From Side Return to Summer Sun-trap!

I turned my dreary backyard into a pretty patio that can be enjoyed all year round. Follow these ten easy steps to creating your own gorgeous terrace…


When I finally found ‘The One” (OK my flat) I did what we all do when we fall in love…I compromised. I’d have killed for a nice back garden but, as someone sensible once said, you can’t have everything. And at least there was a patch of green out front and a grotty backyard where I could put the bins out.

Fast forward to now and I spend half the summer in that concrete backyard. What was once a depressing dumping ground now feels more like an outdoor extension of the kitchen.


I bought this metal cabinet for my hallway, but it looks better – and is more useful (for storing paint and gardening tools – in the backyard

Granted I’m lucky it’s south-east facing and gets the morning and early afternoon sun, enough for most plants to thrive. But even if your yard is permanently in the shade, it’s worth lavishing some attention on the view from your back door.

Step One – Find somewhere else to keep the bin/ mop and bucket/ paint cans/spare compost or store them inside something that’s visually appealing or easy to camouflage.

Step Two – Give the ground a thorough clean, ideally with a an eco-friendly mix of white vinegar and water or laundry detergent. Rinse off and leave to dry. (Various fungicidal concrete sealants are available to prevent algae regrowth though I’ve never found them very effective).

Step Three – Check the weather forecast to make sure there’s at least a two-day window before heavy rain hits.

Step Four – This is the game changer! Slap a generous coat of masonry paint over the ground and/or every hard surface. I use white as everything look great against it and it bounces the light around. Red geraniums look like artworks. Plus it combines easily with other colours when you want to change things up. I repaint the floor every April (the walls every 3 or 4 years). But outdoors you don’t need to be too precious and with a big masonry brush it barely takes two hours. It doesn’t have to be white off course. Rich dark colours look great in the sun. If your house is red brick using a soft pink or terracotta would look amazing for example.

IMG_20200515_122522Step Five – Work your colour scheme! Having some kind of cohesive colour strategy can make your terrace look more like an outdoor room. For years I used blue and white, painting my back door, gate and chairs a vibrant Aegean blue. Add in some red and yellow blooms and on sunny days you could (almost) be on a Greek or Moroccan terrace. My new colour scheme is black and white with pops of bright yellow, carrying the mustard yellow of the kitchen through the back door (brighter colours tend to work better in outside light). What was blue is now a glossy black and this year I’ve added an extra feature by painting the treads of the back steps to match. It’s given the backyard a crisp chic appearance and provides the muted backdrop necessary for the yellow to sing.

Step Six – Planting. Finally, time to hit up the garden centre. I’m no expert, but… bamboos and grasses provide great background lushness, fill space and are relatively low maintenance. A few bushy herbs are a must-have and you’ll want at least a couple of taller shrubs to provide some height. A climber on a wall trellis looks great but most need a sunny wall and a bit of extra TLC to thrive. For me the best value for money is still the humble geranium. Vibrant colours, easy to care for, bloom for the longest time and as a bonus you can take them indoors over winter! Last but not least (and apologies to Monty Don), don’t overlook the possibilities of artificial plants – especially if you’re side return is north facing. The benefits are obvious. No maintenance. No watering. Last for years and give year round greenery. Mixed thoughtfully with the real thing you’ll get the best of both worlds.

Step Seven – Vary the height of your plants or where you place them to add interest and draw the eye around. Hanging planters are an obvious solution (putting fakes in these can save a lot of effort), but other options include wall planters, wall shelves, garden steps, tables and benches. On the other hand beware varying the style of your plant containers too much. In a small space it can be confusing. Whether your pots and containers are terracotta, stone, concrete, zinc, metal or plastic, try not to mix and match.

IMG_20200515_121556Step Eight – Now you need somewhere to sit and admire your work. You don’t need a lot of space to squeeze in a comfy chair or two and/or a dining table. I’m a great believer in repurposing indoor furniture. The Moroccan chairs in my backyard spent their first few years in my living room and, although I have to store the cushions indoors, their sturdy metal frames have survived 15 winters without any problem. Moving furniture outside is a great way of extending the life of older pieces. I’ve got an old CD rack that makes a great stand for pots of herbs. An old metal candle sconce looks great on my garden wall with a trailing plant plonked on it. With tables especially, avoid generic garden centre furniture and go vintage if you can. Old metal can be repainted, wood protected and marble scrubbed up.

Step Nine – And accessorise. Make sure your terrace screams YOU with your finishing touches. Cushions? Mirrors? Maybe a little fire pit? I’ve hung an old lantern, though when it’s dark I prefer the soft glow of diffused light coming through the windows from inside my flat. Another way to make it your own is to whip the paint can out again. Stencil the ground; paint your own sign or maybe a fake rug under the table. If you’re really creative try a wall mural, like the gorgeous one pictured below!

Step Ten – Finally, pour a G&T, sit back and enjoy your new kingdom!


Bogota Black Metal and Yellow Resin Garden Chair by Maisons du Monde


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