How to

9 ways to make your outdoor area feel like a retreat in the colder months

It might be chilly but that’s no reason to hole up indoors. Add a little heat, light and shelter to turn your outdoor living area into an open-air winter retreat

1. Night music 

Listening to music on a comfortable outdoor sofa with a glass of wine must be one of the most relaxing pastimes there is, regardless of whether it’s winter or summer. If you’re a music buff, think about investing in a set of outdoor speakers for the deck or courtyard this year.

2. Just add colour

Even in winter you can have plenty of colour and interest in the garden areas close to outdoor living spaces if you choose winter-flowering plants such as camellia, clivia, pansies, cyclamen and helleborus. Berry-producing plants are another option as they add bright colour to the garden and some species attract birds as well. Try crab apples, corokia, junipers, mahonia and nandina.

3. Heat treatment 

Any form of outdoor heating will extend your use of the garden for a month or two either side of summer, but it’s the primordial allure of the campfire that has an increasing number of Kiwis installing outdoor fireplaces in their backyards. Some of us prefer our fires to be wood-burning but that means storing wood and cleaning up ashes, not to mention dealing with fire restrictions in certain areas during summer. Others are happy to settle for the more low-maintenance, gas-fired options. Another issue to consider is whether your fireplace should be freestanding or include walls for storage, screening or giving extra structural definition to your outdoor living area.

4. Light up

Like heaters and fires, outdoor lighting is as much about ambience as it is about practicality. Well-designed lighting can make your deck or terrace feel like a magical place after dark, encouraging you and your guests to linger well after sunset. Things to consider include: where to position lights in seating areas to create a soft, not glaring light; features that you’d like to highlight such as a lovely tree, water feature or artwork; solar versus mains electricity; and how to avoid creating light pollution (yes, it’s a very real concern).

5. Screen star

Enclosing decks and terraces with screens (built or planted) on at least two sides will go a long way towards making them feel more warm, comfortable and room-like by protecting the space from wind, nosy neighbours and traffic fumes.

6. On the move

If the budget is tight or you like to sit in a variety of spaces outside, go for one of the great-looking portable outdoor gas heaters now on the market. Prefer a real fire? Then try a chiminea, brazier or fire bowl that can be used on a table, at ground level or moved to different locations to suit the time of day or season. You can also store them for greater longevity.

7. Over and above 

Overhead shelter is key for enjoying the garden in winter. A pergola, awning or shade sail will not only keep you dry in wet weather, it will also give you privacy if the garden is overlooked and will help trap the warmth in your outdoor living area. Make sure the overhead structure relates to the architecture of the house and/or the style of the garden and, if possible, leave a section uncovered so you can gaze at the stars.

8. Soft touch 

We all like to snuggle down into cushions on a cold night. Add plenty of cushions to your chairs and outdoor sofas to entice friends and family to linger a little longer on the deck or terrace. Splash out on some warm throws as well and get settled in for a cosy evening.

9. Totally floored 

Don’t forget about the floor when you’re creating a warm and toasty garden space. Outdoor rugs can help block cool air coming up from below your deck, soften hard surfaces and keep them cleaner, particularly in outdoor cooking and dining areas. They’ll also add extra colour and vibrancy – essential for dispelling winter gloom.

Words by: Carol Bucknell.

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