Out to Impress

The garden is where the best parties will be happening this summer — and that’s official.


We’ve worked so hard to make our few permitted guests comfortable outside, all the way from last summer’s respite from lockdown and through the chilly spring which saw us welcome them back after a long, lonely winter.

Now, many of us are at least halfway to establishing permanent(ish) outdoor entertaining spaces for the larger crowd it will soon become legal to invite.

For the new, upgraded demands of partying al fresco, think well beyond weatherproof patio dining furniture. That’s definitely needed, but for summer lingering the essentials of an outdoor living room must also be added — upholstered  sofas and chairs in durable fabric capable of weathering sudden storms, parasols or awnings to provide shade from strong sun as well as cover from wind and rain — not to mention enough specialist cooking kit to constitute a full al fresco kitchen.

Your old barbecue may not cut it this summer, when expectations are likely to far exceed burgers and hot dogs. It takes a large grill to cater for a crowd, and some of the best incorporate hobs on which to simmer accompanying veg which don’t take well to the embers — and perhaps also a built-in rotisserie. 

The swish Officine Giulio makes barbecues resembling an outdoor Lacanche, with their good looks and brass trim; these come built-in as well as free-standing. For avid barbecue fans it’s all about the charcoal, and some newer non-gas grills have been modified to incorporate smokers and/or cutlery drawers. Weber’s latest kettle offering, the Summit Kamado, comes built into a trolley, with a useful basket for cutlery, as well as a plate rack beneath.

With less meat being consumed these days and the demand for faster food, the most desirable piece of outdoor cooking kit is now a home pizza oven. Only the 500-degree heat, impossible to achieve in a conventional domestic oven, will produce the ultra-crisp, lightly charred crust so essential for an authentic result.

Ooni, available in many forms from Lakeland, is the affordable name in stylish, Scandi-inspired pizza ovens, so portable you can take them to guests’ homes in a carry bag if invited to a return match. 

But it’s worth knowing the basic £249 model requires a few extras — wood pellets, which take just 15 minutes to pre-heat the oven, and ideally a pizza “peel” with which to lift dough and slide into the oven (we managed with a large fish slice). 

Pizzas cook perfectly in just one minute, but to make enough to feed a crowd before the first one goes cold it’s vital to have toppings close by, ready to throw on the uncooked base immediately before sliding into the oven, and a pizza wheel for cutting. A gas-fired version is available, if 15 minutes seems too long to wait.

The final de rigueur gadget for summer entertaining is an ice-cream maker. These have not yet come down in price, although Lakeland’s £129.99 model is as quiet and efficient as those double the price, if a little fiddly to assemble. 

Unlike many cheap ice-cream machines it does not require the faff of pre-freezing the bowl for 12 hours before churning. 

Tools are as vital for serving al fresco desserts as they are for barbecues — fans of Oxo Grips’ long skewers and forks  should also check out its sturdy ice-cream spade and strawberry huller.
When it comes to outdoor cutlery, the need to reduce plastic waste calls for a lightweight but re-usable substitute. WakeCup’s Zero Waste Cutlery Set combines bamboo knife, fork, spoon and chopsticks with a stainless steel straw, in an elegant cotton wrap pretty enough to double as party favours at a celebration.

Before cooking anything or even sending out invitations, though, we need to get the garden spruced up and safe for entertaining. Hard flooring takes on more importance when it needs to support an outdoor living/dining/cooking space, and the best solution, visually, is large tiles suitable for indoor and outdoor use. These can be fitted on both sides of French doors, to seamlessly dissolve the division between indoors and out. 

Verona goes one step further with its Harewood Oak timber-effect tiles, bridging the gap between an indoor dining room and outside deck with stepping stones placed across the lawn that divides them. 
“Porcelain tiles can just be placed on a surface which is solid and secure, although if the ground is soft or uneven you will need to create a stable base with a layer of fine gravel or sharp sand,” says Katy Black, Verona marketing director.

While stylish furniture suppliers like Roche Bobois, BoConcept and Chaplins have the best and most beautiful dining and lounging furniture covered, you also can’t escape mowing the lawn and, at the very least,  trimming shrubs and replacing broken flowerpots. 

Colourtrend makes exterior paint in stylish shades of dove grey and duck-egg blue which can be applied direct to any discoloured pots; use a single shade for most unified effect.

While a good outside fitting attached to a back wall can throw an arc of light across a third of a small garden, back-up is needed to show off the beauty of planting and create a festive mood. While there are many solar options, plug-ins are reliable even when sunshine is in short supply, and the fashionable bare Edison-style lightbulb look is emulated in connectable festoons by Lights4Fun — a modern take on fairy lights. Up to 15 strings will work off a single outdoor plug and can be timed to stay lit for six hours before turning off and bringing themselves back to life the next night.

Finally, heating can’t be ignored in the unpredictable British summer, when both inexpensive firepits and more sophisticated outdoor fireplaces come into their own. Schiedel has made the latter just about affordable with its volcanic stone fireplaces, which come complete with log stores and can be sited right up against a fence, to bring even the smallest garden to life with the drama and warmth of open flames. 

Some like it hot,— even if the heatwaves of 2020 return, and everyone loves the romance of a fire to sit around, perhaps to toast marshmallows.

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