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sofas and rubberised tables in the 24-hour garden theme at this year's Grand Designs Live at Birmingham's NEC.

The weird and wacky furniture is accompanied by what can only be described as altars to outdoor dining, featuring enormous barbecues equipped with in-built refrigerators underneath to keep all your beverages and food cold. Out-of-this-world heating solutions, outdoor lighting and entertainment technology all feature at the heart of the exhibition in Grand Gardens, showing visitors how they can use their garden as an extra entertaining and living space all year round.

The core of the inspiration is The 24 Hour Garden, in which three interactive show gardens transform from day to night in minutes - an "outdoor living room", complete with a "floating carpet", the "tranquil escape", with its unique boulder lounger and driftwood panelled walls, and the "contemporary kitchen garden for entertaining", with its tea cup wall and bold dining set.

However, there's a limit to extending the season - and no one's going to be out there fine-dining in the pouring rain, agrees award-winning TV garden designer James Alexander-Sinclair, who will be discussing The 24 Hour Garden at this year's show. "The point of 24-hour gardening is not so much sitting in it, but looking at it. You can sit in your sitting room and power a switch and there you have it."

Does he approve of outdoor garden carpet? There's a large pause followed by a snigger. "I'm not quite sure what the point of it is," he concedes. "Outdoor carpet's a marvellous idea if you like outdoor hoovering. But it's part of the idea of the garden being an extra room to the house."

However, he's more open minded to new-fangled furniture making its way into the great outdoors. "There's something rather wonderful about taking bits of inside outside. I remember one lunch party where we just took all the furniture outside and put it on the lawn. It was weird, wonderful and exciting."

James comes up with somewhat more conventional ways of enjoying your garden all year round, such as placing winterflowering plants with strong scents like Sarcococca confusa or winter-flowering honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) near your front door.

"You will catch the scent as you fumble for your front door key - and that is using your garden in the winter.

"Lighting certainly extends the life of the garden as seasons change, so you are not just looking at plants but the effect of light on plants when planning your garden for the year.

"You can sit there with the fire blazing and if you light your garden properly you can see all the skeletons and shadows of your garden, which extends the life of your garden, as does a pond with a fountain with a light in it."

In winter, clipped hedges such as yew and box look fantastic, even in frost.

"Anything clipped and architectural, with crisp lines, looks good in winter. In summer plants are diaphanous, fluffy and wafting about. It's like people. In summer we all wander about in pretty, floaty things, but in winter we are wrapped up and keep everything as close as possible. A clipped evergreen hedge with frost on it is always a lovely thing to see."

Will any of the gadgets he's seen at this year's show catch on and be the norm in the garden in 10 years' time? "No," he sighs. "The whole essence of a gadget is that it's a passing fad."

But he does welcome innovative furniture which focuses on architectural, sculptural value rather then comfort.

"Because we live in this climate, we spend an awful lot more time looking at the garden furniture than sitting on it," he says. "Therefore it's important to make it as beautiful as you can possibly manage."

Never a truer word spoken. * Grand Designs Live Birmingham, NEC, October 7-9. Order tickets online at or call the booking hotline on 0844 854 1348.

SOFT FLOOR: Pictured below is outdoor carpet from COULD outdoor carpets, rubberised furniture and industrial-sized all-weather cookers have a place in the gardens of the future? Ditch your old traditional wood furniture, trusty barbecue and bowling green lawn to make way for carpets of blue, crystal rocking chairs and state-of-the-art cookers in your outside space of the future, which once used to be lovingly called a garden.

Modern garden carpets and outdoor rugs mingle with crystal-like rocking chairs in a riot of colours, oversized outdoor


GREAT OUTDOORS: James Alexander-Sinclair at Grand Designs Live, left, and an outdoor sofa with a difference from, below NEW FOR THE GARDEN: This huge stainless steel sphere, above, is from Pictured right are Louis chairs in polyurethane, from
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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