Through the evolution of CABE/CABE Space, research is proving the social, visual, environmental and, above all, financial value of good design and open space. And because external space now has economic validity, we are likely to see improved visual appearance.
Pivotal to this will be the role of the landscape architect from site inception to completion. The quality of external landscapes will be raised across the board. Innovative but practical design by consultants, the potential use of design codes and tighter specification will be key aspects of success.
The show gardens will be a shop window for the ultimate landscape. Some will provide a snapshot of the public realm in the completed development. Others will represent a source of inspiration for private spaces – one of a selection of designs, perhaps, that could be repeated for purchasers in their own home. Gardens themselves will generally be smaller and more urban. The show gardens will pick up some of the trends for the forthcoming year. They won't mimic the catwalk or concept car but will similarly seek to inspire.
This year will probably see eclectic planting mixes both in terms of colour and form, topiary used in less formal patters, 3D hedges and clairvoyees (holes in hedges) – but again in a contemporary fashion.
Television will increase its influence. Makeover shows have succeeded in bringing new audiences to gardening and helped to promote gardens as external living spaces or rooms – "flexiscapes" to be used in a variety of ways, 24 hours a day.
Gardening means different things to different people. A good garden is one that the user enjoys in whatever fashion they see fit, be it chilling out, play, inspiration, reflection, partying or dreaming. Mine is for relaxation – but my children have a different view.
The plot thickens
So, it seems gardens aren't gardens any more – they're outdoor rooms. And just as you wouldn't think of leaving behind a pile of rubble and calling it a bedroom, shouldn't you start thinking about providing more than a patch of mud as an outdoor room? Not convinced? Well, paying a little more attention to gardens could also give you access to a burgeoning market – the garden retail sector is forecast to grow 7-8% over the next three years from an annual spend level of more than £3bn.
Dig it? What to do with the garden plot
The beauty of the garden business is that housebuilders can offer their buyers landscaping services, sheds, garden lighting and even concrete ornamental cherubs as optional extras, and all without holding up the build programme. The new homes sector is a market that landscaping services are already targeting. New on the scene is Great Spaces, which has come up with a range of garden designs and price levels for the typical 100 m2 garden plot of a new home. The gold level contemporary garden, for example, comes with such luxuries as a pond, flaming torch lights and an original glass art installation, but buyers with smaller budgets can buy the same design at silver level and have a rock garden and water feature, or the most basic bronze level and simply have the rock garden.
Down to the woods
Some gardens aren't an optional extra – at least when decking is an integral feature, as it is for Lower Mill Estate and Conservation Builders' waterfront houses at Mill Village, near Somerford Keynes, in the Cotswolds. Waterside gardens are created using Archadeck decking, which is made from sustainable Scandinavian redwood. The decking has got to be good; Linden Homes chief executive Philip Davies has it at his own home.
Linden's Queen Elizabeth Park has all the right details in all the right places, including the optional extra of a hot tub in the show home gardens. Along with everything else in the garden, the spa and hot tub sector is growing, according to its trade organisation, the British and Irish Spa and Hot Tub Association. You may never have realised that such a trade organisation existed, but it recorded a 25% growth in its market in 2003, and it notes that the hot tub is now becoming much more of an outdoor, rather than an indoor product. Whether that trend has been prompted by global warming, sheer exhibitionism or the desire to emulate the residents of the Big Brother house, the association cannot say.
If you want to wow your buyers in a different way, paving manufacturer Marshalls has the solution in the form of its Livinglites. These are LED lights that are set into the paving, weatherproof, last for 20 years and change colour subtly to match your mood. It might sound a little New Age, but it beats a stone cherub any day.