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With the Rule of Six expected to be reintroduced from March 29, outdoor socialising is firmly back on the table.
Timed to coincide with the beginning of the Easter holidays, either six individuals from different households or an unlimited number of people from two households will be able to meet up outside, paving the way for barbeques and outdoor meals.
While the prospect of meeting much-missed family and friends will no doubt be warming your cockles, if you want to dine al fresco in the middle of a British spring you might want to invest in some cosy, straight-off-the-shelf ideas for warm shelter, seating and storage.
And, just because it might have been six months since you’ve ironed your trousers, there’s no reason your dining table and flower pots can’t be dressed for success.
Here are a few easy wins and smart buys to get your garden back in socialising ship-shape and ready to welcome your guests. Now, where did I put that corkscrew?
Britain’s spring weather is many glorious things, but predictable it is not. For a belt-and-braces approach, a wooden gazebo, enclosed on three sides, will keep your guests dry and warm without feeling like you’ve trapped them indoors.
Woodscott’s Alfresco Snug (from £2,916) has the child-like appeal of an upended keel and can be cleverly configured for bench seats or a table and chairs, while Dakota Field’s roomy Mllal Patio Gazebo (£589.99) is designed to be fastened to the floor, so it’s not whisked away with your sandwiches in a gust.
Garden Affairs’ Monterey Gazebo (from £3,550) is rather smart, especially with the optional cedar shingle roof, but you can cheat the elements for less.
Many of Country Living’s new range of sheds at Homebase can be corralled into outdoor entertaining spaces; the 10x8ft Appleby Dutch Barn (£2,060) comes painted and installed, with a generous interior space and double doors to fling open.
For a quick fix, hoist up your own Clara Shade Sail (from £34.99), which are both sun and waterproof and ideal for guests sheltering in a shower.
Smaller sails can be hastily strung between trees and existing structures if the forecast looks iffy, but if you want something more permanent there’s also the option to get fixed metal poles set into your garden.
For those of us who’ve been pining for outdoor entertaining, this year’s trend has taken its inspiration from that much-missed social space – the bar garden.
Individual stools and an elevated table replace the traditional dining set to create a sense of open-air, relaxed conviviality. Grab a cocktail and prop yourself around Garden Trading’s Camley teak table and six stools (£1,500) or, get the same look on a budget with Wilko’s Charles Bentley Extrusion Bar Dining Set (£530).
For those of you who want to linger in the garden, eyes closed and face to the spring sunshine, carve out a nook with a pair of braided Rattan Lounge Chairs from Not On The High Street (£275 each).
Add a touch of the souk with Weaver Green’s outdoor-friendly Zahara Rug (from £130), making sure your sundowner is within arm’s length on Anthropologie’s indoor/outdoor ceramic stool which also doubles a handsome side table (£138).
Refresh your shed
Give a tired garden shed, gate or fence a facelift. Grey-blues and citrus shades are strong paint colours for spring – Little Greene’s Juniper Ash and, in small doses, Orange Aurora, will both knock your socks off, and sit beautifully alongside your garden’s fresh green backdrop.
Edward Bulmer’s new shades ‘Dutch Orange’ and ‘Indigo’ are also available in his robust, eco-friendly exterior water-based eggshell.
If you’re tackling exterior woodwork, you’ll need to make sure the surfaces are sound, clean and dry. Sand down blistered or peeling layers of paint to get a good key for the new colour.
Bare wood and previously stained timber will need a lashing of water-based primer, followed by at least two top coats of exterior eggshell.
Gloss tends to look odd on rough timber so stick to low-sheen paints for a more sympathetic finish.
Barn paint by Bedec, which is fast becoming the professional decorators’ secret weapon, might only come in 16 shades but can be used on a multitude of exterior surfaces including wood, galvanised metal, brick and concrete. It can even cover over surfaces previously treated with bitumen and creosote, without needing a primer – making it ideal for fencing, posts and guttering.
