Are you making the most of your garden?
Even the tiniest outdoor space can function as an extra room in summer. Here are five great ideas for getting the very most from your garden over the next few weeks...
Turn it into a... kitchen
Yes, it's barbecue season - so now's the time to fire up your grilling skills and try out a few al fresco recipes. You don't need to wait for the weekend: the lighter evenings mean now's the perfect time to 'go Australian' and eat straight from the barbie every night. It's a great way to relax after a busy day - and lots of fun for the kids.
Want quick and easy recipes, full of flavoursome herbs and spices? Take a look at Schwartz's mouth-watering selection. Guaranteed crowd-pleasers include Lamb Souvlaki, Jerk Chicken and Chilli Beef Burgers - and there are great salad ideas, too.
Turn it into a... dining room
Why not make the most of that mood-lifting warm weather and eat every meal outdoors? Even your morning toast and cornflakes will taste special if you're sat back in the fresh air instead of standing up in the kitchen! And getting in the habit of going outside can benefit your health: natural sunlight boosts vitamin D levels, which in turn helps maximise your body's defences and boost your immune system according to experts.
If you're lucky enough to have a big garden, chances are you've already invested in an outdoor table and chairs. But a couple of foldaway beach-style deckchairs can prove just the ticket on a tiny plot - and won't take up a lot of room to store in winter. (We love the Penguin Classics ones, available from Cocoboat). Or if you're at home with the kids during the day, why not just throw a blanket on the ground and have a picnic?
Turn it into a... gym
Who wants to hang round a stuffy indoor gym when the weather's so gorgeous? Grab a mat and try a body-toning workout or yoga session in the open air. A recent major review of studies reported in Science Daily found that exercising outdoors rather than indoors led to improved mental health, greater enjoyment and a higher likelihood of continuing with the regime.
Want more ways to exercise outdoors? A kickabout or game of cricket with the kids can help you burn calories while having fun - and it'll keep them fit, too. Worried about the ball going into next-door's garden? Invest in a Swingball set, available from Argos and DIY stores nationwide. Finally, if you've been putting off pulling up those weeds, bear in mind that gardening can burn about 300 calories per hour!
Turn it into a... classroom
No, we're not suggesting you hold spelling tests in the garden! But spending some time exploring the natural environment with the kids is a great way to keep them occupied and boost their knowledge. What's more, exposure to natural settings rather than being cooped up indoors can help children focus and improve concentration levels, according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Try giving them each a patch of growing space where they can watch nature at work. Set up bird-feeders and get the kids to make a note of which feathered friends they spot: RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds (£4.99) is a big help. And don't forget to look out for other garden visitors, such as hedgehogs, squirrels and bumble bees.
Turn it into a... chill-out zone
Just relaxing outdoors with a good book or great friends is a failsafe way to keep stress levels under control. Spending time in a green space can make your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension drop dramatically, according to research by leading expert Professor Roger Ulrich. So what are you waiting for? Stop reading this - and get outdoors!
What resolution are you making this year?
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- To stop spending money so frivolously
- To learn how to cook more meals
- To spend more time with my family
- To get a new career
- To socialise with my friends more
- To get fit and healthy