Mamma mia! Our garden expert, Margaux Speirs, shows you how to bring the taste of Italy to your garden


Have you ever thought of having a pizza oven in the garden?

I hadn’t… until someone I was doing a garden design for recently asked me to include one. Suddenly I kept seeing and hearing about them and I have to conclude that it is a ‘must have’ for a trendy garden, and that a lot of people might consider having one if they thought about it! So I will share with you the research I have done into why you might like one, how to choose one, how to use it and start up and running costs.

I also had a look at the Clean Air Act as Bristol is a Smoke Control Area and the legislation says it is an offence to burn solid fuels (including wood) in the city without the use of an exempt appliance. I was reassured to discover that the smoke control laws do not apply to pizza ovens (or to bonfires, barbeques, chimineas and fire pits) which are burning wood outside in a garden. You should however take steps to ensure that such activities do not become a ‘statutory nuisance’, as irritated neighbours can also apply to city enforcement officers to intervene if you emit smoke and fumes to such an extent that it is prejudicial to health or a nuisance. The occasional barbeque is OK but regular smoke emissions could result in an abatement order.

You can buy ‘smokeless fuels’ i.e. fuels which have been stringently tested to demonstrate that they are capable of burning without producing smoke, but part of the purpose of a pizza oven is to have the sound, smell and taste from wood burning so these fuels would rather defeat the object.

If your neighbours are very close to where you want to have your pizza oven the safest course is to buy an ‘exempt appliance’ as defined in the Clean Air legislation. This means that the oven has a smoke chamber which burns off the smoke before it reaches the chimney, allowing you to burn traditional coal and wood that would otherwise be banned under normal circumstances in a Smoke Control area.

So why would you want a pizza oven? The reasons seem to range from “we all love pizza”, to “it makes a family meal into an occasion” and “after dark it gives warmth and focus to the dining area in the garden”. I was surprised to learn that you can use it to cook quite a lot of things other than pizza, including roast meat, casseroles, meringues and bread.

I thought it might take long time to heat up. Haven’t we all misjudged how long a barbeque can take until it is hot enough to cook on, and we’ve stood about hungrily watching the nominated chef? Apparently it only takes 20 to 30 minutes (depending on its size) from applying the match until your pizza oven is hot enough to cook pizza (and then it only takes about 90 seconds to cook so the combined time is not much more than cooking pizza in a conventional oven).

So how do you choose the right one for you? They come in various sizes so decide how much space you have and whether you are happy to cook one pizza at a time. The smallest ovens have a 60cm diameter cooking floor, 80cm external width and the next size up, with room for 2 pizzas, has 76cm internal diameter, 1040cm external width. For most of them you need to buy or build a base, table top high, then the oven including its flue stands a metre higher than the top of the table.

There are portable versions available but I am assuming if you are going to build one you will do it properly and have a Mediterranean looking domed oven rather than a metal box on wheels. The self-assembly ones can be dismantled and go with you if you move house but are not portable in any other sense. Those constructed with brick seem to be about half the price of the steel ones (but are slower to heat up).

Do you want to build it yourself? This may be cheaper and it gives you the ability to achieve a customised finish (e.g. clay and brick ovens can be painted), but it can also increase the heat retention of your oven which is better for slow roasting and overnight cooking. You can buy lovely kits for DIY ovens from The Stone Bake Oven Company – starting at £950 plus delivery – or look up some of the online plans such as those at www.howtospecialist.co.uk. Vitcas sells whole kits and also suitable bricks, doors and other accessories if you are building your oven from scratch.

I favour buying something that is as near as possible to ready to use when it arrives and I’d recommend choosing a DEFRA ‘exempt appliance’ for the reasons given above. The main UK suppliers seem to be The Stone Bake Pizza Oven Company (starting price £949), Vitcas (prices starting from £499) and Mediterrani (from £650) but a specialist shop in Yorkshire, Creative Outdoor Living, imports quite a few different brands and sizes direct from manufacturers in Spain and Italy. Jamie Oliver has put his name on the lovely Dome 60 (prices from £1300).

So once you have your pizza oven, then what? You will need to buy kiln dried hardwood cut to approximately 3 x 10in pieces. This kindling will cost about £3 a net and the largest local supplier is Firewood Supplies Bristol (tel: 07847 711 744).

You will need to empty out the ash when it is cold. (It’s a good fertiliser so put it on your compost heap or spread it straight onto the garden.) Otherwise the only cleaning required is washing the paddle you use to put the pizza in and out of the oven. You can leave the oven outside all year but it will last longer if you cover it in the winter. Some of them come with optional covers.

I would love to hear from you if you already have a garden pizza oven as I am still wondering if this is a flash-in-the-pan trend (if that is the right simile?) or really a good idea for an English garden!


Margaux Speirs is a pre-registered member of the Society of Garden

Designers and runs her business, Margaux Speirs Garden Design,

from her home in Bristol. Tel: 07903 779910 or visit:

www.margauxspeirsgardendesign.co.uk

 

PLANT OF THE MONTH

shutterstock_124914263Who can resist the appearance and fragrance of summer perennial peonies, Paeonia lactiflora? Their blooms don’t last long but they epitomise the romance of an English garden in summer. There are so many to choose, mostly in shades of pink, some with heavy, frilly blooms, some with simpler, single rows of petals but aim to buy one which has the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) as this tends to indicate it has good shape, robustness and length of flowering period. Grow in deep, fertile, humus-rich reasonable garden soil in full sun or partial shade.

A new generation of hybrid peonies has recently been bred which has the longevity of flowering of a tree peony (May through July) while still being only the size of a perennial peony but it’s really expensive at the moment as it still has novelty value (about £50 per plant).