Exercise, relaxation and fresh air are among the best remedies for stress, and what better way to enjoy these than in your home? Most of us have a garden, however small.
This detailed guide will take you through everything you need to know to organize and maintain your lawn and garden well.
Those who are lucky enough to have a nice spot to sit outside, enjoying plenty of sunshine and with good views, may already have invested in a patio. Yet many of us don’t make the most of the patios, and only use them on the hottest summer days. It’s true that the climate can affect your decision on whether to have a patio in the first place. In a very cold or wet climate, actually laying a patio, paving or concrete can prove an insurmountable problem.
Experts advise that you do not carry out this task in frosty or rainy conditions, because of the risk of damage to the base. Frost on the ground while laying this type of surface can result in the paving compacting when weather conditions return to normal, causing cracks or an uneven, unsightly finish. When concrete is not correctly prepared, it can become discoloured or patchy.
If you are going to spend any length of time sitting on your patio (and why have one if you are not going to?), you will want to keep it clean. Concrete surfaces, and even paving stones, will become ingrained with dirt over time, without your even noticing. Concrete and stone are porous surfaces that tend to absorb moisture. Weeds and moss can find their way into any cracks or damp areas and will need to be removed before cleaning can be carried out effectively.
Pressure washing equipment can be used on a variety of surfaces, including wooden decking, and may come with a range of attachments to achieve this. Some work on a similar principle to the hovercraft/hover mower, by creating an air cushion for ease of use. Like a mower, they can be powered by electricity or by petrol.
The one essential is a water supply; the washer has an internal mechanism that pumps around the water from a hose to make more economical use of the water by keeping the flow under pressure, thus ensuring a more efficient cleaning process. Pressure washers are not cheap, but it is worth noting that they can be hired by the day if you can’t afford one at present.
Best for: All types of patio; householders with a less restricted budget, ready water supply and storage space who want to clean frequently and effortlessly.
We tend to assume that patio furniture will be made of materials that do not deteriorate by being left outside in inclement weather. This is not necessarily the case; garden furniture is available in many different materials, including metal, glass, plastic and natural fibres. Nevertheless, the factors to consider when purchasing include what storage space is available, inside or outside the house, and whether the furniture is easy to fold up and put away (not to mention easy to unfold and put out again).
The ever-popular rattan is made from a type of reed also known as “malacca”, from its place of origin in the Far East. It became popular because it is easy to manipulate at high temperatures so is versatile when it comes to furniture shapes; it is also very hard-wearing and will survive adverse weather for a surprisingly long time, particularly if covered.
There is some concern about the sustainability of certain varieties of rattan, which is sometimes purchased at low prices from local populations with poor economies. If you’re not worried about this, rattan combines attractive looks and durability at a lower price than some of the alternatives. One drawback is that curved edges and sleek shapes tend to make furniture less collapsible so it takes up more storage space.
Best for: Style and durability; householders with an average budget and plenty of storage space.
Poly Rattan / Synthetic Rattan Furniture
Nowadays rattan fibres are often combined with other materials, such as metal and plastic, to provide all the benefits of natural rattan at an even lower cost, and improve portability by including collapsible components. Furniture made from this type of material will generally last even longer than its natural rattan equivalent, but metal frames may be prone to rust if not covered or put away after use.
Best for: Style and durability; householders with a limited budget and some storage space.
As with poly rattan, furniture made from metal frames always needs to be protected from rust, if not covered or put away after use, with the exception of aluminium, which is virtually rust-proof because of the dense layer of aluminium oxide that forms when it comes into contact with water (or gets rained on!) Aluminium is also lighter than most other metals, which is why it is popular for manufacturing kitchen equipment and... garden furniture.
Best for: Versatility and durability; householders with a limited budget and restricted storage space.
Stainless Steel Furniture
In terms of durability, stainless steel can also be very long-lasting ; steel was already popular before aluminium became widely available. Like aluminium, stainless steel is less prone to rusting, in this case because the process of corrosion is interrupted when it comes into contact with the invisible protective film that is created by the combination of elements in the alloy. Stainless steel is not, however, “stainless” in the normal sense. Like any other material, it requires care and maintenance to remove dirt and prevent contamination. It is heavier than aluminium and thus less portable.
Best for: Durability and style; householders with a less restricted budget and plenty of storage space.
