilt the minute it encounters the allday sun at your place, it's not worth spending money on.

Start simple. New gardeners often rush out and buy a lot of different plants and position them randomly.

Happy chaos is fine if it's the look you're going for, but a more measured approach often produces a more attractive result. Pick a theme and buy several plants that are similar.

Once these take hold, you can then work out what will look good around them. Put more money into the hard landscaping than your planting.

Things such as courtyards, retaining walls, paving and paths will make a big difference to even very small spaces. If you have patches of lawn that aren't used but are annoying to mow, consider covering them to create a low-maintenance, all-weather surface.

Most gardens don't have enough seating. Anywhere there's a nice sunny spot or a pretty view, put in a seat so that you can sit and take in your handiwork.

If parts of the garden are too sunny, install a screen or a shade sail that can be pulled across for extra protection in the height of summer.

Screens are also excellent for any areas where the view is not quite right. If there's not enough space to expand your planting horizontally, think about going up - pergolas and archways can add extra interest.

Find furniture that's comfortable as well as durable - outdoor cushions can make traditionally unforgiving garden benches the kind of place you want to linger.

You can even get an outdoor rug to make it feel cosier. Think about your lighting, even if it's solar lights in the ground or a chain of fairy lights in the trees.

A patio heater will keep the outdoor space useable for more of the year. If you don't have much space at all, invest in pots.

Virtually anything can grow in pots if you get them big enough and you can move them around to provide extra privacy when it's needed or to change the look of the garden.

Brightly-painted pots are also an excellent way to add pops of colour.

- Hamilton News

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