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When designing a dream home, many people get so caught up selecting the perfect fixtures, fittings, and finishes for the interiors, they neglect the rest of the home. Designing and creating a luxury outdoor area can be overwhelming – there are so many elements to consider, from decking, garden, and pool, to furniture and lighting; but it’s incredibly important that you do consider them all.

A fully functional and dynamic outdoor area can provide you with an additional living and entertaining space that can be enjoyed year-round. To find out more about how to design and implement a stunning outdoor area, we had a chat to Darin Bardbury from Mint Pool + Landscape Design. Read our conversation below:

Innovative Verandahs: With yard sizes and blocks getting smaller, what are some tips for designing a beautiful outdoor area in a small space?

Darin Bardbury: Adding greenery is always a good start. Something like a hedge or a screen plant can be a good option – they’re usually around 800mm to a metre wide, which will give you a nice solid bit of greenery, but there are other options these days like green walls and things like that. They have their own challenges in terms of cost though and they can be quite pricey.

A better option is climbers, which work for smaller spaces too. The great thing about climbers is that they don’t always need something to grow on; they can simply climb on your fence.

IV: How can you make an existing outdoor area more inviting?

DB: Again, plants are a great way to do this – they’re that thing that just connects people to their landscape. If you don’t have plants in an outdoor area, space doesn’t feel good, it’s not inviting, and people will end up using it less.

IV: What plants are good for a backyard?

DB: There are some really good options from the evergreen plant perspective if you want green all year round. The classic one is the Climbing Fig, which is a beautiful plant that looks really bright when it’s young. Over time, it tends to grow off the fence a bit, so you do need to maintain it.

When it comes to plants there’s always some level of maintenance involved, but the Climbing Fig is relatively low maintenance and will give you a beautiful green screen that’ll climb on the fence itself. Another great option is a Chinese Star Jasmine, but this one will need some mesh or wire to climb on.

“The great thing about Chinese Star Jasmine is it grows in most conditions and it has greenery from the bottom to the top.”

IV: What flowering climbers would you recommend?

DB: Definitely the Chinese Star Jasmine – the great thing about this one is it grows in most conditions and it has greenery from the bottom to the top. Many other floral climbers will grow up to the top of the fence and just sit there and you’ll have all these naked stems at the base, which don’t look very attractive. If you’re after a deciduous climber, Boston Ivy is a great option too – you might have seen then on old English houses.

IV: Do you have any tips for designing a pavilion?

DB: I think the main thing to think about with pavilions is the size and how the space under it works. For an alfresco area, I always suggest opting for a pavilion at least 4m2, but 5m2 is ideal if you have the room.

When it comes to designing an outdoor area, people always think about the size of the table, but it’s not just about that – when you’ve got people there and you’re entertaining, people are sitting at chairs and they’re pulling them out to move around the table. So, try to make sure you’ve allowed enough space.

One of the things I do see a lot is a roof structure that’s too small. Getting the size right and making sure you’re allowing things for like a barbecue area in that space is incredibly important. Also, consider bringing things like greenery into the area as this will add to its attractiveness.

“Getting the size right and making sure you’re allowing things for like a barbecue area in that space is incredibly important.”

IV: When constructing an alfresco area, would you opt for a solid roof structure or a pergola-style setup?

DB: It depends on the client and what they’re trying to achieve. I think most clients prefer a roof structure because it gives them the option to be out there in all weather conditions. I’m not sure whether people would actually want to be out there when it’s pouring down raining, but people do like the idea of being able to entertain even if it’s overcast or a really sunny day.

I think there’s definitely a place for a pergola area too. If it’s a dining area, a roof structure is definitely a good option but elsewhere in the landscape, say next to a pool, I love the idea of a pergola. It gives you some shade, but it’s much lighter looking and doesn’t dominate the space as much as a solid roof structure would.

IV: What would be your material of choice for an alfresco flooring area?

DB: It’s a good question. If I was using a natural product, I’d definitely be going with something like an Iron Bark or a Spotted Gum. The thing is if it’s around pools where you don’t want leaching of tannins and things like that, I’d definitely recommend the Newtechwood products and I’m going more down that path now.

IV: How can we keep our pot plants alive?!

DB: Is there a magic answer? Is there an answer? No, well, sort of. Look, everyone kills stuff in pots – every time I drop into a new client’s house, they’ll tell me not to look at the pots because they’ve killed the plants… They’re tough conditions though, right? If you put a plant in a pot it’ll dry out really quickly – they’re exposed to heat and sun more, and the roots don’t have as much access to soil and moisture, so they generally die from lack of water. Sometimes people go too much the other way and give them too much water.

“The main thing with pot plants is they need maintenance; you can’t just sit and forget.”

IV: So we don’t need to be swapping soils regularly?

DB: No, look I think if you just use a good quality potting mix, they’re quite good at holding water. The main thing with pot plants is they need maintenance; you can’t just sit and forget. When you plant stuff in the garden you can get away with it – things don’t die as quickly, but when it comes to pots you really need to be keeping them watered because they’ll die very quickly if not.

IV: Would you recommend sculptures as a statement outdoor piece?

DB: Sculptures are an interesting one because not a lot of people will go down this path. These days sculptures are becoming more accessible in terms of cost and supply and there’s a lot more around at the moment.  In my opinion, there’s nothing better than having a sculpture sitting in the garden and having some lighting on it to create a feature element or a focal point in the yard.


To learn more about Darin and Mint Pool + Landscape Design, visit their website here. To find out more about designing and building the ultimate alfresco living space in your home, get in touch with the friendly team at Innovative Verandahs.

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