Gardens get a raw deal at Christmas. While everyone's thinking about getting together with family and friends, gardens and balconies are left out in the cold, cut off and forgotten behind the curtains with not so much as a passing glance before March.
Well, that seems a bit of a shame, doesn't it? Gardens and balconies were national saviours during the lockdown months of 2020, garnering must-have status among more homebuyers than ever before. But are gardens and balconies really just for the summer months and sunshine?
Look at the people of Iceland, Norway or Switzerland. Does everyone run away from the cold and pretend it doesn’t exist, or do they delight at the prospect of long nights, steaming stews and hot cocktails?
Even without the promise of Alpine landscapes beneath the stars, there are plenty of quick and easy options for adding instant winter magic to your garden or balcony that keep it usable and beautiful, no matter what the weather.
We’re not talking about planning for spring or summer - that’s for a later article. We’re talking instant gratification to enjoy your garden or balcony right now, then through the festive season and out the other side, while turning it into a year-round asset for you and potential buyers.
KEEP IT COMFORTABLE
The usual advice at this time of year is to put away all your outdoor tables, chairs and parasols to keep them out of elements while you do your best to forget about your garden or balcony. That's fair enough and extremely sensible, but it's not very fun.
Instead of that, invest in some weatherproof canvas covers that protect your furniture when not in use, but keep it ready for action for the cosy and convivial nights that we're about to help you create. Trust us, you don’t want to go delving into the shed everytime you want to sit down.
Along with furniture covers, procure a supply of thick snuggly blankets for you and your chosen companions to wrap yourselves in for maximum enjoyment of long, lazy and wonderful winter evenings outdoors.
LIGHT UP THE NIGHTS
A big part of winter’s charms are the Christmas illuminations of high streets, the window displays of shops, and the decorations at home. But the magic doesn’t have to stop at your back door and there are multiple ways of turning your garden or balcony into a magical place of light.
Strings of vintage bulbs are de rigueur across the globe, hanging above the terraces of pubs, cafes and bars. No less effective at home in your garden or balcony, all you need is an outdoor power supply for an instant flavour of festival or fun fair.
No power supply? No problem! You can emulate the effect with battery-powered chains of lanterns, globes or even fairy lights: just make sure the power pack is sited somewhere safe where it won’t get rained on.
Storm candles require zero batteries or electricity and come in modern and traditional styles to suit any exterior space, from a contemporary roof terrace to a country garden: everywhere looks great by candlelight!
And if you’d like a crafting project for you or the children, how about making your own ice lanterns by filling balloons with water and freezing them? Try these simple instructions:
Or take it further still with home-made ice candle-holders fused with seasonal plants and berries:
FEEL THE HEAT
Think about ski season and sitting on a terrace sipping hot chocolate when it’s minus 10. Just because the nights are chilly, doesn’t mean your garden or balcony can’t be warm.
Infrared outdoor heaters have been commonplace for years at pavement cafes and bars around the world, keeping customers happy, warm and ordering, no matter what the temperature. Today, the range of domestic models is wider than ever with freestanding, parasole and wall-mounted options to suit every type of outdoor space. And because there are no flames, infrared heaters can be sited below awnings and parasols to trap the heat, which means you can use them even when it’s raining.
But what if the idea of no flames leaves you cold? If your baseline for being outside in winter is to be gathered around naked flames while toasting chestnuts or marshmallows, perhaps a freestanding fire pit is the answer. Think mulled wine in one hand and roasting stick in the other, as your innate desire to huddle is well and truly fulfilled.
BLOOM INTO VIEW
You might be surprised to know how many different plants cheerfully burst into bloom at this time of year. Winter flowers give a welcome splash of colour to the coldest and darkest months and you can easily plant them until late November. Young plants and seedlings are available at garden centres for swift bedding or potting at home, giving you immediate results for minimal effort.
Winter pansies come in all sorts of colourful shades and will flower through most of the season. Mix them with dusty pink daphnes and buttercup-yellow aconites along with classic festive whites of snowdrops, winter clematis and Christmas Rose. All make excellent cuttings for indoors.
You can also bring winter-active bumble bees to your garden or balcony with mahonias, whose slender spikes of bright yellow flowers reach out from clusters of deep green and glossy leaves. Don’t say that doesn’t sound fabulous!
FEED THE BIRDS
Very often, the only activity a garden or balcony sees in the winter is from banished and shivering smokers, but there are numerous other visitors waiting in the wings. You’ll find plenty of birds adding life to the skies, trees and gardens throughout the colder months, with native British species joined by visitors from continental Europe, Scandinavia and even Russia: robins, our national bird, mingle with chaffinch, goldfinch, bramblings, nuthatch, blue tits and many more.
Gazing out of the window and watching the birds hover, dart and perch is winter food for the soul and, as well as encouraging biodiversity, you can easily draw birds to your garden or balcony with the promise of a free meal through nesting boxes or hanging feeders.
Available absolutely everywhere – from supermarkets and local shops, to home improvement stores and garden centres, to countless online retailers – setting them up is simplicity itself: hammer a nesting box into the ground, or hang a feeder from a hook, and you’re good to go.
If you’d prefer to make your own, try these simple instructions from Woodland Trust:
So there you have it: you don’t have to wait for spring or summer to enjoy the outside at home. Whatever sort of outdoor space you have, it can be quickly and easily warmed up for winter to create a magical seasonal sanctuary, as well as a seductive selling point for viewers.
If you're still stuck for ideas – or you'd like to invite us for mulled wine and mince pies on the terrace! – why not get in touch? You can call us on 02380 987 720 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org - we'd love to help make the most of your garden or balcony, whatever the time of year.