Your garden won't feel very friendly if you don't have anywhere to serve lunch.

June 24, 2019

A good garden is a many splendoured thing: Even beginner gardeners agree that a symphony of flowering plants, almost weedless beds and thriving, super-green lawns, shrubs, and trees are well worth the hassle. But a beautifully laid-out and maintained outdoor space—no matter how artfully clipped and formal, or bountiful and romantic—is merely decorative if it can’t be used by creatures higher on the evolutionary scale than beetles and bugs.

If you have no place to serve an outdoor lunch or dinner for at least two people, your garden won’t feel very relevant or friendly. I’m not talking about a patch of grass where you plop down a tablecloth and call it a day, but a specific space kitted out with something stable underfoot, a table, chairs,  and a protective element up above. Read more, ‘Your Outdoor Furniture: 5 Mistakes To Avoid.’

In some areas like Southern California, outdoor living spaces are ubiquitous with people who live in temperate climates naturally gravitating to bringing the indoors out and vice versa, but it’s not always an uplifting process.

Parking a flock of cafe chairs and tables around a swimming pool doesn’t qualify as a fantastic outdoor dining room. (Too noisy, too easy, too turquoise.)

We think it’s more interesting to try the unexpected. Pick an out-of-the-way outdoor room spot, and then make it memorable.

Our favourite al fresco living/dining rooms are often not parked directly over the harbour or sea, but nudged back a bit. You feel protected, and yet somehow one with the outdoors and nature.

Astounding views of oceans, mountains, grazing cows, and vineyards are fabulous, but wherever you live – even if it’s less lofty and includes neighbouring houses, gardens and buildings that you don’t own, and hence can’t eradicate – can become truly lovely outdoor rooms.  Read more, ‘These $399 Designer-Look Outdoor Chairs Will Instantly Elevate Your Terrace.’

Bring on the strategic planning. It’s like dressing or decorating—take advantage of the best features and downplay the rest.

Even if you don’t have a panoramic perch over the Tuscan hills, you can create an outdoor room by flanking a tiny tree-shaded pond—with a couple painted wooden benches and two small tables. Try putting four big painted wooden planters at each corner and filling with mounds of white salvia and veronica. Between the shade, the water sounds, and some pale flowers, it’s better than eating lunch indoors with no air conditioning.

An outdoor room can be achieved in a folly or gazebo or under a trellis or a big tree. Timing—and a “ceiling”—are crucial. Nobody enjoys an afternoon salade Niçoise bombarded with sun, wind or rain. Umbrellas that can be moved up and down, and side to side, are a must for daytime outdoor entertaining. The more natural you keep things, the more you’ll feel like you’re actually out in the great outdoors. I love the look and feel of outdoor rooms delineated by nothing but boxwood hedges—we will take walls made of thousands upon thousands of tiny evergreen leaves any day. Read more, ‘Everything You Need To Know About Outdoor Flooring.’

Victoria Hagen’s House. Photography by William Waldron

As for food, easy does it. As your outdoor room setting will probably be further away from your kitchen than your indoor dining room, a collection of trays come in handy. Large pitchers and carafes of water and wine need to be refilled less often and look formidable on any table. A big champagne bucket filled with ice and pretty hurricane shades are a plus, at any outdoor shindig.

A beautiful outdoor space is merely decorative if it can’t be used by creatures higher on the evolutionary scale than beetles.

A few things we have learned from outdoor entertaining:

  • Too many electric lights eradicate a sense of being outside, overpowering stars plus, they attract insects.
  • A platform created of fine gravel, wood planks or stone helps define the boundaries and shape of your outdoor room and assures that your high-heeled (or nearsighted) guests won’t sink or fall through the cracks.
  • Outdoor “ceilings”—an awning, a covered trellis, a tent or an umbrella—help block out sun and rain.
  • Square- or rectangular-shaped outdoor rooms benefit mightily from hefty pots and planters placed at each corner.
  • Add poetry to sundown and evening outdoor cocktails and dinners by including white or pale lilac flowers throughout your garden. They attract and reflect light better than deeper colours.
  • Do not use flowers on the table that don’t come from your own garden. Better yet, don’t use any flowers on the table: Your garden is your best form of décor.
  • For those with limited winter furniture storage space, do not buy chairs, tables or benches that are not weather resistant. Wrought iron, teak and wicker look-alikes will last through a hundred cold snaps. Anything else will fall apart in three years. Maybe less.

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