Summer evening gardens

Into the night: extend your day and enjoy the summer evenings outside
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During the working week, most Londoners can enjoy their gardens only at the end of the day. There is little to enjoy, however, if the flowers have disappeared with the dusk, the only scent is next door’s supper and the garden bench is giving you backache.

The end-of-day garden needs its own special features to make it an inviting space in which you can relax, recharge and engage all your senses.

Keep the landscaping soft and curvy, using natural materials as much as possible. Decking has had a bad press but for tired feet that have been pounding pavements, walking barefoot on sun-warmed wood is a delight. Copy the Japanese and create a path of small pebbles so that you can give your feet an invigorating workout.

‘The end-of-day garden needs its own special features to make it an inviting space’



Plant plenty of white flowers and silvery-grey foliage that you can enjoy at the end of the day
© GAP Photos/Lynn Keddie
Plant plenty of white flowers and silvery-grey foliage that you can enjoy at the end of the day
Make sure you don’t stumble around — or break your neck — when walking down the garden steps, however, by installing LED lights at the side of each step.

Cocoon yourself within an arbour or gazebo; it doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Garden Affairs (www.gardenaffairs.co.uk; 01225 774566) sells a willow gazebo with woven roof for £349.99. Sarah Raven has covered her hazel gazebo with sweet peas but you could plant a permanent, climber such as honeysuckle. Add seats, cushions and strew lavender stalks on the ground within for the ultimate calm-down floor.

Use sound to soothe the fevered mind — and distract from discordant noise beyond the garden gate. Trickling water is surprisingly effective. Seek out a simple wall fountain or, on the ground, a stone globe of perpetually bubbling water. Wind chimes can be pretty if they emit harmonious melodies: seek out metal, not wood, tubular bells.

Comfortable places to sit are important. You wouldn’t relax indoors on an upright wooden bench, so why would you outdoors? The metal bistro set is fine for morning coffee, but you need furniture that a weary body can sink into, such as weatherproof wicker tub chairs or sofa. Wooden loungers are only the last word in luxury if topped with a luxuriously thick mattress.

There is something primitive about sitting around a fire at dusk and it would increase the hours you could spend outdoors. As designer Clare Matthews has done in her garden, consider having a firepit built into your patio, or dig one out from the lawn; far more thrilling.

Add perfume to a seating area with rose New Dawn
© GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss
Add perfume to a seating area with rose New Dawn
Use portable spotlights and uplighters to create pools of light precisely where you want them. Discover the romance of flickering candlelight — use empty jam jars or hurricane lamps to hold any old candles — and create an immediate and intimate atmosphere for a dining or seating area.

‘Few things take the mind more from the tensions of the day than deadheading roses’



Dark shades might be fashionable for flowers, but it is pale, light colours that glow in faded light. Surround your seating area with potfuls of fragrant white regale or longiflorum lilies that you can buy right now in bud from garden centres.

White or evergreen jasmine produce masses of white, sweet-scented flowers, so drape some around an archway — or drainpipe. Buy a brugmansia and revel in the large, white trumpets with their lush fragrance, or go all-out and buy a night-flowering cactus that will have you running outside in your pyjamas to catch it in full moonlit bloom. The perfume is spectacular.

White, lemon, silver and blue make a magical border — or container — combination for the end-of-day garden. Pull together pale grey santolina, with lemon button flowers; Convolvulus cneorum, with silver foliage and white funnel flowers; blue and white lacecap hydrangeas, felty-leaved Stachys lantana, lemon verbascum, and back them up with white annuals orlaya, fragrant tobacco and cosmos.

Candles in flowerpots create atmospheric lighting
© GAP Photos/John Gover
Candles in flowerpots create atmospheric lighting
Avoid planting flowers that close at day’s end, such as cistus and helianthemum. Instead of osteospermum, whose daisy flowers shut down at sunset, choose splashy white marguerite argyranthemum. Plant easy-going roses, such as White Flower Carpet, that bloom through summer rather than those that peg out after one June burst.

Beware the trap of making a no-maintenance garden because you want to relax, not toil, at the end of the day. Include a sweet pea wigwam, a rose bush, a few strawberry plants in a hanging basket.

Few things take the mind more from the tensions of the day than deadheading a few roses, cutting a fistful of fragrant sweet peas or even, as many Londoners are discovering, pulling potatoes from a bucket and snipping salad leaves for supper.

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