Outdoor living areas


A variety of looks and shapes will liven up the view as you munch on your freshly-cooked burger.


Barbecue planning

I remember England, I think. The image is a little bit hazy now, but thereís probably no coincidence that ďhazyĒ describes British weather perfectly. Itís grim. It seems that every day the weather system produces some variation of overcast.

Sorry, Iím exaggerating Ė I believe the sun did actually make a guest appearance there in 1996.

Desperation for weather that even hints at being pleasant is probably why the subject dominates conversation in the UK:

ďItís turned out nice again.Ē (Itís less overcast than yesterday.)

ďDo you think it will rain later?Ē

ďProbably, but it may brighten up after.Ē (Desperation creeps in.)

ďNot so cold today, though.Ē (It hasnít risen above freezing for weeks.)

ďNo, itís quite mild.Ē Etc.

Iím absolutely serious; these conversations are the norm, and can sometimes go on for hours. There are only so many ways you can comment on weather thatís cold, wet and miserable.

An ex-colleague of mine, British, not surprisingly, combined his predictable British pessimism with a daily comment on the weather. Bathed in glorious Thai sunshine as we climbed into the tuk-tuk on the way to work, he would deliver his daily weather observation: ďAt least itís not ****ing rainingĒ. On the occasional damper days, his first line as he folded his umbrella was equally expected: ďItís ****ing raining againĒ. He was from Middlesborough, if that explains anything.

A British barbecue is something to behold. Itís planned like a military operation, with a back-up procedure in place to rescue the chicken legs and sausages as soon as the first drops of rain are detected. Everyone knows what to do. It hasnít occurred to British garden planners to build some kind of covered area; having said that Iím not sure I would particularly want to be in the back garden during a British downpour. England is a country where you put your beer in the fridge to warm it up.

Thatís where Thailand has got it right. It sometimes rains here, but it really doesnít matter, as youíre already probably under some sort of cover and youíre hardly likely to freeze to death. Even your beer is probably already in the garden in one of those ice-filled chests that people borrow from fish sellers.

Itís all rather civilized. So how do you plan the garden in which youíll be spending so many of your leisure hours? Gardens and outdoor living areas are often things that are just thrown together. We often think it does the job if itís reasonably pleasant-looking, but why not make it functional as well as aesthetically pleasing?

It might as well be designed to fit the needs of a family or whoever is likely to be using it. Whether itís for football and French cricket for the kids, or for the more Ďpassiveí type of recreational activities that most adults tend to enjoy, everyone should be able to make the most of the outdoor environment.

Patios are the obvious things to kick off with. Fundamentally, they should be big enough to be useful. Whatís the point of a few uninviting paving stones chucked on the ground behind the house? Make it big enough to do what you want to do on it, or donít bother. Table football or table tennis? Cooking area or spare dining area?

Tiny patios just look a bit silly. On the other hand, patios can be so huge that they take on the coldness of the Tesco-Lotus carpark. Ideally, the size of your patio should be in scale with the size of your garden and house.

It may seem a bit obvious, but donít forget to leave plenty of space to plant stuff. Wall-to-wall concrete certainly gives you more area to host parties for 50, but this is Phuket, so you might as well make the most of the natural beauty. It doesnít necessarily have to be exposed soil Ė potted plants will do the job equally well, and you can even move them around if you get bored.

Elsewhere in the garden, itís worth considering where to create flower beds and features, too. Attempting a sedate game of croquet isnít ideal while attempting to dodge rockeries and ponds. Do you really want to set up your kidsí trampoline over your ixoras? Sounds quite painful, come to think of it.

Trees are always good as a source of natural shade. Even better, put them near the house to provide shade for the house itself, as well as the outdoors area. You can even group trees together if you canít be bothered with all that growing and maturing business. Avoid trees with big fruit Ė unless you plan to eat the product Ė or anything that has flowers or seeds that will mean constant cleaning up after it.

Smaller plants are another important factor in outdoor living areas. Interesting stuff with a variety of looks and shapes will liven up the view as you munch on your freshly-cooked burger. Plenty of different colors, forms and textures are desirable; not just flowers, but different foliage too.

Masses of flowering annuals in the patio area are dead easy to get going, and given the huge choice of annuals here in Phuket, we really have no excuse not to make it spectacular.

One thing to bear in mind when choosing plants: make sure that the spot you have in mind for the plant back home in your garden is similar to where you found it in the local garden center.

Open to the sun, or in the shade? Directly under a sprinkler, or in a far corner? Close to the ground or cascading from a shelf or basket?

Thatís what I like about gardening in this country Ė thereís always someone around who really knows what theyíre doing, and you donít even need to ask. Just copy him. Or her.

But donít go mad and try to fill every last square inch straight away. Bear in mind the rate at which everything grows here. A mish-mash of entangled, confused greenery six months down the line isnít exactly ideal.

Outdoor living areas donít need to be a giant expanse of cement. When trudging round the garden centers to resolve this, then eventually up to your elbows in muck planting your purchases, console yourself with the fact that you could be doing this in deepest, darkest England, or anywhere else cold, wet and miserable. At least itís not ****ing raining. Actually, I really donít care if it is. Hand me a trowel and a beer, please.



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