Great Outdoors

Great Outdoors


garden designs

Make the most of your garden by creating a series of outdoor spaces that cater to all your needs
Words: Matthew Cantwell

It’s no secret we Australia ns love to make the most of our temperate climate and take every opportunity to get outdoors. Our major cities provide so many options, from bushland adventures to lazy days at the beach or just the chance to spend time at the local park. But the outdoor space Australians love to spend most of their time in is their very own backyard.

The landscaping industry has seen overwhelming growth and development in the past 20 years. Today, I think it’s fair to say that for the majority of home owners their home is not complete until the garden is complete. And by complete I mean it has had the same attention to detail as any element of the house: it of course has to look good but also has to be practical.

With house design, the trend is definitely for open-plan living. Lounge rooms and dining rooms are now combined and share the rear face of the building with the kitchen. Bifold or large sliding doors connect us to our outdoor areas — a connection that should be seamless to ensure that drifting into the garden is not a conscious decision. Our outdoor entertaining areas have also become very sophisticated in their design and the level of the finish of the construction.

Typically, our entertaining areas are generous enough to complement the footprint of the adjacent internal living areas. We are now creating not only dining but lounging areas outside and, where space restricts, most clients will favour a lounging area above anything else.

Let’s face it, when we want to relax inside we typically don’t grab a glass of wine and a book and go and sit at our dining tables — we opt for the lounge instead. And outside, the lounge gives relaxing a whole new meaning. The selection of outdoor lounge settings is now mind boggling and, when you stand at where the open-plan internal areas connect with the courtyard space, it can all start to look a bit like a furniture showroom. There’s also the pressure to coordinate your indoor and outdoor furniture settings or to make them unique from each other, which can be quite difficult.

One of the best ways to overcome this is to design built-in furniture. An L-shaped built-in bench with cushions not only looks great but is extremely space efficient and enticing to sit on. Most people will gravitate to this built-in lounge setting without the need for an invitation. And, if space permits there may also be a dining table alongside this bench seating. However, with most modern house design the inside dining table is not too far away from the outdoor area.

This form of relaxed seating is perfect for close proximity to barbecues, another element of garden design that has seen huge growth and development. The barbecue unit itself is sleeker than ever with the use of stainless steel as home owners take Australia’s new found obsession with cooking and entertaining into the garden.

Gone is the incinerator approach; the modern barbecue has it all. There are pizza ovens, wok attachments and fridges. And the best part of a built-in barbecue or outdoor kitchen is bench space, which can be used as a serving area when entertaining larger groups.

Shade and all-weather awnings have also ensured that our level of comfort outdoors has increased and our ability to stay outside throughout most weather conditions, certainly in the warmer months, is not compromised. There’s something for everyone, from folding-arm awnings and retractable ceilings to louvered ceilings with rain sensors. Even the good old umbrella has experienced an overhaul, with cantilevered models available ensuring we don’t have to bend around a collapsed umbrella poking out the centre of our dining table.

The need to make the outdoor entertaining areas as comfortable as possible is well entrenched in our psyche and most of us want similar things — just styled and designed differently to suit our personal preferences.

The emergence of the outdoor room has also seen a new trend develop: a growing need by home owners to require even more of their garden spaces. We have the outdoor relaxing and entertaining component down pat. However, most clients now also want to ensure their garden space fulfils a whole new set of requirements, including some of the really basic things that were possibly part of their childhood. Things like hanging their clothes on the line again, not down the side passage out of view, but in the place where it will get enough sun to dry. They also want good outdoor storage facilities, not a small shed carelessly placed in the far corner of the garden which, when opened, usually reveals a pile of unwanted items mounted on top of each other. We are now seeing large outdoor storage cupboards with big sliding doors and thoroughly thought-out shelving combinations, suitable for storing everything from garden tools and kids’ toys to golf clubs, bikes and camping gear.

Home owners now also want a more productive garden, most commonly herbs and fruiting trees like citrus or avocado and vegetables as well. For many home owners it’s about the convenience but for some it’s about the reward. A garden should be productive and they take a lot of pride in using this produce rather than buying it. For many families it’s also about education: teaching our children some of the basics, such as where much of the food on our plate originates, and making them aware of their natural surroundings.

The need for facility for children in the garden has also returned. Parents are more conscious of the need to get their children outdoors and active so we are seeing a whole range of activities designed to improve our children’s strength and coordination. With our climate, the desire for swimming pools will always be there. Some gardens are large enough to cater for pools, but many parents with smaller gardens are foregoing the pool in favour of play areas decked out with climbing walls, elaborate swing sets and cubby houses as well the newer, safer trampolines that are popping up all over our urban landscape. Lawn is more popular than ever; an open space to run, play and create is more important, I think, than any other single item for a young growing family.

I believe the landscape industry is on the verge of a very exciting new surge in growth. Never before has the requirement for a well-thought-out design been so important. The modern home owner expects so much of their outdoor room; they in fact require a series of outdoor rooms that address a range of household needs, to cater for their family now as well as their change of needs in the years to come.

Matthew Cantwell is the director of Secret Gardens of Sydney, a leading landscapedesign, construction and maintenance company.