Lynda Hallinan: a fresh look at outdoor living
Lynda Hallinan gives new meaning to indoor-outdoor flow, taking her furniture outside to lounge about on the lawn under an embellished gazebo.
It was, for the ruling elite and their entourages at least, a very fine time to be British. Colonial politics aside, during the heyday of the British Raj on the subcontinent, Indian summers were long and legendary.
Every summer, when the civil service’s stiff upper lips grew beaded with sweat and the heat and dust of Delhi proved too much for their fair complexions and tender constitutions, they – and their servants – literally headed for the hills, decamping to the so-called “Home Counties in the Himalayas” for several weeks. There, they played cricket and polo and lingered on the porches of their Lutyens mansions for tea parties by day and gossip over a gin and tonic by night. (Not only did those G&Ts keep the conversation flowing, the quinine in the tonic kept malaria at bay.)
Who doesn’t fancy the idea of retiring to the cool of a country estate in late summer, but what’s a girl to do when she’s already swapped the city streets for country life on a small farm in the foothills of the Hunua Ranges? Where I live, late summer is anything but a bed of English roses. Instead, it’s the season of haymaking, hope and hoses: I flip-flop between praying for sunny days so the grass can be baled and bundled off to the shed, and hoping for rainy nights to refill our water tanks and free me from irrigation enslavery. Without water, cracks soon appear in our baked clay soil, our lawn loses its verdancy, all the flowers in my garden fade and the vegetable crops I’ve nurtured since spring wither and wilt on the vine.
There’s no hiding from a parched garden at this time of the year as we inevitably migrate outdoors to eat, drink, entertain, relax and dose up on as much vitamin D as possible. And yet surely I’m not the only one to have observed that most reasonably priced outdoor furniture simply isn’t fit for purpose. It’s jolly uncomfortable, for starters. Sun loungers rarely recline at the right angle; wooden benches leave splinters in painful places; fold-up
“For a vintage look, I chose a floral fabric and added a pink pompom trim.”
chairs pinch your fingers; and it takes an engineering degree to work out how best to erect a shade sail without freezing one half your family while frying the other.
A couple of summers ago, I splashed out on a charcoal-coloured plastic rattan furniture set for our deck. Birds took pleasure in pooping on the canvas cushions and it was too hot to sit on after midday, but the final indignity was delivered by my children, who poked holes in the woven plastic with a hammer and screwdriver. (Take it from me, all tools, even so-called toys, are weapons of mass destruction in the hands of small boys.)
At our bach on the Coromandel Peninsula, we have a set of funky yellow Cape Cod chairs on the back deck but everyone – including the dog – fights to claim a seat on the old couch I picked up at a local op-shop. Its upholstery is threadbare and it sports spilt beer and ice-cream stains but gosh it’s comfortable.
It makes me wonder why we don’t take our indoor furniture outdoors more often, so this summer I’ve done just that, setting up a portable lounge under a pimped-up pop-up gazebo on our lawn. All the furniture, from the faded floral couch to the tarnished cutlery, came from second-hand stores.
How fun it has been to pretend I’m on the set of the BBC drama series Indian Summers, serving pitchers of honey-sweetened sun tea (use solar power instead of an electric kettle to romantically steep your tea leaves before adding ice and lemon slices) or nips of Damson gin from the art deco decanter on my vintage tea trolley.
Damson gin is a homegrown delight, a sweet marzipan-flavoured liqueur made one summer to serve the next. Simply prick and pack these small, sour purple plums into a large jar, add sugar to taste, top with good-quality gin and steep in a cool cupboard for several months before straining out the wizened fruit.
I have five damson trees and as the fruit ripens by the thousand this month, it’s time to get off the couch and up a ladder to pick it all!