Wrought Iron Furniture
Wrought iron furniture is a traditional garden feature; it was popular in Victorian times, and antique garden furniture can still be widely seen, and bought, demonstrating how long it can last as long as it is cared for properly and painted from time to time. Its longevity is equalled by its sturdiness and resistance to damage. Wrought iron is heavy, which means it can be an effort to move it around the garden or patio according to immediate requirements. However, the weight can also be a deterrent to would-be thieves who might be attracted by the intricate designs that can be achieved when working with this metal.
Best for: Durability and style; householders with a less restricted budget who want to make an impression.
Wood is a traditional solution for seating, which has the one major advantage of being more comfortable to sit on than metal, stone or plastic. This is partly because wood is a poor conductor of heat - unlike metal, which stays cold on a cold day and can get very hot on a warm day.
Wood can look very attractive when new, but needs care to maintain and will not withstand prolonged exposure to the elements; paint and preservatives can extend its life. Wood is often combined with other materials (for example, a wooden seat with a metal frame or a wooden frame with a canvas seat) in order to produce a cheaper, more portable seating solution.
Best for: Comfort and portability; householders with a limited budget.
Furniture manufactured from plastic is usually the cheapest available, and it has many practical advantages. It is not susceptible to rust, and, being a synthetic material, it is slow to rot. It is generally lighter and thus more portable than other materials.
A particular problem with cheap plastic is its tendency to discolour in bright light, which is usually caused by a lack of resistance to the ultraviolet rays given off by the sun, resulting in fading, yellowing and a degradation in the structure of the plastic so that it can eventually collapse or break.
However, plastics can be manufactured with additives that give them a built-in resistance to ultra-violet light. This coating is sometimes renewable, to give the product an even longer life.
Best for: Portability and versatility; householders with a limited budget.
Upholstery and Leather
An obvious drawback of metal as a material for furniture is that it does not provide a soft surface to sit on. Nor, for that matter, do most of the materials from which garden furniture can be made. Most owners of garden furniture demand removable, easily cleanable covers to provide comfortable seating, and to enhance and preserve the appearance of the furniture itself. Seating often comes complete with padded cushions, but these can also be purchased separately. Unlike the furniture itself, upholstered covers and cushions almost always need to be put into storage when not in use. When fabric repeatedly gets wet, it can rot; scientists are still labouring to develop a truly water-resistant fabric. Leather is even more easily damaged by the weather; it does not even have to be raining for humidity in the air to cause a chemical reaction that spoils its appearance.
Best for: Comfort; householders with plenty of storage space.
Most people are aware of the dangers of too much sun; sunshine contains powerful ultraviolet rays that can damage the skin and even cause cancer. So, although sunlight also has beneficial qualities, such as vitamin D, too much of it can be bad for you. You can mitigate the risk of sunburn or sunstroke by using an umbrella to keep in the shade when the sun is shining strongly on your patio or garden.
Garden parasols come in a huge range of styles, colours and prices, and most are built to fold away for easy storage. Since they usually consist of a metal or plastic pole with a fabric canopy, they should not be left out in adverse weather conditions. Many have a canopy that is waterproof and resistant to mould, but it is still advisable to remove it when not in use, to avoid wind damage.
Best for:Comfort, health and safety; householders with all budgets.
Pergolas and Awnings
A pergola or awning is another option for protecting your family and guests from the sun. The one thing that is essential for a successful pergola is a suitable location. If you have no sunny areas in your garden or patio that are close to the house, you need to look for a sunny spot further from the house where there is space for a stand-alone pergola. Many people integrate their pergola into their garden by adding potted plants, a water feature, or even vines (if the climate permits). A rockery or border can be planted around or next to the pergola so that it becomes part of the landscape.
Best for: Comfort, health and safety; householders with a less restricted budget and plenty of patio/garden space.
Patio and garden tables come in the same range of materials as other types of patio furniture. How much you spend on one depends mainly on how you are going to use it and whether you need to leave it outside when not in use.
Tables that are going to be used for frequent entertaining - garden parties, al fresco cooking, etc - need to be more stable and have a larger surface area. If you are only ever intending to take drinks and snacks into the garden, a table may not be necessary at all, and a low-cost, portable, plastic or wooden side table will do the job. Naturally, you need to consider what to put on the table; unbreakable or disposable plates and glasses are the most practical.
Best for: Practical outdoor entertaining; householders with all budgets and storage space.
