The UK is certainly not renowned for its sunny weather, averaging just 1,493 hours of sunshine a year compared to 2,839 in Toulon or 2,864 in Alicante. Consequently, us Brits get to enjoy a lot less of the garden than some of our European neighbours, succumbing to days on end of cloudy gloom, biting cold or miserable drizzle.
Whilst the majority of us have accepted our fate and invested in cosy log burners to beat the winter chills indoors, some savvy Brits continue to milk every last drop of joy out of their backyard spot with a few adjustments keeping them toasty when the temperature drops.
Here we look at ways you can carry on using the garden when it’s more Artic than Alicante outside.
Patios can be open spots and a little wind can spoil an otherwise mild evening. Putting up screens helps to create a sheltered spot – you can use cheaper fencing and create a lovely lush green effect using artificial hedging, or purchase artificial hedge screening for a more landscaped look.
Of course, even mild days can start to feel chilly as the sun goes down and so investing in a heat source for outdoors is an essential way of prolonging your time in the garden. Good choices include:
Fire pits – for toasty warm patios. These throw off a lot of heat, but take care – the fuel can be expensive, especially if you don’t have access to a good supply of cheap wood. The portable ones don’t fare too well when it comes to keeping you warm – choose a generously sized pit if you want to really feel the benefit, but take care to position it with sufficient space around (usually about 10 metres but see the manufacturer’s recommendations).
Above: Esschert Design Fire Pit
Chimneas are more compact and don’t need quite so much space around them so can be a great choice for smaller spaces. However on the flip side they don’t throw off as much heat.
Outdoor ovens will give off heat as a consequence but many are designed to keep in the heat to cook effectively so won’t warm you quite the same as a fire pit wood.
Outdoor heaters are a less romantic but simpler option – many are rainproof so can be used year round to bring heat to the outdoors.
Your choice of furniture needs careful consideration if you plan on using the garden through the winter months. Some needs to be taken inside during the winter months so isn’t a good choice if you plan on using the garden year round. Good choices are natural teak wood or stainless steel, or other metals that have industrially applied paint finishes. When buying teak, look for certification that the wood supplied is from sustainable sources.
Above:Teak patio set
You can add cushions and covers for comfort, but these fabrics need to be suitable for outdoors. They will be exposed continually to moisture and sunlight, so naturally some fabrics will fare better than others.
Whilst warmer winter evenings can be enjoyed on a sheltered patio with a fire pit this really isn’t practical for really cold nights. The solution is to create sheltered areas within the garden that can stand up to the rigours of winter.
A wooden gazebo with an optional cover or curtains is a great choice here. The cover or curtains can be used when the wind is blowing to create a sheltered space, and removed or pulled back during summer when it’s (relatively) warm. It also allows you to use your outdoor space even when it’s raining, giving you more year-round use of the garden.
The combination of a covered gazebo with an outdoor infrared heater that can be hung up is a great way to extend the life of your garden. Take care that the gazebo is made of flame retardant material and follow the heater manufacturer’s instructions carefully regarding where to hang the appliance.
A lovely alternative to a gazebo is a summer house – you can sit in these with the doors open in the winter and enjoy the outdoors, come rain or snow. We have a Waltons 7×7 Wooden Corner Garden Summerhouse set up in the corner of our garden which we use extensively as an office through the year and as somewhere to sit on cooler evenings (you can see how it looks here). It was pretty easy to build (with a little help from my 16 year old daughter), once we realised we’d got the roof and floor the wrong way around! Again an outdoor heater is a great choice here, bringing you just enough warm to withstand the lower temperatures, with the addition of a snuggly blanket.
Above: Our own set up – a Waltons 7×7 Wooden Corner Garden Summerhouse
Speaking of snuggly blankets, a wool, cotton fleece, cashmere or down blanket is the best choice because the warm air is trapped between the fibres, keeping you warmer.
If you’ve chosen a sufficiently large gazebo, consider investing in an outdoor hot tub – this is the ultimate way to enjoy the garden when it’s cold outside. Whilst some choose to drain and pack away their hot tubs when the cold sets in, there really is nothing as relaxing as sitting in steaming hot water with a cool glass of your favourite tipple on a clear night. The gazebo provides extra shelter here, ensuring a cold breeze doesn’t ruin your experience.
There are a few things you need to do with your hot tub for winter use – these include using the settings to ensure the pipes don’t freeze and investing in a good quality cover. Suppliers often recommend you keep the water warm through the winter if you plan on using the tub as it costs less to maintain the water at a warm temperature than to allow it to cool and warm it up again. However, it’s sensible to turn off the air jets whilst the tub is not in use so that they don’t inject cold air into the water, forcing the tub to burn more energy to stay warm.
Remember that you’ll also need to light the garden suitably to be able to enjoy it during winter when there are less hours of daylight. Pretty strings of lights designed for the outdoors can create a lovely cosy look and the perfect ambiance for a relaxing evening.
Finally, there’s little point setting up your garden to be enjoyed though a colder spell if it looks bleak and bare with little colour or cheer. Add a splash of colour to beds with artificial plants and create interest up high with artificial hanging baskets and hanging topiaries. Artificial flowers are a wonderful way to make a display in the garden year round no matter what the weather does and they can be used in any location without having to consider the soil or amount of sunshine.