Relaxing - Outdoor Experiences - Garden Design (2015)

Garden Design (2015)

Outdoor Experiences



The clean lines of a modern suite sit comfortably in this contemporary elevated space; the design is enlivened by chequered cushions that add just the right level of contrast.

KEY INGREDIENTS in any garden, furniture, heaters and cooking facilities allow you to relax, socialise and entertain, while also contributing to the garden’s style.


Whether choosing a dining set, incidental seat, sofa, hanging chair or hammock, shop around for a design that is fit for purpose and makes a statement, just like a piece of sculpture, and suits the character of your garden. Many can be bought from garden centres, but also look online or consider commissioning a craftsman to make a bespoke item. Period and rustic furniture can be sourced from architectural salvage outlets and auctions. Also consider the pros and cons of seating materials, which include:

Timber: choose from softwood or hardwood; softwood needs preservatives to prevent decay, hardwood is more durable. Timber can be painted any colour. Always choose sustainably sourced products (see p.143).

Wicker: traditionally woven from natural cane, which decays quickly unless preserved or painted; man-made alternatives are more durable. Both are very light.

Precast aluminium: light and easily moulded, it is often used for furniture frames. Seats can be uncomfortable.

Fabrics: available in vast range of colours and patterns, ensure materials are weather-resistant or bring indoors in winter. Marine-grade leather is comfortable, but needs treating to keep supple.

Plastics: easily moulded or woven, lightweight, and available in many textures and colours. Check plastics are UV stabilised, and look for furniture made from recycled materials for an eco-friendly option.

“To create a sense of unity, use the same materials and style for built-in seating as you’ve chosen for features elsewhere in the garden. And for comfort, ensure the seat depth is between 40 and 45cm (15-18in).”



Furniture that can be independently moved and arranged is known as free standing and includes chairs, tables, sofas, stools and swing chairs supported on frameworks. This type of seating is easy to integrate into a design, but ensure your patio or area of hard standing is large enough to fit your chosen furniture and that it suits the style of your garden.

Free-standing seats: points to consider

Choose a design sympathetic in size and scale to the space available, and allow for seats to be moved out from under a dining table.

Seats should be light enough to be moved around easily unless you are opting for sofas that won’t be moved.

Select materials for their longevity, durability and graceful ageing.

Ensure seats are comfortable when used for long periods; use cushions on hard metal and timber seats.

Check foldaway items are easily dismantled for storage, along with cushions and other soft furnishings.

Ensure seats don’t collect water, accelerating decay.


Seats constructed as an integral part of the design can make exciting design features, and include wide copings on raised beds or pond edges that double as seats, and benches with useful storage areas beneath.

Fixed seating: points to consider

Choose the position and site carefully; seats in full sun, deep shade or a wind tunnel will limit their comfort.

Fixed seating is often more appropriate for incidental or casual use, rather than longer periods of relaxation.

As constructed items, seats are best installed by professional contractors to guarantee safety.

The materials and design style needs careful consideration before inclusion in a scheme.

Bespoke fixed seating set at strategic points can allow individuals with infirmities to enjoy more of the garden.


Although shade may be cast by adjacent buildings, trees or structures, additional shielding from strong sunlight may be required. Instant and permanent shade can be created by roofed structures, such as an atrium, summerhouse or arbour, or use pergolas with slatted roofs to produce dappled shade. Fabric supported on structures, such as a gazebo over a dining or sitting area, affords temporary shade, or you could use a sail slung between uprights, which can be quickly dismantled in gusty conditions. Umbrellas or parasols are flexible options; those with adjustable arms attached to weighted bases are ideal for outdoor lounges and dining rooms. Check that canopies can be adjusted to provide shade where it’s needed and have ratchet systems to aid opening. Also ensure they are sturdy and are not blown inside out easily. Although most canopies can be left outside, they are best kept under cover in winter.

Shading: points to consider

Assess whether you require permanent or temporary shading solutions, and the density of cover needed.

Use of fixed architectural features to create shade needs to be factored into the initial design process.

Any temporary shading system should be fit for purpose and enhance the ambience of the garden.

Select umbrellas and parasols that are weather resistant and fully adjustable.

Ensure you have sufficient facilities for winter storage.


Relaxing and socialising in the garden is dependent not only on the comfort of your furniture but also the outdoor temperature. Night temperatures can dramatically contrast with day after sunset, particularly in early and late summer, and supplementary heating can be used to increase your enjoyment of the garden over a longer period, temporarily warming areas to make them more comfortable while also providing atmospheric lighting.

Fixed fires act as dramatic focal points, but consider the effects on the environment when choosing designs and fuel types, as some are more energy efficient than others, and use heating units sparingly. Solid fuels should be smokeless and always ensure open fires and naked flames are kept away from children, pets and flammable features. Always buy from reputable suppliers and follow safety instructions.

Heating systems: options to consider

The following provide heat of different character.

Open fires: heat is multi-directional, but uncontrolled, and you can choose a range of fuel types, such as wood and charcoal. Fires will need regular cleaning.

Enclosed fires: generate directional heat, and run on solid fuel or gas, installed by a qualified engineer.

Chimineas: front-loading open fires of Mexican origin, made from cast iron, aluminium or ceramics.

Gas patio heaters: controllable propane-fired burners, with a reflector to maximise heat output.

Electrical radiators: halogen lamps are free standing or attached to parasols, and offer controllable output.


Many types of garden furniture require some protection over winter. Check the durability of the materials before you make your purchases and establish the nature of any guarantee. Cushions and soft furnishings need dry, airy storage facilities either indoors or in a shed or sealed unit outside over winter. Plastic covers afford protection from rain and frost for wood and metal furniture.


Solid fuel Includes wood, charcoal, peat, coal, fuel tablets, and pellets made from wood. All have different burning characteristics and heat outputs; some are quicker to burn, others lasting longer. Solid fuels are bulky and must be stored in dry conditions to retain combustibility. Use of some solid fuels (eg, coal) is restricted or prohibited in many urban areas due to toxic emissions. Locally sourced wood or charcoal is considered the most eco-friendly option.
Gas Supplied as natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and used for heating, cooking and lighting. Gas is normally supplied as an extension to a domestic system, but must be installed by a qualified engineer and include flues or chimneys to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Portable, refillable canisters of propane gas are often used in gardens. Never use gas units in confined spaces.
Electricity Used to provide heat and lighting in gardens, this is the most eco-friendly fuel source. Whether straight from the mains or battery supplies, power is pollution free, clean and instantaneous. Outdoor mains outlets need to be completely weatherproof and installed by a qualified electrician. Check that equipment can be powered from the mains; some heaters require a transformer. And always fit a Residual Current Device (RCD) to shut down units if power leaks or cables are damaged.


If your furniture will remain outdoors all year round, ensure it is made from materials that are weatherproof and will not fade or deteriorate in strong sunlight, such as this sofa in marine-grade faux leather.


Fixed seating can make an important visual statement in a garden and needs to be planned into the design process.



When used as a focal point or incidental feature, furniture makes a powerful statement. Select the design and colour to help establish the style characteristic of the space.



Shade can be created with movable canopies and parasols, or permanent structures such as pergolas, the degree of cover determined by the number of slats or use of climbing plants.



Use a hammock to create a relaxing area shaded by a tree. Secure it to sturdy supports or buy a freestanding cradle.


Fire pits provide a dramatic way of heating the garden and can either be sunk into the ground or set on legs like this large, dish-shaped metal unit.



Gas-powered outdoor fires offer a clean and convenient way to warm a snug seating area, and the heat output is also easy to control.