If you want to use your patio at dusk or after dark, you may want to equip it with lighting. The choice of lighting will depend on two things: whether you need powerful light and whether you want your surroundings to look attractive. Electrical safety is of paramount importance when installing lights out of doors. Make sure you only choose lights that are labelled as suitable for outdoor use. The same applies to the extension lead; even if only one end of it is outdoors, it still needs to be suitable for outdoors.
LED and Solar Lights
For those who find the process of ensuring electrical safety a daunting prospect, LED and solar lights are the ideal solution as they do not require any wiring or electrical connection. LED stands for “light-emitting diode”, an invention of the 1960s which has gone from strength to strength; these lights work by producing “electroluminescence”, using “semiconductors” (materials with high electrical resistance).
The process is complex but the resulting lights are popular because they use significantly less electricity than a conventional lightbulb and carry less heat, reducing the risk of fire. They have a reputation for longevity, which is helped by the fact that the bulbs are not made of glass. LED lights are often used in combination with a solar battery and photovoltaic cell (which stores energy absorbed from sunlight) to create a lighting solution without a connection to an electrical source inside the house.
Solar batteries can, however, discharge and lose their effectiveness over a long period and may need to be replaced.
Best for: Durability, safety, versatility and economy; householders on a limited budget.
Lanterns, usually LED-based, have become increasingly popular for outdoor use because of their portability. LED lights can be made to look like candles inside lanterns (but much safer than a real candle), and this lower-level light is very much in-keeping with the fashionable Danish idea of “hygge”, often translated as “cosiness”.
The variety and colour of designs is almost infinite. The only drawback is the need for storage when not in use - but there is nothing to stop you from using them indoors as well as on your patio!
Best for: Portability, safety, versatility and hygge; householders on a limited budget.
As well as lighting your patio, you may want to consider heating it, especially if you are located in a northern or western region where you may get more daylight but less warmth from the sun.
In Scandinavian countries, it is very common to see outdoor heaters used by restaurants to encourage customers to sit outside. For your patio, or garden, there are many options.
The type of clay oven known as a “chimenea” (or “chiminea”) appears to have originated in Central America and has been used for centuries for both heating and cooking. Nowadays it has become more of a fashion statement than a practical necessity, but these rustic-looking heating devices - which are often made of cast iron rather than clay - can also contribute to creating an atmosphere of hygge, and can be powered with dry wood (the kind you might have left over after a gardening session), charcoal, or a liquid fuel such as ethanol.
Not all fuels are suitable for use in every type of chimenea, so be sure you check on this before deciding. Whatever your choice of fuel, it needs to be stored somewhere secure to avoid accidents. On the plus side, a chimenea is relatively inexpensive to buy and can be expected to last a long time. Some models are suitable for indoor use, and you still have the option to do some simple cooking - an interesting variation on the barbecue.
Best for: Comfort, durability, style and hygge; householders with a limited budget and plenty of storage space.
A firepit is an alternative type of traditional heating, giving the appearance of a free-standing outdoor hearth. Modern firepits, however, do not have to be fuelled with coal or wood but can run on gas. A gas firepit has many of the same advantages as an indoor gas fire: it is easy to turn on and off, is attractive and interesting to look at, and does not require cleaning out after every use. There is no smoke and they do not give off sparks, so are safer than wood fires. Nevertheless, safety is a consideration.
Although firepits can be made of “weatherproof” materials, they need to be covered when not in use, and the tank containing the propane gas should be detached. Firepits must be carefully located away from fire hazards - for example, it is not advisable to stand a firepit directly on wooden decking. Some firepits, like chimeneas, are suitable for simple cooking.
Best for: Comfort, cleanliness and hygge; householders with a less restricted budget and suitable outdoor space.
Electric Patio Heater
Electric patio heaters are normally connected to mains electricity. They are often attached to a wall or upright stand but may also be free-standing and/or portable. Many are advertised as “weatherproof”, but this does not mean they are designed to be left outside in adverse weather if it can be avoided. As with all electrical equipment, care must be taken to ensure safe use. An electric heater can be a source of low-level light as well as providing heat, thus fulfilling a dual purpose and reducing cost.
Best for: Comfort and portability; householders with an average budget and limited storage space.
Propane Patio Heater
Patio heaters that run on propane gas are portable and safe provided that you follow the instructions for use, especially for control of the gas supply. Check that the model you purchase has a safety shut-off in case of accidents.
Gas-powered patio heaters can be visually attractive because they show a flame that gives an additional impression of warmth and comfort. They should also have a variable heat control. Some more expensive designs will provide a spectacular display to impress your visitors.