For more inspiration, see Shed Decor: How to Decorate and Furnish Your Favourite Garden Room by Sally Coulthard (Jacqui Small, £20).
Pots of colour
It’s not too late to make a trolley dash to your local garden centre. Spring bulbs – in pots and trays – will be flowering now and you can create instant containers in boiled-sweet primary colours to brighten up the back garden.
At the end of March, hyacinths, narcissus, scillas, daffodils, tulips, anemones, crocus, muscari, primulas, forget-me-nots, violas and leucojum will be in full swing. For maximum impact, you can go one of two ways: the first is to plant one variety, tightly, en masse to create a strong block of colour; the second is to choose three different flowers or varieties and play them off against each other.
Wallflowers are also making their first spring appearance; trays of bedding wallflowers will bring scent and colour to spring pots, but the perennial kind will flower right through summer.
For a blast of pinks and purples try these long-lived perennials: Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ and Erysimum ‘Winter Joy’;or if you want eggy yellows, Erysimum ‘Winter Light’ is endlessly cheery.
Check out Sarah Raven’s sure-fire colour combinations for choosing plants for pots. She often starts with one show-stopping flower, blended with another bloom of the same colour but not as large or showy, set off by a third, dazzlingly different shade.
Combinations such as the dark-plum tulip ‘Queen of Night’, mixed with a purple pansy and the clashing orange-green tulip ‘Artist’ work well; or try two tones of blue muscari dotted with a dwarf daffodil.
For maximum impact, group together clusters of containers of different heights and widths, but in the same material (eg. terracotta or zinc).
Set the scene, blending bright blue and white salad plates by Bella Foster (£14) with warm metallic cutlery and accents – get enough for all your gue6sts with Maison du Monde’s Matt Gold cultery set of 24 (£66) and the Andina Jug and Tumber Set from OKA (£195).
La Redoute’s Prussian Blue Chambray washed linen table runner and napkins, with their slubby effect, are perfect for laid-back outdoor dining.
Don’t be the host that huffs and puffs back and forth to the kitchen. Keep entertaining essentials to hand with clever storage and you’ll never have to traipse back indoors again.
From extra cushions and snuggly throws, to glasses, plates or candle holders, keep them all safely stowed by adding an outdoor cupboard or seat-storage.
Garden Trading’s Moreton Slatted Storage Unit is part-potting table, part-storage unit but also makes a brilliant outdoor drinks cupboard, with its wipeable galvanised top and handy shelves.
IKEA have the canny Kolbjorn indoor/outdoor cabinet (£125) – tall enough to hang guests’ coats or, optimistically, sun lounger cushions. It also comes with handy compartments and a separate shelving unit (£45).
The storage space in the Keter Pillowbox in Anthracite (£199.95) is vast and will keep cushions, throws and kids’ toys dry – pop the lid down and it turns into extra seating.
By Jessica Salter
Move over barbecue dad, lockdown has created a nation of back-garden pizzaiolos. A welcome side effect of all that bread baking last March meant that we had sourdough starter on tap – ready to turn into pizzas.
And with nowhere to celebrate but the back garden, we started buying pizza ovens to host our Rule of Six soirée. John Lewis and Lakeland both reported huge sales of pizza ovens last year, with the department store reporting a further increase this year already, with sales of the Ooni oven up by 115 per cent.
“Customers are getting their orders in early this year,” Charlotte Coles from the brand says. The Scottish-owned family business Ooni is popular because its ovens, which they claim are the first portable pizza ovens fired by wood pellets, fit in any size garden, from a balcony to a larger space.They produce professional-worthy pizzas, too, with an oven that heats up to 500C and takes 60 seconds to cook a pizza – quick enough for even the hungriest teenagers.
Ooni 3 was last year’s big hit, but its latest model, Ooni Fyra 12 Wood Pellet Pizza Oven, features a two-part chimney plus a pellet burner and hopper, which can be packed away and easily stored – or transported to a friend’s house for instant Italian summer vibes.
Have you spruced up your garden for outdoor entertaining? Tell us in the comments below.
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