Gardens have the potential to be the most fun entertaining space of any home. Unlike indoor rooms, a garden lives, breathes and evolves over time. It is lapped by the elements, creating light and shade and the result is an animated rather than static environment.
What are entertaining spaces in the context of a garden? Undoubtedly they are different things to different people.
Take a young professional couple living in an urban area with a small back yard. In my experience, an entertaining space to them often means party space. As I get them to close their eyes and dream about their new garden they will offer up visions of a generous patio area encompassed by low maintenance evergreen planting. There is a large table with plentiful seating for friends and family to gather around and perhaps a snazzy outdoor kitchen. A gentle trickle of a water feature provides a tranquil note and as day turns to night subtle lighting illuminates the space. I remember once dropping in on such a client having recently finished their garden. They were busy marinating two legs of lamb for the outside grill, bottles of wine were lined up ready to go and eight friends were arriving to test out their new outdoor entertaining space – result!
A family garden often needs much of the above for the parents, but I also have a younger garden user to think about. For them, the garden is a place in which to play and this doesn’t always have to mean outdoor trampolines, climbing frames or tree houses (although these can help!). It’s about providing space and void in which to kick a ball or run around and still a good old-fashioned lawn is a popular choice. For some clients, artificial grass has been an alternative option, but for me, there is nothing like a wildflower meadow or a clover lawn carpeting an open area. Clients aside I know the bugs find them much more fun. In designing gardens to be used by little people I draw on my own childhood memories of how my brothers, friends and I entertained ourselves in the garden. Providing secret areas and places perfect for making dens and playing hide and seek is a must. There is energy in a family garden and I like to capture this in the planting sometimes with vibrant coloured perennials and grasses to provide movement.
My retired clients whose children have fled the nest often want to revamp the garden to reflect their life stage and the way in which they see themselves using the space. Some are still party animals and have no intention of slowing down and their brief for an entertaining space might be like that of the young professional couple, perhaps even imagining pool parties and a hot tub. However, for some entertainment within the garden comes in the form of peace and relaxation and it is my role to use plants and materials to create a tranquil environment. I love using water in the garden and reflective pools or the gentle babble of a water element can provide a hypnotic quality. Planting full of texture, but with a limited colour pallet of greens and whites can feel fresh and restorative, perfect for a garden sanctuary. Most importantly there should be plenty of places to sit or recline and focal points such as sculpture or specimen plants so that there is no other option than to be fully immersed in the garden.
I may have shamelessly stereotyped my clients and their needs but the point is that an entertaining space within a garden must be unique to the client. What a garden should never be is dull, boring and lacking in soul. It’s crucial that the gardens I design meet the functional requirements of my clients. Outdoor space is an asset to any home and as a result, I like the gardens I design to work hard for my clients providing them with numerous uses. However, fundamental to any good garden is the ability to entertain and this drives me to create spaces that provoke all of the senses and present an element of surprise. I want my gardens to be magical places that allow people to escape and dream.
Matthew Childs Design
KLC School of Design