The advantages of artificial grass by Ali Smith of Bristol's Secret Garden June 06 2014

We love our gardens for all sorts of reasons: maybe it's used as another "room", a place to grow fruit and vegetables, or somewhere safe and exciting to play outside. Most of us probably want a mixture of all of the above.

So, when designing a garden, we aim to develop the space in such a way that it works well for all the people who are using it. An important question is how often can we actually use our outdoor space? With Britain's notoriously wet weather, the answer is not as much as we would like!

A traditional garden to suit everyone will have a paved or decked seating area, some flower beds and a lawn where children can play safely. Maybe there's a veg patch and a shed, too. But this kind of garden cannot cope with the level of rain we have experienced in recent months; it soon turns into a mud bath, with weedy borders and a slippery seating area. The garden becomes totally unusable, ugly and a waste of valuable space.

What would be ideal in wet conditions is a garden you can get out in as soon as it stops raining. A sunny afternoon is so beautiful after rain; the blue sky is crystal clear and all the drops of water catch the light. It would be great just to get straight out there.

Often we think of a lawn as an essential part of the garden, but I feel that, especially in small town gardens, a lawn can be replaced in many ways in order to make the garden much more accessible.

Artificial grass, pictured, has come a long way: it is low maintenance and can look like the real thing. There are other possibilities, like rubber bark, gravel, or a mix of different paving.

Rubber bark comes in different colours, provides a safe surface for children to play on and it also drains really fast. We like to install it around water play areas for that reason. Perhaps for those without children at home, it's better to have a mixture of hard surfaces everywhere. If there is no requirement for an open area, then you may as well do away with a lawn or hard landscaping altogether and instead fill the space with planting and paths. Small patches can be created where you can sit, catch the sun and take in the smells and sounds of the drying garden, leaving the majority of the garden free for plants.

A final tip: a really good way of increasing the ability of your soil to hold water and still keep its structure is to mix in plenty of organic matter, such as compost, or well rotted manure. This will also work in reverse, allowing the soil to retain water in drought conditions.