The outdoor room: Why it’s great to have a garden
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
When the sun comes out, so do we. The garden we saw only through bi-fold doors until a few weeks ago has suddenly become the rather spacious extra room we need when summer arrives and brings family and friends with it.
And with the school holidays approaching, everything – and I mean everything – that will tempt them outside goes outside – one of the reasons we alerted readers last week to the need to be security-minded.
Gardens are important. They can add real value – surveys range from 10 to 15 per cent per cent – to the value of a property and can often be the deciding factor for families when buying.
One problem is, they’re getting smaller, in statistical terms anyway, thanks, in part, to the willingness of homeowners to sell off parts of their land to developers keen to cram as much as they can into ever-smaller plots.
House hunters insisted they would pay £11,500 more for a house that had a garden over one without when questioned for a poll by Foxtons a short while ago. More than half of them revealed that they wouldn’t even consider renting or buying a property without one.
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A survey by the online agency Hatched put the average garden at 14 square metres in 2015, compared to 16.8 square metres in 1983 – a fall of 17 per cent in a little over 30 years. The same study predicted it would be down to just 12.6 by the end of this year.
In Hertfordshire, we’re blessed in the main. I add that qualification as there are glaring exceptions where builders have constructed some fairly sumptuous family homes and rolled out a mere few yards of lawn between the back door and a fence you could touch without leaving the back step.
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I saw a fair few like that when I was house hunting. At one, a roomy detached near Sandridge, St Albans, I could hear voices from the kitchen as the window was open and people were walking their dogs among the trees behind the fence a few yards away.
And another, a four-storey rock star of a pile in Kinsbourne Green, Harpenden, sold itself within the first 60 seconds then shot itself in the foot as I stepped out into a fenced-off space a little bigger than the kitchen and overlooked by every other house in the row.
But there was more than enough to compensate, and there sill is. A random search this week in the £500,000 to £1m price range, threw up some fabulous examples, selling not just the properties themselves but the allure of a county like ours.
I’ve read scores of surveys over the years and lost count of the number of facts I’ve absorbed, extolling the virtues of your own space and dishing out tips on making the most of it.
Did you know, for example, that the typical garden is estimated to be 50ft long, includes 10 types of flowers – and, quite possibly, a garden gnome, along with a BBQ and a water feature.
One in three of us secretly harbour a desire to outdo our neighbours when it comes to the way we tend our lawns and flowerbeds; roses, lavender, tulips, and bluebells, being top of our garden centre shopping lists (in that order).
Having said that, simpler gardens that look as if they need the least maintenance usually sell more easily and sheds have emerged as a major plus in recent years.
One survey by Sellhousefast.uk, which asked 36 estate agents and developers which garden feature added the most value, found that 82 per cent were in favour of sheds. Close on their heels were secure fences and walls, incidentally, with artificial grass coming last.
More than 21 million of us own a shed, according to one poll by Cuprinol, which found that many were being used as home offices, dens and even outdoor kitchens. There’s even a movement, popularly known as shedworking that’s grown up on the back of it.
No-one knows more about that than St Albans-based journalist Alex Johnson who publishes the Shedworking.co.uk blog, which the FT described as “encyclopaedic” for its coverage of all things sheddie.
And few have done more to encourage the outdoor life more generally than celebrity gardeners such as Alan Titchmarsh and TV shows such as Ground Force. Many in the DIY industry credit him with doing as much for gardening as Sarah Beeny did for RSJs (rolled steel joists) and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen for MDF.
But while several polls put gardens at the top of most wish lists when it came to seeking a move, one study agreed that, while millions of us love the idea of having a beautiful outdoor space, most don’t want to get our hands dirty.
And decking, the traditionally most boring thing to spend a bank holiday faffing with, gave way to quality paving as we began to see our outdoor spaces as an extension of our living space, rather than just somewhere to sit out on.
I’ve twice tried unsuccessfully to do deals on gardens; once looking to sell off a large chunk of the biggest one I’ve ever owned in Herts to a developer (er, I needed the neighbours onside for that one) and once telling another neighbour I’d make him an offer for the end of his, if it ever became too much for him.
I’d been inspired by the number I’d seen forming those tell-tale L-shapes and was full of ideas about how I’d be able to afford to create my spa complex in the bit that turned left into his.
But, for what it’s worth, I was advised early on that my neighbour would probably want to impose a restricted covenant preventing me from doing anything other than clearing the weeds and re-seeding the lawn. And his solicitor would probably suggest I covered all his legal costs. So, a word of caution.
Since then, the price of land has risen steeply. In St Albans, for example, the same one square metre that would have cost you £3,367 in 2006, would have set you back a princely £5,836 10 years later.
Similarly, the £2,790 bargain you’d have got in Welwyn and Hatfield would have risen to £4,367, while in Stevenage, the increase would have been a tad more modest, from £2,046 to £3,163.
Either way, there’s clearly more growing in your garden than plants and shrubs.