Best for: Comfort and portability; householders with a less retricted budget who want to make an impression.
Unlike patio furniture, lawn furniture is likely to be packed away when not in use, so portability is an important feature. The ultimate item of folding lawn furniture is the deckchair, invented in the 1880s and traditionally made of a wooden frame and canvas “slings”.
Types of Folding Chair
A drawback of the deckchair is the seating position, which gives no support to the lumbar region of the back, and also makes it harder for an elderly or less mobile person to get in and out of the chair - not to mention the possibility of the chair collapsing because it is worn or has not been properly erected.
A variation on this is the so-called “tennis chair”, a type of folding chair designed for spectators at sporting events, who prefer not to sit on the grass but also want to sit upright to give them a clear view of the action. Folding reclining chairs may be made from materials other than wood. Sometimes the importance of comfort may be overlooked in favour of attractive, bright colours. It is worth knowing that some makers of deckchairs also sell replacement slings in different fabrics and patterns.
Best for: Comfort, style and portability; householders with a limited budget and a moderate amount of lawn space.
The bench has been a popular outdoor seating solution for centuries. When people got bored with sitting on fallen tree trunks, they moved on to wooden, stone or cast iron benches that looked attractive, and these remain a common sight in parks and gardens. Benches are an economical solution when entertaining, because they will seat three or four people, saving the cost of additional chairs (though they may not be quite as comfortable).
Portable benches, if they are a suitable height and design, can double as table seating when dining al fresco, and are particularly suitable if you don’t have a patio because they generally remain stable on a less even surface than chairs; this is because the weight is spread over a wider area.
Best for: Practicality; householders with a limited budget and plenty of lawn space.
Hammocks and Hammock Chairs
Hammocks were, and still are, used in cramped spaces, such as ships, to maximise sleeping accommodation. Their use in gardens is not primarily for sleeping but for relaxing in the sun or shade; with space not being an issue, various developments have taken place to make comfort the main concern.
Hammocks, however, have to be attached to something solid and secure for safety reasons; it can be difficult enough climbing in and out of a hammock without the additional risk of falling. The ropes, straps, loops and hooks normally used to tether the hammock must be checked for strength; if ropes are frayed, they could break under the weight of the person using the hammock.
Hammock chairs are an alternative means of relaxing in a sitting position instead of lying down. They normally only need one hanging point, which unfortunately means that it may be more difficult to find a position at a suitable height; some come with their own stand, which eliminates this problem.
Best for: Complete relaxation and sunbathing; householders with all budgets and plenty of lawn space.
Swings are not the preserve of children. Just as babies enjoy being rocked to sleep, adults have always enjoyed their soothing sensation of a swing, and the possible health benefits include better circulation, mitigation of joint and back pain, and reduced anxiety.
Garden swing seats will generally seat up to three people comfortably. Thus, although they are more expensive than the average hammock, they can be an economical solution for a family. Many of the same safety considerations apply when setting up and maintaining the swing as with hammocks. Because multi-seat swings invariably come with an inbuilt stand and a canopy, they are less suitable for sunbathing but good for protecting the family, especially children, from too much sun.
Best for: Relaxation and fun; householders with a less restricted budget and plenty of lawn space.
Children’s Play Equipment
If you have children or grandchildren, you may want to install a child’s swing and other play equipment in your garden. This is one area where safety is absolutely paramount. Manufacturers generally recommend installing a special surface to minimize the likelihood of injury should an accident happen. Your lawn can be soft or hard, depending on recent weather, and this can make a big difference, so it is best to use a more reliable surface such as rubber mats or imitation grass.
It is usually best to leave installation to the supplier. Where a temporary play surface, such as rubber tiles, is used, it can easily be expanded or moved if you change your mind about which part of the garden you want the children to play in. However, swings, slides and climbing frames need to be firmly fixed to a level surface and are not designed to be moved frequently. Portable sandpits and paddling pools are an exception; these should be covered when not in use, to avoid contamination and accidents.
Best for: Relaxation and fun; householders with young families, a less restricted budget and plenty of lawn space.
Trampolining is a very popular recreational activity, especially with children, and a very good form of exercise. Trampolines for garden use are normally portable and sometimes designed for use indoors or outdoors. The bigger your garden, the bigger your trampoline’s surface can be and a large one can accommodate more than one “bouncer” at a time. A small trampoline suitable for younger children is well within the budget of most households. For those with big gardens who want a trampolining solution that doesn’t spoil the landscape, there are “in-ground” trampolines which are best installed by a professional, at a higher price.
