This year has turned our lives upside down and with a new wave of restrictions now in place, it looks as though we are going to have to rethink our social lives for the foreseeable future.
While the latest lockdown prohibits mingling between households, once these restrictions have eased, we can look forward to seeing friends and family again – but in order to do so safely, making the most of our outdoor spaces as we head into the winter months, may be the best option.
Clearly we don’t live in the tropics so we can’t rely on warm – or even dry – weather, but with a little bit of imagination (and maybe some spare cash and a fighting spirit), we can make some alterations to our outdoor spaces and turn this winter of discontent into one of content.
For those with a healthy budget there’s been a rush towards outdoor rooms where doors can be flung open and evenings enjoyed with (the recommended number of) friends sheltered by a covered terrace.
“Garden Rooms are perfect for the winter of 2020,” says John Sherry of gardenrooms.ie where prices range from €25,000 up to €60,000. “Part of our design can include an alfresco area or roof overhang which allows you to sit in the garden with a gas heater or Chiminea, while popping in and out for your gin & tonics and snacks.”
“Since the start of Covid-19 we have seen a lot of our customers organising their garden room as a central point where they can entertain guests in a controlled outdoor setting away from the main house, remain safe and reconnect with their loved ones. It’s all that seems important at the moment.”
Liam Patel had a garden room installed at the start of the pandemic and says he cannot imagine life without it. An additional outdoor seating space complete with heater, fridge, bar, and bluetooth speakers along with a covered dining area, meant the weather was never an issue when it came to socialising.
“We have good outdoor plug-in electric heaters and up/down lighters as well as a 6-burner gas barbecue and a wood fired pizza oven,” says the father of three. “It was a great help to my parents when they began to socialise after cocooning as they felt very safe in the garden.”
John Egan of Outdoor Scene (outdoor.ie) provides verandas which immediately extend your entertaining space while giving cover and shelter from the elements.
“Veranda structures create a stunning outdoor room which can be used year round. Ours have extra thick parts for stability and a proper finish for an attractive appearance. They can be wall-fixed or freestanding, with a sloped or flat roof.” They also offer customisable awnings which are tested to gale force five, including some that include smart technology to predict weather warnings. Parasols can also be durable and cover a lot of space – those that rotate can provide protection against wind or rain from a particular direction.
Turn up the heat
For those who don’t have the funds or space for an entire outdoor room, Damian Kelly of outdoorliving.ie says there are many ways to make the most of our outdoor spaces this winter, but the first is adding heat.
He recommends the infrared Outdoor Living Classic ip65 (€199.95) which offers almost instant heat, and has a low running cost. It uses medium wave infrared technology, and has three settings, which can be used both indoors and outdoors.
Caroline Whelan of aroomoutside.ie has a number of standing gas options: “The Santorini and Tahiti are very popular as they emit heat and light and have the protection of a glass tube over the flame, so the heat output (13kw) is not affected by the wind. On wheels they can be moved easily and the gas bottle is inside the base of the heater, so they look attractive. Both also have an anti-tilt device which causes them to extinguish if someone happens to knock against them accidentally.”
Electric heaters tend to be fixed in place, using infrared technology a single size version throws out 2kw of heat (the double one is twice that). The type of heating required would depend on the size of the area.
Avoid the mud
Damian Kelly recommends outdoor grass to prevent muddy winter gardens and extend the living space. “Ideal for small balconies or patios it works well for resting furniture on and extending the outdoors in those wetter months.” Prices range from €9.95 per sq m up to €38 per sq m.
His recommendation for outdoor cooking is a Beefeater built-in barbecue (costing from €499.95). “These are fantastic and can be built into walls in the garden along with outdoor sinks and fridges,” he says. “So now you can have your own outdoor kitchen, with heating for a warm cosy Australian-style Christmas outside.”
But if the budget won’t stretch to physical structures and high end heaters and cookers, horticulturist Hugh Cassidy says plants can also help with providing shelter against the Irish climate and will look good too.
“While there is a lovely range of well-known hedging available as shelter for your outdoor living space, such as Griselinia, privet and laurels, people should consider plants with more interest,” he says. “Shrubs such as Camellia, Ceanothus and Photinia are not only tough and effective at providing shelter from cold winds, they also look well and provide plenty of year-round interest too.
“Deciduous flowering shrubs are also well worth considering, plants such as Hydrangea, Forsythia, shrub Roses and our native Fuchsia add a great level of interest to any garden shelter.”
GET INTO THE GARDEN
New York outdoor gas fire pit - €1,295.00 - outdoor.ie
Roma 3x3 square pergola - grey €699.95 - outdoorliving.ie
Hartman polycarbonate gazebo with curtains - €799.95 - outdoorliving.ie
Alexander cantilever garden parasol 3x3m - €995 - outdoor.ie
3 Burner BBQ - Beefeater - €1,199.00 - outdoorliving.ie
Vincenza outdoor pizza oven - €399.95 - outdoorliving.ie
Premium led solar string lights - €21.90 -lights.ie
Angel led solar light €17.90 - lights.ie
Outdoor Kreafunk bluetooth speaker cum light - around €154 ex delivery - cuckooland.com
Two-tone Aran patchwork throw - €72.51 - aransweatermarket.com
Lime solid mohair throw - €124 - foxfordwoollenmills.com
Full-on The Revenant in Limerick
One man who’s been ahead of the new outdoor entertaining curve is Co Limerick-based sheepskin and cowhide trader, Derek McCarthy.
Twelve years ago he built a cabin in the woods in the grounds of his home outside Lisnagry and describes it as “full-on The Revenant”, after the wilderness epic starring Leonardo DiCaprio clad in animal skins for warmth against the elements.
The cabin, inspired by a handcrafted design that McCarthy saw in Poland, is built from timber and has a deep and sheltered porch where you can happily sit sheltered from wind and rain.
The seating is warmed by McCarthy’s own sheepskins. He is a fifth generation fell-monger, a dealer in hides and skins whose family ran their business, John J McCarthy on Limerick city’s Cathedral Place for years. He now runs Irish Hide Designs, where he hand-selects west of Ireland cow hides and sheepskins, that feature the natural undyed skins of the breeds and transports them to Poland for tanning. “Wool is a fantastic insulator and helps to maintain body temperature,” he says.
Additional visual and physical heat comes from an outdoor fire, inspired by a Montana design he spotted in a book called Rustic Fireplaces. Constructed from local river stone and burning fuel from trees on his land that have been felled by storms the sheltered location took a while to determine. He spent about a week of nights lighting fires in an old stove at various points outside to arrive at the most sheltered spot outside the cabin. By paying heed to the prevailing wind directions guests now rarely get covered in woodsmoke or suffer smarting eyes.
Candles and lanterns complete the scene and music is provided via a Bower and Wilkins Formation for wireless and streamlined sound. “It resonates really well within the wood atmosphere,” he says. There are no neighbours to bother, save for a few buzzards and an owl.
Located about 100m from McCarthy’s sizeable, four-bed home, Sleepy Hollow (it’s currently on the market seeking €900,000 ) the cabin has electricity, water and wifi and is so comfortable that one family member has taken up residence sleeping there and enjoying a 40-inch TV.
With five adult children McCarthy says the cabin – with a well stocked bar – has hosted birthday parties, Christmas parties and 21sts. When the mercury drops - as it inevitably does in Ireland – he says the guests just take a hardy buck approach. “They just reach for another sheepskin. Then it’s like The Revenant.”