contact me 1For the vast majority of Irish people, gardens are places for socialising and retreat; they’re places to hold bbq’s, parties, to read a book, unwind, escape and catch a few rays. Unfortunately, the spaces created to cater for our alfresco desires rarely deliver and often undermine potential garden enjoyment. To help you ensure that your garden space is right for you, I’ve compiled a short article with some key considerations.
Garden space planning considerations
Setting your objectives
Firstly, you must decide both the mood and function of the space – formal/dining, relaxed/retreat, informal/intimate, escapism/reading and so on. Having a clear spatial objective will provide a solid direction.
For example, I want to create an intimate dining area.
  • Line/shape – curved lines are often more relaxed and intimate than straight ones (a circle is more inviting than a square). That said, most gardens are dominated by rectilinear line forms and the introduction of curved lines can often create visual disharmony. Balance is everything. More on line forms?
  • Size and scale – the space will be small and enclosed.
  • Forms – soft, rounded, gentle movement.
  • Colour – subtle, muted, dark. More on the meaning of colour?
  • Textures – soft, inviting, fluffy, firm under foot. More on texture?
  • Rhythm and repetition – limited palette, focus on prostrate forms. More?
  • Proportion – balanced with dominant elements perhaps utilising phi. More on proportion?
  • Other sensory input – strongly perfumed species (perhaps evening scents), herb planting, gentle water sound (very soft), edible species, steps down (retreat) steps up (prospect). More?
How big?
Plan for the most frequent use and not for the big party. Ensure that regular users feel intimate and comfortable in the space – there’s nothing worse than a table and chairs sitting amongst a sea of paving. Provide enough space to accommodate your frequent social needs (five people having dinner and so on) with sufficient space to navigate around the seating area comfortably. Try using the Phiculator?
Spatial relationships?
Where social spaces adjoin a property, relate its proportions to the dimensions of the adjoining space. Limit the use of step access where possible, and allow materials to meet as seamlessly as possible. Use complementary materials to enhance the relationship between interior and exterior spaces.

What shape? 

Utilise simple shapes. Squares and circles lend themselves well to social areas and will often complement adjoining architecture. Avoid complex shapes, particularly those with complicated curves and acute angles. While these shapes have their place, they can create visual disharmony and often result in wasted space. more?
Which direction?
Orientate the space and enclosure to maximise light and potential views. Give great consideration to where seating will be placed and what viewers will be looking at…do you want to be tucking into your bbq’d steak and Pinot Grigio while looking at next door’s washing? Ensure you consider seating and standing viewing positions.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Consider seating position as this will dictate how a space will feel and be used. There are three primary positions – upright, which implies formality (think high backed upright chair); reclined, which implies informality (think rattan furniture to bean bags) and lounging, which communicates intimacy and relaxation. more?
Be materialistic.
Use quality, robust materials appropriate to their task. If you can’t afford to use the material you’d like, then hold off until you can. Consider how a material will feel under foot…rough, smooth, hard, soft, even, uneven. the material you choose will greatly effect how the space will feel and function.
Orientate the space to reflect use.
Working couples will tend to use a space more in the evenings so a space positioned to trap evening sun will usually work well.
Consider using raised planting beds.
This will enhance the ‘in garden’ feel and will work very well with herb planting.
Materials – choose materials that are robust and which are stylistically and climatically appropriate. I personally never specify timber decking for Irish projects. Use a natural stone pavers that’s is local to you.
Never, never, never build a bbq. They look great in Spanish villas and in an Australian yard but have no place in an Irish garden. I promise you that it’ll be used a few times, will gather dirt, will look out of place and will eventually be ripped out. Invest in a decent, easy to clean and store one instead.
Just enough and no more. Subtle lighting is vital for social spaces, don’t feel you have to light everything. Personally, I try to avoid adding light to social spaces. I prefer to provide interest by lighting the garden, most spaces which adjoin the rear of a house are amply lit by ambient internal lighting. If you are including lighting, light features rather than people, and never use wall mounted security lights to do the job for you!
Don’t invite too many birds.
If you are using overhead plants, ensure they don’t attract too many birds as they that easily soil and spoil a good dinner party!
Run for cover?
There are three primary ways to cover a garden patio area – open timber pergola, extending, wall mounted awning and a suspended awning. The latter two will provide rain cover (great for April, September and October) but the former allows for climbing species and more appealing spatial enclosure. Extending awnings (in the right colour) have a contemporary feel and offer great diversity.

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Chimineas and fire pits are the only heat to use. Yes, they’re a bit more messy than those hideous gas things but they create a great atmosphere and more natural heat.