This time of year is when the urge to reclaim the garden starts kicking in. But while the evenings may be lighter, they have yet to get much warmer.
There’s no need to stay cooped up inside, though, thanks to the latest middle-class must-have outdoor accessory: the firepit.
Part campfire, part heater and part garden decoration, these great bowls of fire claim to keep you warm while adding a bit of style to your patio — and they’re fuelling a trend for alfresco spring evenings.
ALICE SMELLIE stocks up on firewood and puts a selection to the test.
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Winter Steel Fireplace, £99.99, gardenfurniturecentre.co.uk
A purist might point out this is more of a furnace than a firepit. With the lid on, it looks like an oven and it took a good couple of hours to assemble (with a great deal of cursing).
Nonetheless, it is a practical piece of kit. On wheels so you can move it to the most sheltered part of the patio, it has a porcelain enamel bowl and lid, plus fire doors which are resistant to 400 degrees celsius.
FLAME FACTOR: At 71cm in diameter and a towering 115cm high, this is vast and requires a large terrace. I love the fact you can wheel it around, although overall I think it looks a bit like a wire fence. There’s a door through which you can pop logs, and because the base dips down, the fire itself is automatically sheltered and burns beautifully for hours with little wood. 3/5
GLOW IN THE DARK
Cast Iron Fire Bowl, £129 to £249 (depending on size), gardenfurniturecentre.co.uk
You don’t get prettier spring fashion than this sunshine-coloured cast-iron pit.
It comes in three sizes — from 80cm to 120cm in diameter — and is easy to assemble, comprising just a stand and the large cast iron bowl.
It looks like a sacrificial basin into which one might throw offerings rather than a means of warming our hands on a cool spring night.
FLAME FACTOR: An excellent piece of kit. Using just a small pile of kindling and a firelighter, I rapidly got this burning, and then added a small log.
Although smaller than some of the others, it blasts out heat, and I had to stand back a couple of times because my face felt too hot. (Don’t build the fire too high as sparks can shoot out.)
This didn’t need much attention. I wandered outside just before bed (three hours later) and it was still faintly red. 4/5
Kadai Firepit, £150 to £300, indigenous.co.uk
Made from recycled iron oildrums which are melded together into a sphere, this stunning circular firepit comes in three sizes and I tried the largest. At a whopping 1.2m wide, it’s big enough to warm an entire dinner party of guests as they sip their alfresco cocktails.
It’s the brainchild of Joss Thomas, who set up interiors company Indigenous in a chicken shed 20 years ago, and now, a stream of well-heeled celebrities trickle through his Oxfordshire showroom.
FLAME FACTOR: I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a very similar firepit in the gardens of a local five-star hotel. The vast size made it easy to light and the sheer quantity of wood you can chuck in means that it burns for a long time — we had it going for five hours without needing much attention.
A little more expensive than most I tested, but well worth the investment. Simply spectacular. 4/5
ALL NIGHT LONG
Gardeco Nebulo Clay Fire Bowl in Cranberry, £89.99, worldstores.co.uk
A bright red firepit (main picture) made from heat-resistant clay with a sculpted rim, this looks like a giant red pepper with the top sliced off. And at just 40cm in diameter, it’s small but perfectly formed, set on a sturdy steel stand.
FLAME FACTOR: With a sprinkling of spring showers, it’s fair to say test conditions were challenging. I built a small tower of kindling and then chucked in a lit firelighter. But once the fire was raging, the depth of the bowl meant it was marvellously protected from the wind and I hardly had to touch it — just threw on an extra log every 20 minutes or so. It burned for a good hour-and-a-half with minimum attention and maximum heat. Four hours later the embers were still glowing. 5/5
UNIDENTIFIED FIRING OBJECT
Fire Mountain Guadeloupe Ceramic Table Fire Pit with cover, £99.99, alfresia.co.uk
A multi-purpose firepit which looks like a flying saucer but will keep you warm. Its slate-tile ceramic top means you can turn it into a pretty table when the fire isn’t needed (handy in summer). It also comes with a poker in case chilly weather means the flames need a bit of coaxing.
FLAME FACTOR: Easy to light and the mesh lid efficiently stops sparks from endangering clothes. 4/5
Premier Decoration Cast Iron Fire Bowl, £55 (plus £4.99 delivery), amazon.co.uk
A low-based, black cast-iron bowl with a circular base that screws on. Not enough room for more than a couple of close friends to gather around, and it’s so low that you might find yourself crouching over it to get any heat.
Would make a rather a good flower-planter, though.
FLAME FACTOR: Only the short of stature are going to find their hands thoroughly warmed when standing beside this because, at just 23cm high, it’s set very close to the ground. It was easy enough to light, and holding my hands at waist-height, I could feel the heat. But although it’s pretty, it’s just too low. It also went out quickly — within half an hour — though, of course, I used less wood because of the size (also, the rain started to spit). It would need more attention to keep the flames burning. 2/5
FEEL THE BURN
Gardeco Orbita Leaves Steel Fire Bowl, £32.99, worldstores.co.uk
A flower pot or a firepit? This round, low black steel bowl is embossed with a leaf pattern (other designs are flames and scrolls) and has a stainless steel rim.
It feels flimsy and is less than half the size of some of the others, just 40cm in diameter. But is, perhaps, a good choice for smaller gardens. You could even stand it on a (heat-resistant, obviously) table to toast marshmallows.
FLAME FACTOR: Quite hard to light — like trying to start a fire in a vase. I built a tower of kindling and then popped the lit firelighter underneath, almost burning my fingers in the process.
It gave off a certain amount of heat, but didn’t last long — probably under half an hour. I don’t think the fire was getting enough air to burn brightly, and there was a great deal of smoke. 2/5