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Making your outdoor space work for you

TheJournal.ie spoke to top garden designer Sean Keighran about the best way to revamp your outdoor space.

AS A NATION we are probably more green-thumbed than most. The back garden is a point of pride for many Irish people.

The boom times saw things getting creative and people investing more in their outdoor space. Outdoor decking became something of a hallmark of the country’s prosperity.

People are now on tighter budgets and big spends on back garden projects are less of a priority.

TheJournal.ie spoke to landscaper and owner of Creative Garden Design, Sean Keighran, about what people can do to maximise on what they have.

What do you say to people whose gardens aren’t much more than concrete afterthoughts stuck on to the back of their houses? 

SK: Small spaces tend to be more challenging and people tend to put a lot of clutter into them. They can also be a lot more fun to do because sometimes in a limited space you can be a lot more adventurous in your thinking.

A lot of things can be added in to add in a different dimension. The main thing is that you hold the feeling of space – but at the same time you can add in plants and water features and lighting. You can really have a lot of fun with a small space.

garden pic 1 Source: Creative Garden Design

Maintaining a small space would be cheaper than a regular garden though, right? 

SK: There’d be a combination of hard surfaces – so a courtyard effect. You’d be perfectly correct in saying it would be cheaper.

And what about for the bigger garden. How much would someone be looking to fork out on average? 

SK: In an average garden in Ireland you could spend between €10,000 and €15,000 easily. It depends on the kind of materials you are using.

My philosophy around it is that you need to get a good template. The designer is going to give you some templates on what the design is going to look at and then there can be a phasing in. Especially if you want to do something artistic or interesting. That can be budgeted afterwards.

A good designer should be able to tell you how to implement that within your budget.

garden pic 2 Source: Creative Garden Design

Yowzers, 15 grand. How about something for the shallower pocket: what could you hope for with €500?

SK: You’ll get some planting done, you might get a pebbled area. You’re not going to get a lot because building materials are so expensive. A standard area of paving starts from about 18 sq metres and goes up from there. You’re talking about €3,000 for a proper patio to go down.

You can get cheaper, but you’d be getting a concrete product, and what a lot of people don’t realise is that concrete starts to fade after two or three years.

So not a whole lot then? 

SK: You could buy yourself a nice mature plant – I wouldn’t rule that out – to buy a really nice mature plant and some nice cobbles around it or a bit of slate. Like a nice Japanese maple – that can add a lot to any small space. They have the added value that you are getting the instant gratification with a grown plant.

Also water features, that €500 – €600 price range, you can get a nice self contained water feature. They talk about the magic of water. You could also buy a nice sculpture for your garden.

Decking seemed to be synonymous with the Celtic Tiger. Is there anything you are seeing now that’s grown out of austerity? 

SK: I think with decking it has lost a little bit of its appeal but I wouldn’t write it off just yet. There is a kind of play with material going on all the time. People are still attracted to timber because it’s warm. Although if you ask me, over time, its appeal has gone down a bit.

What is very interesting at the moment is that people right now are looking for something different again. They’ve evolved out of some of the materials used during the Boom. There is a focus on quality. I am finding that people are willing to spend a little bit extra on a paving slab to get a better finish.

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garden pic 4 Source: Creative Garden Design

What that indicates to me is that they want to get it right. They are investing into their homes and gardens because they are not moving. I think that people have consolidated in their heads that they are not moving, so whatever they are going to do, they are going to do to a good standard.

So we’re being prudent and investing in the future. That’s different. What else are we into at the moment?

SK: One of the fads that has taken off is firepits. Everybody wants to get one now. That is one thing that came out of the end of the Celtic Tiger is the idea of creating a small fire pit in the garden as a sitting area.

The idea of the pizza oven as well. The thing about food in the garden. Pizza ovens seem to be catching on – particularly as a garden feature.

What are some of the stranger things people like having done to their gardens?

SK: People grow living walls. That became very popular out of Chelsea (Flower Show). In terms of a living sculpture. That can be veg or it can be small alpine plants. That is another sculptural element.

In some way we seem to be guided by what happens in Chelsea. We are influenced by whatever happens in the UK. Not necessarily from Chelsea – but they do set a bar for what happens for us.

We like being better than other countries at things. Is gardening one of those things? 

I often do wonder, why is gardening so popular in Ireland and England? If you went into a French garden, there’d be five apples trees and an olive tree and that’d be it.

We are obviously very proud home owners here and we put big emphasis on the quality of our living spaces. Compared to the thinking of some other European countries, we put a lot of pride into our homes, and spend a lot of money on them.

Sean Keighran’s tips for using your outdoor space to its potential 

  • Investing in quality building materials can pay off in the long run.
  • For those on a budget mature plants can be a good investment.
  • A good designer will allow improvements to be implemented in stages.
  • Outdoor communal areas that blend function and aesthetic are popular.
  • More novel ideas, such as a living wall, grow out of gardening events like the Chelsea Flower Show.

You can find more tips on making upgrades to your home here. 

Related: €750,000 worth of plants, 20 sheared sheep and one dancing Taoiseach: Bloom in numbers

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