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How to Build or Recycle a Garden-enhancing Feature

Put planting aside for the moment and focus on the structures you can build to give your space year-round interest

Houzz UK contributor and award-winning landscape and garden designer. Claudia de… More

You might not fancy getting out in the cold and doing the work right now, but winter is the perfect time to start thinking about plans for your garden that you can get busy with early in the year. Constructing a permanent feature is a great idea, as well as one that can provide you with year-round interest once it’s done.

If you love sourcing and enjoy creating, here are a few ideas for making new garden features – or adapting existing ones – that will enhance your plot, whether it’s big or small.

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Build a new old wall
If you’ve inherited a garden with a stone wall, or you’ve cut down a hedge and don’t want to replace it, you could consider building a small wall folly. Here, a salvaged old door and its frame sit in a dry-stone wall, nestled among greenery, to create an inviting and secret entrance.

For stone, source from a local quarry close to your area in order to make sure you blend the materials to the space. If you have spare bricks or can match some from your house, these can also be used to make a tumbledown-style wall. As long as they’re well mortared in, the ends can be made to look as if the wall has been left to fall at some point.

Working with a garden on a slope? Here’s how to make it work

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Arch it over
Adding a pergola over a path, gate or gap in a hedge adds interest and height to a garden. It’s not unlike the idea of adding a porch to a house – a pergola makes the area feel more inviting and provides an entrance. There’s something quite magical about walking under or through plants, a bit like being in woods surrounded by trees of varying heights and feeling ‘nestled’.

Position a pergola over a straight or curving path, leading the eye through the space. Create new planting areas at the base of the uprights for climbers, as well as training varieties of fruit trees up it. A pergola and arbour can also be sited against a wall for an enclosed seating area. You can have a more rustic look or choose a sleek, modern style to complement your space.

Tour a courtyard garden with year-round interest

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Change direction
Paving can dramatically alter the look of a garden – though choosing what style to have can prove a minefield. As well as natural stone paving, there are many good concrete products, as well as clay pavers, bricks, cobbles, shingle and now porcelain.

A lot of people shy away from mixing different types of paving, but one type alone can sometimes be too overpowering, even in a small space. Breaking up large areas of paving, either by changing the pattern or introducing another product that marries well with the first, can become a design feature in its own right. Paving can guide you to another area, help you change direction or introduce a new element to the hard landscaping.

When buying paving, make sure you know that natural stone has many variations of colour and each piece could be different, so do some research and, if possible, get more than one sample to bring back and try at home.

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Pimp your shed
Sheds don’t have to be be hidden away in the corner of a garden and disguised from view. Even if you have an existing wooden one, you can make it look better with a simple makeover – there are so many lovely paint colours available now. You could also make small raised vegetable beds to sit next to the shed and paint them in the same shade, as here.

Make your shed part of the garden by building a brick path up to it or put some hard standing in front, which is a good idea anyway to prevent that soggy muddy grassy area so often found in front of sheds.

Place planted pots either side of the door to make an entrance and add a bird box to encourage nesting birds. Think about training sweet peas up the side for the summer, or plant a non-vigorous climber for colour and greenery.

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Divide your space with gates
In this long, narrow garden, brick pillars have been added to the rear area, off which a pair of salvaged iron gates have been hung. The gates create a feeling of grandeur and lead the eye towards a statue at the rear.

Gates of any style, whether wooden or iron, will always help to create an entrance, divide areas and provide spaces either side for plants, which is always a bonus. Any break in a wall where you can put gates or an old wooden door will make the space beyond feel like a secret hideaway and encourage the feeling of some private world further on.

When planning to hang a gate, you may need to fix it to posts, too, so always allow extra room either side when measuring.

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Feature a tree
Structural garden features can include trees that are already in your garden, but may not be where you wish they’d been planted.

Some trees are beautiful in their own right and have a well-shaped canopy, but for other trees lacking a good shape or even those that are beautiful but look a bit lost, try to turn them into a main feature, either by creating a path around them and underplanting, or having a handmade wooden tree seat built around the base.

Trees look wonderful lit at night, too, and if you’ve made a feature of your tree, why not show it off with some uplighters?

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Turn a falling-down structure into a folly
Sometimes, a disused building can be quite a daunting sight, especially if you inherit one in the garden of a newly bought home. A collapsed and neglected building may be costly to repair but, if you’re lucky enough to have one that can be salvaged or part of it used, it could be transformed to make a small hideaway or seating area, smothered in honeysuckle and other scented climbers.

Even an old greenhouse or shed can be adapted to be used in this way. The greenhouse frame can be used without glass and you can buy sail cloth to totally transform it into a homemade outdoor tented building.

Safety is key: make sure anything you build or renovate is structurally sound and isn’t in danger of tumbling down while you’re sitting under it. If in any doubt, seek professional advice.

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Bring in water
Having a water feature in the garden is like having a fireplace in a room: it immediately draws the eye. In addition, the sound of running water can help to minimise any other, not-so-nice noises that may be around. Water creates movement and plays with light and shadows, reflecting plants, trees, the sky and buildings.

Positioning a water feature, as with any new garden element, will open up new possibilities around it. In a very formal design, you can organise the areas surrounding it in a more traditional layout, perhaps choosing low, topiary-style hedging and hard landscaping. With less-formal designs, let your imagination run and create a wildflower meadow or lush planting.

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Add a fireplace
A solid wall in a garden can look quite dull unless you’ve trained climbers over it, installed a living green wall or used it as a water feature.

But another idea for a wall is to use it to make an outdoor fireplace, which makes for cosy outdoor days and evenings during cooler months of the year. If you’re unable to burn wood and can’t put in a chimney for smoke to escape from, you can get bioethanol liquid and gel for outdoor use, which will also create flames but not smoke.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to create a fireplace, a fire pit or an outdoor pizza oven, then again use the areas to the side of this feature for plants. Nestle your heat source into a space so it looks as if it’s always been there.

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Get creative
If you like recycling or collecting unusual objects, but currently have a hoard you don’t quite know how to use, here’s an idea. Use them to build your own garden focal point or hideaway in a forgotten corner of your patch.

In this example in the wild area of a Sussex garden, old stained-glass windows, a dovecote and locally sourced pieces of wood have been assembled to create this lovely little rustic building, with rolls of brushwood screening for the roof.

Your project doesn’t have to be as large in scale – it could be a sweet lean-to, built against a wall, for children to play inside, or a simple screen to add interest to the route through your garden. The options are limitless – it just depends on what you have to hand.

What plans do you have for your garden this year? Tell us all about them, small or large, in the Comments below.

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