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Ideal Home's Outdoor Living

The Perfect Outdoor Room - A fabulous garden that's ideal for entertaining

Nicola Gammon always dreamed of having a wonderful garden. In fact, one of the reasons she finally decided to settle in the UK is that, compared with her native Canada, there are so many more city flats that come with outside space.

Ideal home's outdoor living

'I love entertaining and I love being outside,' says Nicola, 'so when I was flat-hunting, the acid test was whether I could imagine myself living there and giving a garden party.'

When Nicola finally found this ground-floor flat in Brondesbury, north London, it was the generous size of the garden that clinched the deal. 'I was so excited about the place,' she remembers. 'Although it was just a big lawn then, I had fabulous visions of a summerhouse at the end of the garden, barbeques on the patio and lazy afternoons spent sipping wine with friends.'

Ideal home's outdoor living

Blueprint for success

Nicola's an avid magazine reader and whenever she saw an idea she liked for the garden, she tore out the page and filed it away. ' Eventually I had loads of cuttings so I put them all together and created a mood board - it was so much easier to sort out what I wanted on paper. I just had to have a summerhouse, an area for outdoor dining and a couple of nice big benches for my friends to lounge on. Once I'd put together a rough plan I decided on the materials I wanted to use and then which features would go where. After that, it was just a question of fitting all the elements together, like a jigsaw puzzle.'

Ideal home's outdoor living

Seed of an idea

When it came to planting, things didn't come together quite so easily. In fact, Nicola had a few initial disasters. 'I think I'd focused so much on the design being right that somehow forgot that the garden was about plants, too,' she says. 'I went to the garden centre and essentially I just went around buying anything that took my fancy. I didn't really think too much about whether it would thrive in my particular garden and soil.

A year later, a lot of the plants were looking decidedly unhappy, so Nicola decided to take action and make a few changes. 'It seemed such a shame. I had this perfect space but the plants just weren't doing it justice. I realised just how important it is to match the plants and soil type and position.' This was the start of a real passion for Nicola, and the end result - apart from a garden full of thriving plants - was the launch of her own company Shoot Gardening, a gardening website that helps people to choose the right plants.

'It's just what I would have liked when I was designing my garden,' says Nicola. ' You can just go online and find out whether that climber you are hankering after is going to take off and flourish on your north-facing wall or sulk, wither and die!'

Ideal home's outdoor living

Fantastic result

These days Nicola's garden is the perfect reflection of her bubbly, sociable personality. Whether its a full-on dinner party for six on the terrace, an informal get-together with the girls under the pergola or a quiet glass of wine on the terrace by the summerhouse, Nicola's garden fits the bill. 'I've got the balance right now,' she says. 'The plants love it here - and of course my friends do too!'

Ideal home's outdoor living