Enjoy a summer garden staycation

Staying at home for the holidays means we can soak up the sensory delights of our own patch this year. Naomi Slade has some timely tips

Create paradise in your own back garden with hardy palms and houseplants

by Liz Potter |

We’re all going on a summer holiday… and well deserved it is too! What we all need is a good rest, a bit of peace and quiet and a chance finally to unwind. And with options still rather uncertain in the UK, not to mention abroad, what better place to do that than at home?

The garden is our closest green escape, and there are many practical reasons to make the most of it. There’s no need to sit in motorway traffic, worry about holdups in the ferry port or be delayed in airport passport control. And who wants to sit on a distant shore fretting that the cat has not been fed and the neighbours have forgotten to water the tomatoes?

A sunshine break overseas is lovely, but let’s imagine the next best thing: a guaranteed comfortable bed and facilities that really, literally, are just as good as at home. There are no hotels or flights to book, and no hopes dashed or disappointments. Instead, we can treat ourselves to all the important things we’ve hankered for, line up some fun activities and plan a schedule of improvements that will enhance the garden not just for a week or a fortnight, but for months and potentially years to come!

So, make the most of your staycation summer by creating a garden that’s so lovely, you don’t want to go anywhere else. Invest in design, in furniture, in lighting and key plants that really provide a sense of place. Make it comfy with cushions, bright with colour and ornaments, and all those things that promote mental calm and encourage rest and relaxation. Then sit back to enjoy the fruits of your labour, pour yourself a cold drink, and watch the world go by.

Staycation ideas in Garden Answers magazine August issue
Staycation ideas in Garden Answers magazine August issue

1. Create your own sunshine… Plant sunny yellow flowers and other bright colours to create an upbeat holiday mood

A British summer is an unpredictable thing. The weather might be glorious – or then again, it might not. But choose the right plants and the garden will laugh in the face of rain and take grey skies in its stride. Bright colours, bold foliage and fragrant herbs can transport us somewhere fabulous and exotic, evoking sunshine, tropical jungle or the balmy Mediterranean.

In case the sun itself doesn’t come out, go large on cheerful yellows and oranges, using flowers such as coreopsis, heleniums, rudbeckia, flaming hot geums and bright sunflowers. Combine tangerine with hot pink or smouldering purple, and invest in pots of seasonal colour – whether it’s neon or pastel is up to you.

Use vertical space to the maximum, too. A pergola clothed in the big leaves of grape vines or golden hop will allow you to breakfast in dappled shade; alternatively, use a flowering climber such as campsis, Tropaeolum speciosum, black-eyed Susan or canary creeper.

Take a really short hop to the tropics and create a jungle vibe, using big leaves and exotic-looking flowers. The eye-catching foliage of plants like bananas and cannas is fabulously lush, begonias display an eye-popping range of leaf interest, and there’s a dahlia for every taste. Hardy plants can look exotic too: heucheras have foliage that ranges from acid yellow to smouldering orange and inky purple, and hardy palms such as Trachycarpus fortunei, and big-leaved lovelies like Fatsia japonica are almost trouble-free.

Bring the beach to your own backyard. You could have a British symphony of seaside and sand dunes with a driftwood sculpture in homage to Derek Jarman, patches of gravel planted with blue Festuca glauca, Crambe maritima and eryngiums, interspersed with Californian poppies and mulched with pebbles. Or bring home the taste and the smell of the Med to soothe the senses, with rosemary and sage, nepeta, oregano and lots and lots of thyme.

Include water as a point of quiet contemplation
Include water as a point of quiet contemplation

2. Combine natural sounds & delicious flavours - Use plants to transform your garden into a sensory haven

Having a holiday is all about taking a break and reclaiming your mental and physical wellbeing. So, turn your staycation garden into a calming and soothing space to help shrug off the stresses of everyday life.

Start by screening off unwanted sights with fencing or trellis. Tall planting such as grasses, upright shrubs and trees can also create a vision of beauty – and hide what lurks behind – while also masking intrusive noises with a gentle swish of stems, a rustle of leaves and a trill of birdsong.

Include water as a point of quiet contemplation. This can be as simple as floating roses or other flowers in a bowl, but a bubbling, trickling water feature can be well worth the investment. Or, use the money saved on booking a hotel to go the whole hog, and design the water feature of your dreams, a tranquil fishpond or formal rill upon which to meditate!

Trying new foods and local flavours can be part of the holiday fun, but staying at home doesn’t mean the experience is lost. Think about using the flavours to hand in a new and exciting way to and take the opportunity to revive jaded tastebuds.

Use edible flowers to add sparkle to a fresh summer salad, or provide a garnish for an iced drink. Use lavender stalks as swizzle sticks and freeze borage flowers into ice cubes; spear veg onto a stick of rosemary to go on the barbecue, or scatter meals with fresh oregano and thyme. It’s tasty, fun and far better than raiding the hotel mini-bar!

Lovers of al-fresco dining can bring Greece, Turkey or Spain home and craft bespoke experiences for their boutique staycation. Try making your own tapas or mezze, putting together simple, varied dishes garnished with home-grown herbs or featuring your own tomatoes or courgettes roasted or grilled in salads.

And as the sun goes down, it’s staycation snifter time with grow-your-own cocktails. Crushed mint with lime and rum forms the base of a zesty mojito, while meddling lemon balm or lemon verbena into gin takes it to a whole other level. Frozen berries – gooseberries, blackcurrants, raspberries – can take the place of ice cubes.

Edible flowers and alfresco dining make summer complete
Edible flowers and alfresco dining make summer complete

3. Add a creative touch - Home comforts and artistic elements help to personalise your space

We all deserve a little luxury and comfort, especially when we’re on holiday, so create seating spaces that tick both those boxes. Soften chairs with stylish cushions and pack a pretty basket with rugs and blankets, so you can enjoy a glass of wine under the stars, even if the temperatures start to dip.

Create a party atmosphere by festooning pergolas with lights and running twinkly fairy lights through plants and shrubs. Hang colourful candle lanterns from branches or place tea lights in borders and along paths for a softly flickering, magical effect. Add a few hammocks or bean bags for a festival-style chill-out.

In a homemade haven of self-indulgence, hot tubs are supremely popular, but there are other ways to stay warm and toasty and nothing says ‘time out’ like sitting round a firepit or brazier. And while you may not want to create a full-on garden bar, you can tap into the restaurant vibe with a bespoke cooking and eating area, even if it’s just a simple barbecue, and setting up a dining space with long benches or bistro tables under a shade sail or pergola. Just remember to take it in turns to cook, lay the table and wash up, so everyone gets a night off!

Finally, get crafty and stylish. Holiday homes always have local artworks on display, so get those creative juices flowing for an extra layer of bespoke loveliness. Make or buy bunting and add vases of flowers. Style your shed to look like a beach hut, painted in pastel stripes or stencilled fish, with a parasol outside should you need the shade. Hang up ornaments and artwork, make some collages or adorn the place with swags of dried plant material. Bring the best bits of the world to your garden and make this a summer holiday to remember!

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