Best for: Relaxation and fun; householders with young families, all budgets and plenty of lawn space or adequate storage space.
Swimming is recognised as an ideal form of exercise for people of all ages and states of health. A pool is a major investment and those with larger homes and gardens generally choose to have one installed by a specialist, perhaps with changing facilities erected alongside, rather than buying a basic model that they can install themselves. Unfortunately, the average garden is simply not large enough to accommodate a swimming pool. Even in medium-sized gardens, indoor pools are not usually a practical option and outdoor pools are only suitable in warmer climates. However, assuming an adequate budget, there are alternatives.
“Endless” Pools and Treadmills
The “endless” pool is a relatively recent concept, which allows users to get their exercise without requiring a full-size pool It works on a similar principle to the treadmill, allowing the swimmer to exercise at his/her own pace and continue until they are ready to stop. This means that they can fit into a smaller space than a standard swimming pool. This type of pool is often used by athletes, including open-water swimmers, as a convenient way to train. It uses less water than a traditional pool and is more economical to heat. Underwater treadmills can also be included as a way of exercising in water without actually swimming.
Best for: Relaxation and exercise; householders with a less restricted budget, a busy lifestyle and adequate space.
Solar Pool Heaters
Solar heating is increasingly a preferred option for outdoor pools. This normally works by means of a collector panel that retains the warmth of the sun and uses it to warm pool water through a pump-driven circulation system. The economic benefits are the most obvious but it does take time to recoup the cost of buying the system in the first place.
Naturally, the climate plays a role in the effectiveness of solar heating. Owners of gardens that do not get much sun may need to invest in a backup heating system. A newer method of solar pool heating is the floating heater which is self-powering and filters the water while heating it. Manufacturers claim it is quieter than a pumping system and that the cost of purchase can be recouped within a year or two.
Best for: Relaxation and exercise; householders with a less restricted budget, a busy lifestyle and adequate space.
Hot tubs - sometimes referred to as a “home spa”, even when they are outdoors - are no longer just for the wealthy. Inflatable hot tubs have become a practical reality, and have most of the advantages of a permanent hot tub at a much lower price, while not needing to take up garden space all year round. They are, however, subject to damage and unlikely to last as long as a standard hot tub.
When choosing a hot tub, factors such as installation and maintenance need to be taken into account; most householders do not have the technical ability to install the hot tub themselves. In colder climates, precautions need to be taken against freezing, which can cause permanent damage to an outdoor tub. Hot tubs should always be covered when not in use, and preferably drained so as to avoid contamination. Neither permanent nor inflatable hot tubs are ideal for those who do not have time to set them up and care for them.
Best for: Relaxation; householders with a less restricted budget and adequate space who are willing to spend some time and effort on maintenance.
Although watching television sounds like the opposite of an outdoor activity, in many households it is a social occasion that brings the family together, and in good weather who wouldn’t prefer to enjoy it out of doors? The problems associated with setting up a TV set outside include waterproofing, electrical safety and the need to avoid the reflection of the sun on the screen.
Outdoor TV sets are now being developed that can overcome these problems at a price. They can withstand adverse weather and use LED technology to create an image which is much brighter than a normal set. The models on the residential market are essentially smaller versions of the big screens already used at major public events.
Best for: Relaxation and entertainment; householders with a less restricted budget and adequate space.
Unlike many other items of garden equipment, garden ornaments are intended to be permanent fixtures that can be left out in all weathers. Small ornaments such as the ever-popular “garden gnome” are often considered to be cheap, disposable items that can be replaced after a couple of years, whereas larger, more expensive ornaments such as classical statues and fountains are better suited to a large garden.
Such items are typically made from cast stone, a cheaper and more versatile alternative to natural stone. Cast stone weathers well and is difficult to tell apart from more expensive carved stone. Metal garden ornaments, particularly copper and bronze, remain popular because, in weathering, they may develop a patina that many owners find attractive.
Best for: Decoration and style; householders with all budgets and sizes of garden who want to make an impression.
Arches may be placed in gardens either as an aid to growing plants, such as climbing roses, or simply as an additional decoration. Like other garden ornaments, they are typically made of wood, for a rustic appearance, or metal for a more modern look, and are intended to be left outside all year round. Resistance to adverse weather is therefore a major consideration.
Cast iron is a popular material, as are galvanised steel, aluminium and powder-coated metal; in a damp climate, the latter tend to weather better than wood.
