Interiors: What you need to know when planning a family friendly garden

The one thing people often forget when starting house renovations is that the garden, after you’ve finished building, resembles a mud pit, as it is used as the builders yard. Building supplies, skips, materials and port-a-loos are placed. It’s often the place they go to have their coffee, smoke a fag and sometimes pee. Delightful.

Of course, it all has to go somewhere and it’s a necessary part of the process and so worth it in the end. If you’re building an extension it can sometimes affect the size and shape of garden you are left with. Given most people are renovating or extending to accommodate new little family members, it’s a good bet that the garden needs to become a more child friendly space.

Make sure to leave money in your renovation budget so that you are not left looking at an eye sore from your beautifully renovated house. Those gorgeous sliding or bifold doors that connect you to nature are great, but you will be faced with the glaring reality of your garden for months until you can re-landscape.

We were so focused on the build and having our new baby that although we consulted landscape gardeners in January, they were already booked up until July. The best ones will be, so be prepared to plan ahead. We booked them there and then, after getting a few quotes, and there was no commitment up front to decide exactly what we wanted or to pay anything until the time.

We had inherited a beautiful mature cottage garden, but it was so full of plants that the borders were too big and we wanted more lawn back. We’d built a side return extension on what was a very large patio we used for entertaining and barely used the garden before. We also had a large gravelled area sometimes used for parking cars, which was not very child friendly, although we managed perfectly well with the Little Inspiration, but I was always concerned about picking up, throwing, swallowing and even falling on stones.

We applied for planning permission to create another drive in the kitchen garden at the other side of the property, which was quite an expensive process, including fees and the contractor to drop a curb, build the curb back up on the other side and put down new aggregate. We also needed some new fencing, so be sure to think through all of the components you need when planning. 

Although it survived remarkably well given the amount of building supplies, probably because we had a lot of patio and gravel for the materials, it was still very lack lustre to look at and revealed some issues with screening that we had never previously experienced, given where we mainly sat in the garden before. Sitting looking through the large expanses of glass every day drove me to insanity until we were able to start renovating the garden.

We started by drawing sketches of what we had in mind and getting inspiration from Pinterest. We tried to track the sun, so that we knew where our sunny and shady spots were naturally. We drew zones for eating, relaxing, a morning cuppa. Storage and play, among others. This was mainly done with pen and paper and was massively helpful for getting quotes. Of course they can sometimes provide a design for but it costs. A lot.

We were surprised by how much some quotes were but then given how much we spent on the house, it does stand to reason that it would be around 5% / 10% of the build cost. It also depends on how much stone, porcelain or decking you have, as some kind of patio will be a part of your outdoor space, if you enjoy outdoor living.

Our main focus was to simplify the garden and create a larger grassed area surrounded by patio. As we wanted it to be child friendly and accessible year round, we seriously looked into artificial grass as an option for our lawned area. Mess free, low / no maintenance and realistic and attractive to look at, it was a serious contender. We loved the idea that the kids wouldn’t drag mud through the house, given we installed a lot of bifold doors to increase our indoor / outdoor living. Of course we were weighing up all the pros and cons with real and artificial grass the whole way along the process.

We started in the spring by hiring a gardener to strip out a lot of bushes and low lying plants to reveal what space we had. It was purely because we were quite tied up with a newborn and one year old that we didn’t do it ourselves and he got it done so much more efficiently than we would have.

We also appreciated his advice about what would work in our garden and on how to save as many of the plants we had to reinstall elsewhere, as it all needed moving around. He moved things from one side of the garden to the other, put some in pots, took a lot of waste away to the tip for us, which would have costed £200 in skip hire. It was also a lot cheaper than if we had gone all inclusive with a landscape company, as he charged by the hour.

Our garden in our 1850’S property was like the walls and a big higgledy piggledy and full of angles, so we wanted to make the most of the space, rather than emphasise it further. We incorporated circles and diagonals and various smaller patios, to zone our spaces.

When it came to choosing the patio material we really liked York stone and felt it went well without traditional property. We had quite a lot of square footage to cover so shopped around a bit for a good price. We were told Indian sandstone had a look and feel similar to York stone but a lot more cost effective so we trusted this opinion. We liked the character and colours in Raj Green so this is what we went with.

The process of installing the patio was grueling work in July heat, so I can totally see where they earn their money and our spaces had so many angles to cut so was not a straight forward job. It took almost a week to do over the whole garden with the patio taking up a good proportion.

Talk then turned to the lawn and whether we would go for a real or artificial grass. For the area we wanted to cover, artificial grass was going to end up quite an expensive option, twice the price or more than real turf. Our friends sung its virtues of being easy, clean and fuss free to install artificial grass.

We also looked at just reseeding what we had, but as the area we had created was a totally different shape, it would have taken a long time. Plus we would have had to keep off it for a long time and in the height of summer with two babies that was just not possible.

Real turf however, was going to be interesting to install in July heatwave and there was a real need to keep watering it like crazy to stop it drying out and dying. However, we decided it would get us the quickest results, for a lower price, leaving us to spend more on our patio. But  If you ever want to test your nerve, install turf in the height of summer! We also hosted a little party for our girl the week it was installed and had the pleasure of wincing every time a guest trod on it.

Never-the-less we did keep watering it and it did quite well, apart from a few bits that haven’t taken as well under trees so we’ll be on that as soon as we are out in the garden less.

We've really loved the warm evenings this year and being able to sit out here with a fire going or in the hot tub (a previous purchase pre kids). 

The addition of some warm exterior lighting from when we did the building work and some string festoon lights have made it ideal for evening entertaining.

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