Gardens Post 2020, the ‘Lost Year’


As life settles during 2021, many people will become stretched financially, overseas holidays will be a luxury that many, perhaps most, will not be able to afford. Holidaying here in the UK will also be more than some can afford or will risk doing. Eating out, or even ‘popping to the pub’ will all be activities that less people will participate in for a multitude of reasons ranging from affordability to fear of infection.

Post 2020 people may well be forced to live more modestly, but they are likely to want to live more fully in terms of experiences ... and many (if not most) of these experiences will be lived in their homes & gardens; or in the homes and gardens of their friends and family.

Our homes and gardens will need to perform a new, diverse range of roles for us; they will be bars, restaurants, holiday resorts, workplaces, play areas, home cinemas, spas and sanctuaries. We will all want whatever outside space we have, to play as many of these roles as possible.

This will be a permanent change in the significance of homes & gardens to us all. The events of 2020, the ‘Lost Year’ has changed the way we live forever. What business is experiencing now, is not a ‘boom’ in consumer spending on DIT, home refurbishment and relocation; it’s a permanent shift in our spending that will remain long after the ‘initial surge’ abates.

The lockdowns imposed around the world as well as here in the UK changed family dynamics and advanced our digital presence, to support new ways of working and socialising. The restricted way of life lived by so many this year and the prospect of further intermittent restrictions, has caused millions of people (for the first time for some) to turn to green spaces to find sanctuary and escape.

Robert Ormerod/The Guardian

More people now spend time outdoors wherever & whenever possible, immersing themselves in the natural world in order to feel more connected to Nature and the environment. The RHS have reported 1 million visits to their website’s gardening advice pages were made between 24th March & 1st April 2020. A 6 fold increase over normal ‘visitor numbers’.

Leading a restricted, slower pace of life has enabled us to not only ‘notice’, but to see the seasons change. To see growth, notice trees coming into bloom and plants flourishing; daily walks are now a new ritual for many. The great outdoors has become a popular and sought after ‘refuge’ for which people are willing to pay more than ever before.

Gardening quickly became an element of home-schooling. Young people from 3-16 learnt about the natural world, food sources, horticulture and cooking & baking. During the summer of 2020, the Garden Centre Association has reported that 3m new customers (mostly under 40) were seen. Whilst the industry works furiously to find ways in which to ‘hold-on to’ the 3millioniells (as they’re now known), it’s apparent that many of them need no further encouragement. Some are leading the emerging trend to move out of ‘the city’, in search of larger homes and homes with gardens. This halt to city-migration will, most likely be, another permanent change to what’s considered a ‘desirable way of life’.

The garden has become ‘The 5th Room’ garden; central to planning, designing & creating a garden now is to consider not simply the furniture, but to think deeply about all of the products to be placed in it.

The role of ‘Interior Design’ is about to broaden to include the garden ‘room’. We will all want it to work all year round and for it to ‘fit’ the décor inside our homes.

The garden has finally become an outdoor room. It needs to have the same level of comfort and convenience as does any other room in the home.

Investment in better quality furniture is one aspect of this ‘new’ space; as is a level of style and consideration in design terms as their ‘internal rooms’ ranging from soft furnishings to lighting and decorative accessories (such as mirrors and artwork).

The 5th Room

The UK is forecast by respected ‘long-term weather forecasters’ to have longer, hotter summers. This will broaden and strengthen the desire to ‘live-outside’ amongst UK consumers; leading eventually (but not too far away), to people wanting this lifestyle to continue through the winter months as well.

This is a huge opportunity for the entire home-supply chain to begin innovating to produce all-weather furniture, kitchens, accessories, outdoor heaters and more.

The 5th Room

Cooking and dining outside fast becoming as desirable as doing these activities inside. The interest in outdoor kitchens will broaden in appeal; and no matter what size outside space we have, a food preparation, cooking and cleaning up area will be a huge attraction to all of us. Many people will strive to pay more for a home with these facilities and others will choose a home with an ‘outdoor kitchen’ even if it means a smaller home.