Best for: Decoration and style; householders with all budgets and larger gardens who want to make an impression.
Grill and Stoves
Cooking and eating outdoors can be a pleasure in fine weather, as well as a way of staying warm in cooler weather. The safety considerations involved in cooking outdoors are as great as, if not greater than, cooking indoors, but informed and sensible behaviour can eliminate these and help ensure that the process does not result in injury to the cook or guest but results in enjoyment for all.
Barbecuing, once barely known outside the United States and Australia, is now a common activity worldwide, popular even in colder countries like the UK and Scandinavia. All kinds of food can be barbecued as long as care is taken; food poisoning can result from a lack of forethought.
Safety precautions need to be taken when using a barbecue. For those who know the rules about barbecuing, there is a wide choice of barbecue equipment available.
Charcoal-fired barbecues are a more traditional method and work on “briquettes” that can be bought in many stores all year round. The grills come in several forms, from “drum” or “kettle” shapes to the more familiar rectangular grill.
They are notoriously difficult to light and keep alight, and it can take up to 45 minutes of preparation before cooking can begin. Inexperienced and impatient cooks are sometimes tempted to use other forms of fuel to get the barbecue off to a start, and this can result in accidents; much better to wait patiently for the briquettes to burn. Charcoal barbecuing gives the food a “smoky” flavour which is difficult to reproduce with other types. When everyone has been served and the barbecue has cooled down, it needs to be cleaned and put away in order to preserve its life.
Best for: Traditional barbecue flavour; householders with a limited budget who don’t mind waiting for their food and cleaning up afterwards.
Gas-fired barbecues have become popular because they are easy to light and require minimal cleaning. Normally made from hard-wearing aluminium or stainless steel, they are connected to a propane gas tank, which should be handled and placed with care.
If the gas runs out partway through the cooking process, it is less visible than with other fuels, so this must be watched carefully. Gas barbecues are more expensive than other types but the fuel usually works out cheaper, and the equipment tends to look smarter.
Best for: Speed and style; householders with a less restricted budget who plan to entertain large numbers.
Electric barbecues tend to be more rarely seen out of doors than other types, accounting for only about 10% of the total market. As with all electrical equipment, safety is a prime consideration and it is advisable to make sure that your purchase comes with full instructions and is suitable for outdoor use.
Don’t be tempted to take an indoor grill outside. As long as you follow the instructions, electric grills are less likely to cause fires as they generate no flames or smoke. Like gas barbecues, electric grills are easy to use and easy to clean, look smart and are cheap to run, and a large electric barbecue suitable for family use and entertaining is around the same price as the gas equivalent. What it lacks is that traditional barbecue atmosphere.
Best for: Speed and style; householders with all budgets and restricted space.
The disposable barbecue is a cheap and easy way of barbecuing if you do not intend to do it frequently. These are usually made of metal foil and ready-equipped with charcoal, and have been developed within the past twenty years for the growing market of people who want to try barbecuing without investing in expensive equipment.
They can often be picked up in supermarkets and are small enough be stored until you are ready to use them. They are designed to be easy to light, and require no cleaning; this is not such an eco-friendly solution, but the amount of useable material disposed of is small. Their very compactness can, however, be a disadvantage if you plan to cook for larger numbers. Safety remains a consideration and they should be kept away from flammable materials and placed on a solid, heatproof base.
Best for: Convenience, family get-togethers; householders with a limited budget who rarely entertain.
A temporary gazebo can be useful for entertaining larger numbers, particularly if fine weather is not guaranteed in your part of the world. Gazebos of this type (as opposed to a summer-house or other permanent structure) come in many shapes and sizes and what you choose depends very much on whether you have a large garden and how much entertaining you are likely to do; if you don’t have ample storage space, hiring a gazebo or marquee may be a more economical solution.
Smaller gazebos can fold up neatly and can be used for many things, such as display space for an outdoor exhibition, a fund-raising stall or a reception area. These temporary structures are usually made of plastic or canvas and are not made to withstand rough weather in the long term, so it is inadvisable to leave them outdoors when not in use.
Best for: Entertaining; householders with a less restricted budget and plenty of lawn and storage space.
Lawnmowing and Snow
Although gardening is extremely good exercise, it can be tempting to exert yourself more than you are used to and even to injure yourself. Back, wrist and neck injuries are all common problems reported by doctors. The British College of Osteopathic Medicine has drawn attention to the increase in this type of injury that generally occurs in the springtime.
