Outdoor entertaining ideas you’ll love

Prepare for those midsummer gatherings with our guide to creating a sociable outside space that's perfect for parties

A long table with colourful blue and yellow chairs in front of a dark grey fence
1

DINING

A traditional long table adorned with fresh flowers surrounded by a well-manicured hedge
‘Callanish’ reconstituted stone dining table, £2,785; ‘Greenwich’ wrought-iron chairs, £385 each; ‘Capital’ storm lantern, £145. All from Oka.

As summers grow warmer, eating outdoors is more of an everyday pleasure than a rare treat, and furniture designed to make the occasion more comfortable is a worthwhile investment. There’s space in every garden for a table and chairs, whether it’s a bistro set or a grand table, but in the average outdoor space a six or eight-seater will be large enough for most purposes. If you need flexibility, shop around for extending tables and folding furniture to provide occasional extra seating. A parasol, large enough to shade the whole table, is a necessary accessory if you like to serve lunch outside on sunny days. Storm lanterns and electric lights strung through foliage will enhance the romance of evenings outdoors.

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2

PAINT

A long table with colourful blue and yellow chairs in front of a dark grey fence
Wall: ‘Ebony’ Wood Protection, £32.99 for 2.5l, Sadolin; seating: ‘Hot Mustard’ gloss £18.99 for 750ml and ‘Gentle Blue’ satin, £17.99 for 750ml, both Sandtex.

Garden structures like walls, fences and sheds are a backdrop for your plants, so choose a colour that will flatter them. Dark tones visually recede and are an excellent contrast for flowers and foliage, but consider too how well your chosen hue complements the colour of the house walls, garden furniture and any nearby paving. For a long-lasting finish, use paint that’s specially formulated for the outdoors. ‘Mastered to withstand a multitude of conditions, outdoor paint is flexible and will expand and contract with the temperature to prevent cracking and flaking,’ says Mark Bannister, Sandtex’s decorating expert. ‘Make sure the surface is clean and smooth before you start to paint, and apply an undercoat to give the new colour opacity and help cover previously painted wood.’

3

SEATING

An outdoor seating area compromising of a contemporary corner sofa, low coffee table and woven rattan armchair
‘Design Project No 096’ lounging chaise with table, £699; one-arm sofa, £650; armchair, £325; super stone coffee table, £200, all John Lewis.

There are many ways to enjoy lazy days in the garden, and however you like to relax, there is a seat out there to make you comfortable. Armchairs, loungers and benches designed for dozing in the shade, soaking up the sun or taking a break from the weeding are familiar features in a summer garden, but the newest form of outdoor seating, modelled on the equivalent indoor pieces, sets out to transform your terrace into a comfortable outdoor living room. Most garden seating can be left outside all year round, but furniture made from natural cane or with fixed fabric or leather parts will need indoor storage to protect it from wet and damp weather. Wood is a favourite material for furniture – strong and sturdy, it has a natural affinity with the outdoors and weathers beautifully with the passage of time. Furniture makers Gaze Burvill work exclusively in oak. ‘Not only is it beautiful to the eye,’ says managing director Simon Burvill about the material, ‘but it’s a pleasure to touch.’

4

LIGHTING

A romantic outdoor seating area compromising of a long table laid out for dinner under a canopy of festoon lights and grape vines
10 warm white LED festoon lights (5m), £25, Lights4fun

After dark, the garden takes on a new character, which can be dramatically enhanced with clever lighting. Low-level lights illuminate paths and steps for safety and visual signposting, and strategically placed lights will highlight a tree canopy, archway or other garden feature. An outdoor seating or dining area on the terrace requires a combination of permanent and temporary light sources to create atmosphere. ‘Using fittings like our ‘Lucca’ uplights, walls can be made into an architectural focus,’ says Sally Storey of John Cullen Lighting. ‘If the wall is textured, the effect is even more dramatic.’ In a sheltered spot, a candle chandelier hung above the table makes a spectacular centrepiece and strings of lights add to the party atmosphere. When putting lights among foliage, opt for LED fittings that produce less heat and are kinder to plants.

5

GARDEN BUILDINGS

A small round summer house surrounded by ferns and other leafy foliage
‘Baltimore’ summerhouse with lockable doors, casement windows and slate-effect glass fibre roof, £5,500, Scotts of Thrapston.

Work space, hobby room, mini gym or just a retreat from the sun and showers, a garden building extends your living area to provide a uniquely personal space. It means you can warm up in the cooler weather and escape the midday sun come summertime. The array of garden structures is ever increasing and, depending on your budget, you can choose from a wide range of styles, from ready-made or standard summerhouses, to architect-designed bespoke buildings. Insulation and an electrical supply add to the cost but maximise the number of hours in the day and weeks of the year you can use the space. Most garden rooms don’t need planning permission, but the rules vary from place to place, so check with your planning office before you start.

6

GARDEN ANTIQUES

19th-century French cast-iron garden urns in front of flourishing lavender bushes
19th-century French cast-iron garden urns, £580, Lichen Garden Antiques.

Antique objects create focal points in the garden and give a sense of timelessness. Choose purely decorative pieces to draw the eye to a corner of the plot that might otherwise be overlooked, or functional objects such as water features, planters or seats that are both beautiful and useful. Whatever you choose, position it with care, says Darren Jones, managing director of Lichen Garden Antiques. ‘A statue will provide a point of interest at the end of a vista, while a pair of urns will look fabulous placed either side of a path or entrance. Decorative gates left ajar will always be an invitation to walk through and explore the next section of the garden.’

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With the weather getting warmer, the garden can become a wonderland for al fresco dining and stylish midsummer gatherings. From armchairs and loungers designed for dozing, to luxurious lighting options, the tips in the above gallery will help you to create an inviting outdoor space this summer.