It’s time to head outside and make the most of our prized luxuries here in the Hills — space, sunshine, fantastic gardens — especially during the Christmas holiday season.
This is the ideal time to make sure your outdoor entertaining areas are ready to handle a hectic schedule of fun with family and friends.

Using plants cleverly

From the initial stages of designing an outdoor area you need to know what you will use the space for. And a major factor in that decision is when you want to be able to use it.
It’s great to have a beautiful space outside to sit in during the winter with the sun streaming through, but ten minutes out there in summer and you will be running inside to hide in the air-conditioning. With a little bit of careful planning in the initial design of your garden, you can incorporate deciduous vines to slowly grow over a structure, offering you the shade you need in summer. Then they drop their leaves in autumn, letting the sun through in winter and offering their leaf litter as the perfect mulch for your garden. The mulch not only ensures the plants’ roots stay cool and keeps moisture in but helps keep the weeds away.
Different varieties of deciduous vines also offer a brilliant colour display in autumn, and if chosen wisely can offer you fruit during summer, like a kiwi fruit vine or a grape vine.
Creating shade in an otherwise desolate backyard, however small, is easy with some of the smaller varieties of trees now available. One of my favourites is the crepe myrtle — Lagerstroemai indica x L. fauriei ‘Sioux’. Another is any of the Japanese maples — Acer palmatums.
For a tropical feel the frangipani is a stunning addition to any garden, but it is frost sensitive in winter when young.
If positioned in the correct areas these smaller trees will offer shade at the right time of day. This is when knowing the eventual size of the tree and using that knowledge in careful design becomes especially beneficial.
Wandering through your local nursery this time of year can only inspire you with the wide selection of flowering annuals, perennials and natives, which can all be potted and ready to give an instant burst of colour at any level.

Going potty

If your outdoor entertaining area looks a little bleak you can spruce it up with something a little more permanent by using some of the new range of high quality glazed terracotta pots. They are available in a choice of stunning blue, green and orange colours in a selection of shapes to suit all areas, and are stocked and on display at Swane’s Nursery at Dural. They are large enough in which to plant a beautiful weeping Japanese maple, or for those with restricted space you could plant the dwarf varieties of citrus now available. More pots can be grouped together in varying sizes to create a focal point. Fill them with some lush palms and beautiful coloured foliage plants for a tropical feel. If you plan to entertain outside for Christmas then add more colour with beautiful tablecloths to create an instant theme. The trend in colours is still bronze, golds and metallics. You could add a splash of red for a Christmas feel.

Hedging your bets

If privacy is an issue the first option to be considered would be fast growing hedges with beautiful foliage and possibly scented flowers as well, but if space is also an issue there are many great cutout privacy screens available through many hardware stores.
The screens come in a variety of different patterns offering different levels of privacy, or you could use them just for an aesthetically pleasing outlook. The screens can also be backlit, lighting up your space at night and creating an interesting feature. If you are able to supply electricity outside a water feature could complete the mood.
For courtyards lacking seating an option could be to create your own bench seating out of besser blocks and to give it a grand look by cladding in a beautiful sandstone finish.
For more ideas and displays see KLS Sandstone on Windsor Road, Box Hill, and pick up a pre-made bench seat to put under your favourite tree. ☐