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Article by Pattie Barron

Bring houseplants outdoors to create a cool green retreat

Summer’s first flush may be over, but with a little stage management, you can bring a second summer into your outside space, then kick back and enjoy. Some bedding plants may be past their best, but you can add colour splashes of a different kind, with a patterned outdoor rug or runner, a sun parasol and a few plump cushions – with balmy weather, these don’t need to be waterproof: pull them out from indoors. Even a well-placed yellow watering can or, say, a turquoise kettle BBQ can work wonders in brightening a gloomy corner.


Solar lights are a great way of using a sunny day to light up the garden at night. Those ubiquitous white paper globe shades we’ve all used indoors at some time have their own outdoor version that, in weather-resistant polyester, recreate moonlight – well, a full, luminous moon anyway – right on your terrace or balcony. All you need is a branch, shepherd’s crook or arch to hang them from. Pillar candles of different sizes make effective alternatives to lanterns and, battery operated, will provide an instant and steady glow, provided you set the timer (


Use flamboyant plants to hold the focus and take the heat off plants that have given their all, with nothing left to give: these can be composted or, if they are perennial, simply pushed into the wings. What to choose? The familiar busy lizzies aren’t thrilling, but just take a look at their frankly exotic relatives, the New Guinea impatiens, with their large leaves and flowers in vibrant colours of tangerine, shocking pink, scarlet and white. Several ranged in a row will add more than a touch of the tropics to any outside space.


For height, consider cannas, which are veritable firecrackers with their showy, outsize leaves tinted deep bronze or finely striped in carmine, gold and green; electrifying when the sun shines through them. The statuesque bright orange or vermilion flowers do not disappoint, either. Dahlias are top of the list, though, for dinner-plate blooms that resemble Fifties swimming caps in the most luscious shades. Keep cutting the strong stems, reward them with a weekly dose of liquid seaweed and those spectacular flowers will keep coming right through to mid-autumn.

Droughtproof and hardy, sempervivums make ideal tabletop displays


Terracotta is the classic container, but try cheap-as-chips builders’ metal buckets to add a touch of light-catching shimmer: drill holes at the base and use them as glamorous containers or simply fill them with ice and use them as champagne buckets.


If it’s too hot during the day, revel in the cool of the evening, when fragrances are at their headiest. It’s worth investing in an obelisk or similar support so you can enjoy the knockout scent of evergreen jasmine, Trachelsopermum jasminoides; many garden centres supply this gorgeous white-flowered twining climber on trellis supports. Lily bulbs planted in spring are now proving their worth, producing huge trumpet blooms that pump out sublime perfume, particularly strong in the evening. If you missed out, you might find them budding up at garden centre or nursery, but make sure you buy varieties that are scented; not all are. White and pink are your best bets for fragrance.

Lighting your outside space at dusk makes a special atmosphere


Succulents make the perfect tablescapes for this time of year, needing very little watering and zero maintenance. Aeoniums, their dark chocolate heads on stalks, resembling miniature palm trees, are a great match for those other drought-tolerant summer flowers, scarlet pelargoniums. Sempervivums, with their fascinating, complex rosettes in shades from palest green to deep ruby, are the smart succulent buy, because they are pretty much weatherproof, so will thrive all year round. They naturally form close-knit colonies and look their best in wide, low terracotta pots grouped together, like a series of tapestries.


An evergreen backdrop is always a good idea, so bring out your houseplants to join the party – they’ll benefit from a fresh-air holiday. And if even the thought of lifting a watering can makes you retreat onto your lounger, consider investing in fake foliage that will give you an instant cool green garden, from bay trees and box spirals to black-stemmed bamboo and even fern-filled hanging baskets ( Conceal the black plastic pots within more glamorous containers to lend the lie. It’ll be our secret.

Photography by GAP Photos.