Mowing the traditional grass lawn is one of those chores that sometimes causes more problems than it solves. Gardening experts advise that the average lawn needs mowing at least once a week at the height of summer. (Obviously this can vary, depending on climatic conditions and personal preference.) So choose your lawnmowing equipment according to your requirements, as a householder and as a gardener.
Hover mowers were invented during the 1960s, the best-known model being the original Flymo. They are designed to move easily over the grass, “hovering” on a cushion of air; their inventor borrowed the idea from a British invention, Christopher Cockerell’s hovercraft, and work on a similar principle. Essentially, they float above your lawn, resulting in greater safety as well as less work for the gardener. Nevertheless, cutting the extension lead is a common accident which can be lethal, so take extra care when using a mower that is connected to the mains.
Best for: Small to medium-sized and/or odd-shaped gardens; householders with a limited budget, looking for an easy mow.
Petrol-driven Mowers (ride-on)
Petrol-driven mowers of the “ride-on” variety reduce the work of mowing considerably, making it no more taxing for the gardener than driving to the shops. They are very expensive by comparison with the cheapest manual mowers. Those made by the best-known manufacturers, such as Husqvarna and Mountfield, can cost as much as £2,500. If you have a lawn with lots of inaccessible corners or gradients, you will need to combine this with another mowing solution.
Best for: Large gardens; householders with a less restricted budget and limited time on their hands.
Robotic or remote-controlled mowers are a more recent development that almost completely removes the human element from the task of mowing the lawn. They run on a rechargeable battery and don’t need to be connected to the mains while mowing. The only additional equipment needed is a boundary wire that runs around the edge of the lawn to tell the mower when to stop. The robotic mower runs in a given direction until it reaches the guide wire and then changes direction. However, the guide wire does take time to set up. The technology behind robotic mowers is still developing and this type of mower is expensive.
Best for: Large gardens; householders with a less restricted budget and limited time on their hands.
The “strimmer” (short for “string trimmer”) a 1970s invention that uses centrifugal force to turn a rotary head and send a special type of line - similar to a fishing line - whipping out to cut the grass at high speed (Dennis Hevesi, “George Ballas, Inventor of the Weed Whacker, Dies at 85”, New York Times, July 1, 2011).
A strimmer is ideal for making neat edges to a grassy surface without having to resort to getting on your hands and knees with secateurs or shears. Strimmers may be powered by electric battery or gas, so do not need to be connected to the mains by an extension lead, but safety precautions remain paramount when using the device. Eye and ear protection are recommended, as well as suitable footwear. Strimmers, though easy to operate, can also be heavy. The cord is worn down as it cuts and needs to be trimmed regularly to continue to cut.
Best for: Borders and inaccessible corners; householders with an average budget, wanting to reduce the amount of manual labour.
The hedge trimmer, like the strimmer, is normally a portable device not requiring connection to the mains, but precautions must still be taken to use this equipment safely. Hedge trimmers will not need to be used more than a couple of times a year on most hedges, but the task is made easier by powering the device with petrol or a rechargeable battery. Unlike strimmers, hedge trimmers use a blade, which must be sharpened from time to time. Like strimmers, they can be heavy so should only be used for short periods at a time.
Best for: Hedges and tough overgrowth; householders with an average budget, wanting to reduce the amount of manual labour.
The Serious Gardener
Lawnmowers and other basic gardening aids are used by nearly all householders with a garden, but some gardeners see it as more than a recreation and are serious about getting their best from the soil. For those who want the perfect lawn, scarifiers, aerators and similar equipment are essential.
A lawn scarifier is armed with rake-type blades designed to remove moss and dead grass an turn over the soil. The scarifier is sometimes combined with an aerator, which simply makes imperceptible holes in the lawn to enable grass roots to absorb nutrients more easily.
An aerator can be manually driven or run on electricity or petrol, like a mower. Hand-operated equipment is much cheaper, but requires more time and effort to operate. The scarifier needs a power source but can be towed behind a ride-on mower, reducing the overall cost and energy requirement.
Best for: Improving the appearance of the lawn; householders with all budgets, serious gardeners and perfectionists.
Cultivators, also known as tillers or rotavators, are generally used by gardeners who want to grow vegetables and fruit and need to prepare the soil adequately to get the best results. Small, compact devices are available for this purpose, but even these can be expensive and normally run on petrol. The type of machine you choose depends on many factors, including the type of soil in your garden and the purpose to which you intend to put it.