As we ‘holiday’ more at home in future, outdoor kitchens will become aspirational aspects of a home for all of us. Some will be grand, others a simple BBQ, but we will all want them to have a sense of permanency; ‘kitchens’ created as a part of the home.Gardens will become smarter and include more integrated technology such as television screens (already available fully weatherproof for UK use). Outdoor cinemas will rise in popularity, our connection to Cinemas is broken; driven by the dearth in new movie releases (set to continue thro’ 2022) and Covid-19. As streaming services offer more and become more affordable, the movie-experience can easily be created at home... and in the garden. Technology for the garden will interconnect mush as it has within the kitchen; outdoor heaters, seating and lighting all ‘talking’ to each other, to provide a more complete entertainment experience in a space more like their internal counterparts, generating places of ultimate relaxation.

Garden Entertainment
Birmingham Live, ProofVision Outdoor TV

Following lockdowns around the world this year, more people will WFH (work from home). UK research involving more than 6000 respondents (WKspace design agency) concluded that the number of people that will in future, permanently WFH at least 2/3 days of every week will increase by c20%. (30% of the UK workforce already permanently WFH, freelancers, tradespeople etc). Leading to c50% of the UK working population needing a space at home, specifically designed for this purpose.

Garden Office
Ikea charging pads, Key West Bench: Roberto Papparotto & Gian Vittorio Plazzogna for Roberti, Sol-Up

Gardens will play a key role in this newly widespread requirement. For many, the garden is a place of preference to work (weather permitting) and this will continue. Technology also plays a pivotal role in enabling this role for the garden. A 1st world problem, but nonetheless a problem to be solved, is the constant need to charge devices. Therefore products with integrated charging facilities are likely to be high on the wish-list of consumers for outdoor furniture.

Parasols that provide shade, heaters for cooler days and speakers for conference calls and zoom meetings are all things to consider when designing a 5th Room. An important consideration for the WFH movement is that the garden ‘office does not necessarily need to be a ‘building’, or an enclosed space; it can be created with furniture, cover and a heat source. This will be yet another driver for ‘Interior Design’(ers) to play a greater role in the creation of these spaces.

Homes that have clearly had consideration to the provision of ‘workspace’ inside and/or out, will become more desirable than those that haven’t.

The fears over food shortages (resulting from the Pandemic & BREXIT) have strengthened the trend of becoming more self-sufficient; the RHS have given advice this summer to an extra 350,000 people seeking ‘Grow Your Own‘ advice and education. ‘Primethorpe Paving’ found that Google Searches for ‘How to grow vegetables’ was up by 400% on 2019. However, the Office of National Statistics say that 12% of households in Great Britain have no access to a private or shared garden, driving UK residents (owners & renters) to become inventive… balconies, terraces, courtyards, external walls and small garden spaces have been used for vertical planting solutions, pots, planters and hanging baskets for vegetables like tomatoes, peas, climbing beans and squash. Online search for ‘container growing vegetables‘ in 2020 is up 219% (vs 2019) with growers keen to learn about the most productive vegetables and herbs that can be planted together in pots and containers, ideal for space-saving purposes. Perhaps this movement will also build on the resurgence of community spirit… people trading different home cooking recipes with neighbours, reaching out to other growing enthusiasts in the area and swapping/sharing advice and produce.

Grow your own

The grow-your-own trend will continue to strengthen and from a wider perspective, when (and if) social distancing rules are eased, produce will be grown by individual households as well as in community spaces. Architects and employers are now continually trying to create grow your own opportunities in urban environments.

Community Farming
Husum and Lindholm Architects Growmore Installation

So, in conclusion: the events and our experiences of 2020, have lifted outdoor space almost to the top of our priority list in choosing a home. The creation of a garden no matter its size is, we have realised, an essential element of our long-term wellbeing. The future will see all of us spending much more time at home and we will invest much more readily and heavily in acquiring the best Home... & Garden that we can afford.