Look on the bright side

OUTDOOR STYLE: Deck the garden in a riot of colour – it’s one way to defy the weather, writes ALANNA GALLAGHER

OUTDOOR STYLE:Deck the garden in a riot of colour – it's one way to defy the weather, writes ALANNA GALLAGHER

SPRING HAS SPRUNG and with it the promise of long sunny days spent in the garden. Nowadays we’re enhancing our surroundings with rainbow-bright colours instead of ostentation.

Despite our dodgy weather, we are optimists by nature, says Gill Reilly, interior design manager at Ikea. “We want to sit in our gardens and enjoy them but we’re quite traditional in our tastes.” There’s a return to old-fashioned values harking back to a time when the garden was primarily a space for kids and friends to enjoy themselves on those rare sunny days, says interior designer Mary Ryder. Garden design – in both planting and furnishing – is less formal than it has been in years, so whether you want to freshen up or overhaul your garden, keep looking on the bright side.



The weather can wreak havoc on outdoor plans. Protection from the elements is important, says Gill Reilly. Using sails as canopies is one of the swishest ways to add shade and cover from showers. “They are elegant and sophisticated looking,” she explains. Ikea sells such a sail – a three-point swathe of showerproof fabric that you can attach to the side of your house, with the added advantage of being easy to roll up and store when not in use. It comes in two sizes.


You can also add instant ambience with fun outdoor lighting ideas. Ikea’s Solig range offers seven different styles of solar-powered light, many of which are portable so you can use them indoors and out. There are bright table lamps as well as a central pendant which can be hung inside a parasol to create an impression of cosiness around the table with forgiving white light.


Choose a garden set that suits you and your aesthetic and that has longevity. That’s the advice from Joanne Kelly, managing director of interior design firm Think Contemporary.

Stackable dining chairs are a must. “I would advise saving up for something that really adds oomph to the garden and that will stand the test of time rather than serve as this season’s high-fashion fix,” she says, suggesting Avoca for solid, wrought-iron furniture that lasts.

A clever way to get your garden decor to multi-task is to build up concrete planters that also serve as seating, says Ryder. And pump up the colour with a scattering of cushions. Pile on the clashing patterns, she says. One well-priced, six-seat Acapulco glass-top patio set, for example, costs €169.99 at Woodies.


Apartments are very low on storage so choose furniture that can fold away. Ikea’s Blanko tables clip onto the side of the balcony, minimising their footprint on your already compromised outdoor space. Add privacy with striped balcony guards, which also brighten up the view and serve as a barrier against the wind.


The deck is dead, says Ryder. Kelly concurs: “Decking is only worth it if you can afford the time to maintain it.” As a nation we went decking mad – as per David McWilliams’s “Decklanders” in his book The Pope’s Children.

“As much as I love the look, it just needs far too much maintenance,” says Kelly. Tiles offer a great alternative. Woodies and BQ have good selections of outdoor slabs. Garden centres, too, offer a wide range of options. Or, as Kelly suggests, you could go straight to the source – a stone merchant – and try to haggle.


“It is very un-PC to use outdoor heating,” says Ryder. “From an ethical point of view, I advise against them.” Instead she recommends the Firedot, which burns bioethanol, a green fuel. It’s on offer at €1,300.

If your budget doesn’t stretch to that, Ryder suggests adopting a DIY approach. Take one galvanised Oscar the Grouch-style bin and drill holes in it. Lay a mesh doorscraper about two thirds of the way down the bin, making sure you also drill holes under this to allow the air to flow up and create a draught. Lay your smokeless fuel or wood on the mesh and you’ve got a brazier that will keep everyone warm. Another option is simply to get bright wool or fleece blankets to snuggle under as the temperature takes a dive.


Colour is vital to help you spring into the new season, and cushions – indoor and out – are one of the easiest, most affordable ways of adding pops of colour. John Rocha’s sunny yellow accessories, available from Debenhams, will help your garden shine – no matter the weather.

Joanne Kelly suggests painting a back wall in an enclosed garden a funky colour – fuchsia pink, azure blue or tomato red – to really set off the greenery. “It looks well all year round and even on a dull day the space feels bright and is relatively maintenance-free.”


Entertaining has come full circle, says Ryder – the quest for perfection is over (hallelujah!). If invited to a barbecue, think about contributing to the feast and bring food rather than an expensive gift. As for the hosts, two to three bowls of brightly-coloured salads are essential, says Domini Kemp. “Cook chicken and sausages beforehand so all you’re doing is finishing them on the barbecue. And thin slices of pineapple dusted with brown sugar crumbs that have been crushed, along with fresh mint, in a pestle and mortar, make a delicious end to a smoky meal.”


Chilled drinks are a must. Trugs – plastic tubs that come in a variety of sizes and colours – are super multi-taskers. During the winter they can house kids’ toys, and on rare sunny days they can be filled with ice to chill drinks. They’re available from Howards Storage World (hsw.ie). Melamine crockery is another outdoor essential. Virtually indestructible, it adds colour, too. And if you are drinking bubbly, some chic but strong acrylic champagne flutes will add fizz to any party. Marks Spencer sells cool aqua-coloured ones. And if you really want to go for glamour, drop dried hibiscus flowers into each flute. They add a tart tang and a warm blush to the colour of the drink, says Kemp.


The biggest trend in gardening just now is, of course, grow-your-own, says Helen Coughlan, chief buyer with Meadows Byrne. Their pots of herbs and and salad ingredients start at €1.50, and are perfect for windowsill gardens.

Ryder agrees: “You get such a kick out of growing something yourself. I started with basil and lettuce in pots last year. I have friends who’ve taken it a step further and invested in an allotment. It is a phenomenally simple pleasure and, while we haven’t reverted to The Good Life, we definitely have more time to spend in our gardens.”


The Weber barbecue is the Rolls Royce of outdoor cooking, says Coughlan. “It’s simple to use and aesthetically superior. The basic model costs €80 and is available in a variety of spring shades.”

A high-end option is available from Alessi at Brown Thomas. The Barbicù design (from €549) can be set on a stand or used low to the ground and comes with the usual range of cool utensils.


Overnight camping in the back garden has been a rite of passage for generations. While modern life and 21st-century weather conspire against the experience, every child should at least get to spend some time in a tent out back. Zandra Rhodes’s design for UK outdoor outfit Millets includes one of the sweetest day tents on the market. Her teepee costs £119.99 (approximately €132), excluding delivery, and is available from millets.co.uk.