Best for: Improving the fertility of your garden; householders with large gardens and less restricted budgets, serious gardeners and perfectionists.
The Garden Shed
Whatever equipment you buy for your garden, you need somewhere to store it, and a garden shed is often the ideal solution as it helps keep dirt and plant residue out of the house as well as protecting the equipment by keeping it dry. If the garden is where you will be using something, the shed is the most accessible place to store it. Garden sheds come in all shapes and sizes, to suit all budgets, but here are a few points to consider.
Building your own shed
Building a shed is a job that should be tackled only by someone who knows what they are doing. Injuries incurred when using tools are among the most common types of domestic accident. Examples include hand and finger injuries from incorrect use of hammers, saws or power tools and fractures or head injuries as a result of falling from ladders and roofs.
Best for: Householders with a limited budget and substantial experience of do-it-yourself or carpentry.
“Standard” wooden shed
There is no such thing as a standard shed, so think hard about your requirements before you buy one. How much storage space will it give you? How much space do you have in your garden? What is the best spot to put it in? Will you be spending a lot of time in it? Most sheds that are available from D-I-Y stores are made of wood. The smallest can be purchased at a very low price, but it should be remembered that some types of wood, including pine and ash, may not be suitable for outdoor use because they do not weather well. Even when treated prior to use, these woods are not the most durable, and the pressure treatment which enables the timber to absorb preservative (“tanalisation”) may carry its own hazards, as the preservative normally contains potentially dangerous chemicals such as arsenic. Discoloration over time is also a possibility. If the wood is untreated, however, there will be a need for regular application of wood preservative, varnish and/or paint.
Best for: Householders with a limited budget who are willing to spend some time and effort on maintaining their shed.
Sheds made from other materials
As with garden furniture, sheds can be made from a variety of materials, including plastic and metal. These tend to have similar advantages and drawbacks to chairs and tables made from these materials: Plastic is lighter but less durable and more liable to discoloration and deterioration over time, whilst metal is stronger but harder to work with and more susceptible to rust. An advantage of metal is that it is less likely to attract animal and plant life than an organic material like wood. A solid base will normally still be needed.
Best for: Householders on all budgets who are looking for more choice.
A bespoke or custom shed manufactured to your own specifications is more likely to meet all your needs than a ready-made shed purchased from a D-I-Y store. You can also expect it to be much more expensive. The makers of the shed should be able to advise on materials, style, dimensions, base and other technical aspects, but, as with all custom purchases, it is important to check the reputation and past history of the manufacturing company before signing a contract, and look out for hidden extras such as installation.
Best for: Householders with a less restricted budget who have unusual requirements or want their shed to match other existing buildings.
A shed also needs a base, which the installers seldom provide for in the quoted price. The base can be made of concrete, wood or paving stones, and needs to be ready before the shed can be installed. If the ground is not properly prepared, it may result in long-term damage to the shed, caused by subsidence, damp, etc. If you are not confident of your ability to prepare the base, it is best to get an expert to do it for you. This is another D-I-Y task where accidents can easily happen!
Best for: All sheds that are intended to be a permanent fixture in your garden.
Tips for Buying Lawn and Garden Equipment
Here are some tips to remind you how to make good choices.
Consider who is going to be doing the gardening, their age and state of health.
Always put safety first.
Take account of the size of your garden or patio when choosing equipment.
Consider the shape and slope of your lawn when choosing a mower.
Think about your entertaining preferences when you decide how much garden furniture to buy.
Don’t buy items that need to be stored away if you don’t have the space.
Don’t leave expensive gardening equipment lying around when not in use. Even where there is no risk of theft, equipment may deteriorate if left out in the open for long.
Gardening equipment and furniture should always be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Keep your equipment clean as far as possible. This will make it safer to use and extend its life.
When choosing, remember to factor in the cost and effort involved in future maintenance.
When using power tools or electrical equipment, take precautions by using a residual power device and switching off the equipment at the source when not in use.
Electrical equipment should not be used outdoors in wet weather.
Protective clothing is recommended when working in the garden: tough shoes or boots, gloves, goggles for eye protection, pads for knee protection, and ear protectors to muffle sound should all be considered.
As with most household purchases, cheapest is not always best; buying the lowest-priced item can be a false economy.
Having done all this work to make it a comfortable place, take the time to use your garden or patio - as a place to exercise, an eating place, a working place or just a sitting place.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.