Entertaining Outdoors

Entertaining friends in the garden is one of the joys of summer. Pleasant company and beautiful surroundings rarely fail to induce a feeling of well-being and relaxation, and serving food that you have grown yourself brings deep satisfaction. The food can be simple, with freshly picked salads, fruits or vegetables and meat or fish grilled or barbecued with fresh herbs, the aroma complementing the scent of the herbs growing in the nearby beds.

However informal the occasion, your guests will feel more comfortable if the eating area is sheltered, rather than completely in the open. If it is not next to the house, it will need to be screened by hedges or trellis to lend some privacy. You don’t need a large space – just think how cramped restaurants can be, yet, once seated, you feel comfortable.

In the summer, a couple of potted
strawberry plants are transformed
into a centre-piece when contained
in a wire jug.

Awnings and umbrellas

Shade and shelter are important, but they needn’t be permanent fixtures. You can put up a capacious sun umbrella or a prettily striped awning to provide temporary shade – allowing you to dine outside even in the middle of the day in high summer.

Stimulating the senses

Once the eating area is established, try to incorporate something that stimulates each of the senses. Place a handsome specimen plant within view, or position the chairs to look onto a pleasant vista. Nature will offer plenty to please your ear: summer birdsong, the hum of bees and whisper of trees and shrubs gently stirred by a breeze can be enhanced by the tinkling of wind chimes. A water feature can offer the relaxing sound of a trickling stream.

For fragrance, site plants with richly perfumed blooms near the seating area. Old-fashioned roses are hard to beat or try aromatic lavender and rosemary. Many flowers exude their scent at night. Summer jasmine and tobacco plants (Nicotiana) are two favourites. For touch, you can plant a contrast of textures from feathery 
love-in-a-mist (Nigella) and shapely ferns to rich succulents. Finally, taste can be stimulated by nearby aromatic herbs or fragrant fruits such as strawberries and blackberries.

Decorating the table

Decorating the table can be effortless. Outdoor table decorations are the very easiest to put together because they are at their most successful when they complement their surroundings. So plunder the garden and then combine the ingredients with flair. You may cut a few flowers, adding foliage or even fruit and vegetables. Or you may simply gather together some of the smaller pots from around the garden. For an evening meal, add soft lighting, such as provided by candles, and the scene will be enticingly set.

Original Edwardian awnings like this
one come with a lightweight metal
frame that is easily erected and the
awning is slipped over.


An arbour – a simple framework over which climbers are trained to create a shady outdoor room – can provide the perfect setting for entertaining friends. It can be just big enough to take a couple of chairs or bench, but best of all is an arbour large enough to accommodate a table and several chairs, where you can sit and linger over al fresco meals.

Designing an arbour

The structure can be of metal or wood, or the arbour can have 
brick or stone piers with a wooden roof. The design may be triangular, semi-circular, rectangular or octagonal – any shape, in fact, 
that fits the site.

Most climbers are suitable for clothing the arbour; but if you do not like bees, it is best to stick to climbers grown for their foliage rather than their flowers.

Solid construction

An arbour may have to remain in place for many years, so make sure you build it well. Take trouble to use timbers treated with preservative (not creosote, which may kill the climbers) and make certain that it is a strong design, well supported in the ground. As with similar structures that are covered in heavy climbers, the wind can wreak havoc on weak construction.