So we're sitting outside for dinner on the hottest night of the year so far. There's red wine to sip, a scent of jasmine floating in from somewhere, and the taste of cous cous actually made by someone whose grandma still lives in Algeria. "This is bliss," someone else at the table remarks, and I can only shake my head with disbelief at the momentary perfection of it.
It may be only a few weeks a year that you can do this in southern England, but these are the moments you grind towards, looking back to the winter spent viewing empty, unheated flats in thick coats, clutching sheaves of house details and wondering on the way home if you'd be better off getting an upstairs flat so you could do a loft conversion. This is the reason you bought the downstairs flat, with the grimy-looking garden that had potential: this moment, right now.
My friend Amira, besides possessing her grandma's cous cous recipes and a talent for picking properties with "potential", has made the most of the garden, too, with two flowerbeds, a pint-sized patch of lawn and a wooden Homebase playhouse hiding a capacious freezer well-stocked with ice cream. Her biggest investment has been a broad York-stone patio stretching the width of the house, providing a bare-feet-friendly platform for outdoor play in the day, and wine drinking at night.
But if you didn't spend the spring on exterior works, can you save your outdoor patch in time to eat outside in pleasure before summer ends? Yes, of course, is the answer, but it requires some cunning. To start with, I think, an Amira-ish shed is a key element. Hiding away your everyday gardening paraphernalia is one of the best ways to create a relaxing space.
Of course there are members of the human race who feel tranquillity gazing on jumble-sale-style piles of tat, but most of us prefer a restful scene free of watering cans. I say this knowing I am the prime candidate in my household for leaving out the hose, like, all the time, but I also know it looks better once it's put away. Storage-wise, I quite love the Waltons Pale Eucalyptus Metal Shed (from £199.99, waltons.co.uk). But if you are on an extreme budget, there's the small, minimalist, grey Josef Cabinet from Ikea, £40 or, for bigger junk, the Bike Cave, £31.99 from Amazon, a sort of hideaway tent for your possessions, which stores a whole series of random packets and colourful plastic and metal in one solid, blocked-off space.
Now the boring stuff is out of the way, we get on to the fun. Honeysuckles, jasmines and other moth-pollinated plants only really set to floating the air with perfume after dark, so put them where you might be seduced by scent once night falls. I have a slightly bonkers honeysuckle, "Halls Prolific", which abundantly lives up to its name; but I can also recommend the street-fillingly fragrant wild "Heaven Scent", with big white flowers, and the fairground-pink "Serotina", which will flower in shade, heavily perfuming the air until summer is well and truly over. Real perfume-lovers, though, will also want a jasmine to power-pong through August, and here I'd opt for plain, pure-white Jasminum officinale (all climbers, £12.99, crocus.co.uk).
Then there's the question of lighting. Proper garden lighting needs to be wired in by an electrician and can cost thousands, so it's no surprise that Amira opts for huge candles. Another couple of friends chose to hang tealight lanterns in blue, yellow, orange and white in their new garden, suspended from their trellis like carnival bunting for the prettiest of lighting effects (Rotera lanterns are £2 each from Ikea).
Finally, there's just the dining furniture to sort. At Amira's, that's the only work you have to do yourself: carrying the table and chairs from kitchen to patio. And for this week at least, that's bliss.
- More about: