How does your garden grow?

Posted on: 17 May 2011 by Rhian Mainwaring

Laura Henderson on the benefits of investing in your outdoor space.

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“One of the most delightful aspects of a garden is the anticipation it provides,” wrote the famous English author and illustrator W.E. Johns in 1937. Today, the words might be more fittingly adapted to read, “One of the most delightful aspects of a garden is the added value it provides.” Up to 15 percent more, to be exact, according to a recent Gallup poll, that brings together research over the previous decade. “These days, outside space however small, comes high on most buyers' wish lists,” says property agent Suzanne Davis. “Beautiful landscaping not only enhances value and sale-ability of a property, but with overseas clients in particular captivated by a beautiful garden, it can often also be the deciding factor between properties.”

It’s a finding backed by global research from market intelligence agency Datamonitor, which shows that today’s home owners are not just gardening as a pastime, but rather enhancing their outdoor space as a home improvement exercise. “A well-maintained garden tends to translate into higher value,” adds Ian Cunningham of agents Escapes2. “Choose a quality, family-friendly design at a cost of £600 and you could add as much as £4,000 on re-sale. That’s the equivalent of a 15% increase in value, making it a worthwhile investment in time and resources.”

Even for those not planning to move any time soon, landscaping – both with greenery and with structures like arbors, trellising and barbecue pits – can also be a value-added investment in terms of intangible benefits – top of the pile being the feel good factor. “Nature has a huge part to play in healthy brain development and socialization,” stresses landscape architect Nancy Somerville. “We’re hard-wired to respond to it in good ways, without realizing it, so it’s a healthy influence for us to be around.” 

So is it worth calling in a professional designer and shelling out on a total makeover? Property consultant, Paul Barnett advises proceeding with caution. “People often prefer a blank canvas to work on, with fussy designs seen as costly and not at all user-friendly. Garden enthusiasts will always be on the look-out for special features — a pond, interesting gradients, but a 'designer' garden particularly if it’s a second home, is the last thing most buyers want, as it spells ‘high maintenance.’ Prospective homeowners might gaze longingly at your well-tended beds and manicured hedges, but they'll also be mentally totting up the time and expense required to keep it looking good.”

So what easy-care elements should homeowners look to incorporate into their garden design for added value? For mainstream appeal, garden designer Javier Lozano advises mixing different varieties of plants which offer year-round colour, while balancing trees with vegetation, and allocating designated areas for recreational use. “Buyers today tend to be on the lookout for outdoor space that has multiple applications, a courtyard that doubles as a sun terrace and outdoor dining area for example.” he explains “Non-gardening buyers might not be overly focused on the design, but they will care about size, so give a thought to scale. Open space is good, but a huge acreage can be a turn-off, especially if it lacks the basic ingredients, so have well-marked, attractive boundaries and keep lawns tidy.” 

Most agents agree that a patio area and defined walkways can also make a house appear bigger. “It’s not actual living space, but it feels like it,” says Barnett, “providing an entertainment area while extending the home’s apparent square footage.” Walkways, adds Cunningham, cost the same per square metre as patios and give the front of the house crucial curb appeal. “An older home that just has a few patio stones leading up to the front door won’t have the same impact as a proper entrance way, so opt for the latter. It’s all about creating a good first impression. By setting the scene outside, you’re sowing the seeds for a positive experience when you head indoors.”

As for vendors keen to stand out from the competition: “A piece of sculpture or bespoke outdoor furniture, are good talking-points,” adds Lozano. “Choose one or two unusual plants of exceptional quality for their form, texture and growth habit. Anything different, that’s timeless, is a winner. Small trees also don’t suggest a garden with any depth. So where possible, invest in a few mature plants and trees to give a more established, age-mellowed feel. The key is creating good karma – achieve that and green fingered buyers will come flocking.” 

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Laura Henderson is a national property journalist and Features Editor of The Good Property Guide. A regular contributor to the Financial Times, Sunday Express and Scotsman newspapers, she is also the author of numerous on-line property guides for among other Channel 4 Homes. Her latest book Tricks and Mortar: The Little Book of Property Wisdom is out now.

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