Garden get-togethers

This year, our gardens have become so much more than just a place for kids to play or to grow a few shrubs. 

They’ve become essential to our mental wellbeing, a source of home grown food and a place of sanctuary. 

As winter sets in, many of us find our gardens too cold and bleak to spend time in, but there are many ways to make your garden welcoming whatever the weather. We need to think about shelter, lighting, heating, food and planting. 

When it comes to shelter, options range from a patio umbrella to awnings which stretch out from the house or gazebos, all of which offer temporary forms of shelter. Look for something that can be easily erected and dismantled and that allows some flexibility in configuration. You can even get an inflatable gazebo. 

If space is at a premium, consider a retractable side windbreak. You can mount these onto paving or a hard surface and it functions as a privacy screen too. If you’d prefer a permanent option, then there are lots of decorative screens you can use to create space for socialising. 

The next requirement for outdoor living in the garden over winter is definitely heating. The Japanese have Kotatsu, a heated integrated combination of padded seating, a table top and a blanket. You can also get wall mounted infra-red heaters or go for a gazebo or an umbrella that comes with heating. However, it you want to create a really cosy atmosphere, then go for a real fire. This can be in the form of an outdoor fireplace, fire pit, fire globe, fire bowl or a chiminea. The mesmerising flickering flame and sound of crackling embers is hard to beat.  

Lighting can really create atmosphere in the garden and you can combine all sorts of types of lighting to create a real party space. Consider festoon lights, magical fairy lights or go for lights in jars and bottles. You can use LED plant pots to highlight a favourite plant or install deck lighting. 

What really brings us together outdoors is food (and maybe a cheeky wee cocktail). You can go for a BBQ, step up to an outdoor kitchen or go old school with baked potatoes cooked in the ashes of your fire. 

Lastly, don’t forget the planting! As well as evergreens for structure, there are plenty of plants with coloured stems, berries or flowers that add a bit of colour and interest to the winter garden. Look for hardy plants. Gaultheria procumbens and lots of varieties of Skimmia offer visually appealing berries. Skimmia Magic Marlot has deep raspberry bloom and scent, while Skimmia Pabella has huge red berries. Hellebores offer a huge variety of colours from white through pale yellows, greens and purples. The dogwoods have coloured stems which create interest, while hollies come in some attractive variegated forms and will produce berries if you have both male and female plants. Try Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’ (male) and Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Golden King’ (female).

Being outdoors with friends can be just the tonic we need to keep us in good shape. With the right attitude and a bit of preparation, we can all enjoy our outdoor space to the max!

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