Here’s a question you could ask yourself when looking round your garden this year: what would Pippa say?
Pippa Middleton, author, party guru and future queen’s sister wrote: “There is no real need for decorations when throwing a barbecue party. Let the summer garden, in all its vibrant and luscious splendour, speak for itself.”
Now take a look at your own back garden. Be honest – do the words ‘vibrant and luscious’ spring to mind, or would ‘lifeless and lacklustre’ seem more appropriate? If it’s the latter, there’s no need to panic quite yet. Just read on to find out how you could radically increase the chances of Pippa partying on your patio...
Patio / Decking
Ah, you haven’t actually got a patio... OK, well the slabs cost from about £4.50 each (less if you buy in bulk). You’ll want a detailed plan, slabs of different sizes to create a pattern without having to cut through stone and it needs to be at least 150mm below the damp proof course of the house.
Or there’s decking, which is harder to do yourself but is particularly useful to cover sloping or uneven land. Cheap, low maintenance wpc (wood polymer composite) decking starts at about £5.50 per metre.
Now improve your lawn. Lawns tend to get compacted and a good aerating can be a low-cost way of making your lawn greener.
Punch three inch deep holes in it with a fork (garden, not table) at some time between March and November. Cover the lawn with a natural fertiliser, either a bought variety or by simply using the lawn’s own grass clippings.
Go for instant colour with a selection of annuals. Sow the seeds from early May onwards, when the soil is warming. Or save time by buying the small plants by the dozen in trays from a garden centre. Plant-buying rule: if the soil’s bone dry, don’t buy.
Good one-year wonders include pansies, poppies, petunias and marigolds; more exotic choices would be hibiscus, schizanthus, didiscus and salpiglossis.
Combine with slower growing perennials and bushes, and don’t forget the smells (and household usefulness) of herbs like lavender, mint and rosemary.
And bring the plants right onto the patio/decking with tubs, troughs and hanging baskets.
In a well-worked garden, you’ll only get the odd glimpse of the boundary fences.
Hide the dull wooden panels with a hedge – ones with prickles like hawthorn and holly also add to security – or with individual bushes, or with taller perennial plants from roses to dahlias or with climbers, perhaps assisted by trellising.
A recent trend is to decorate your fence, with everything from plates and bottles to a mural and painted bird boxes. It nearly always looks tatty within a year. Don’t do it, unless you’ve got a great eye.
Just the basics: sunshade, table and chairs. Sunshade first; get the biggest “shade solution” you can, whether it’s a heavyweight version of the old sun parasol, a gazebo or an awning.
Traditionally, the parasol sprouted from a hole in the centre of your patio table. Consider one that can be manipulated into different, useful positions, or the shade by the early evening could be 20 yards away from where everyone’s actually sitting.
A gazebo is usually larger, but more of an effort to put up. Or you could go for a retractable awning attached to the back of your house, like an old-fashioned greengrocer’s. Just make sure it comes out far enough to be useful.
Tables: just get the nicest one you can. And here’s the patio table rule everyone forgets: make sure it fits into your garage in the winter. It will keep it looking nicer for three times longer.
Patio chairs have to fulfil two functions: lounging and reading (like living room furniture) and being comfortable for eating (like dining table furniture). Dining chairs in wicker with removable cushions may fit the bill. Again, if it’s possible, don’t leave them outside when they’re not in use.
Keep the outside party going longer with light and heat that doesn’t come from the moody British sun.
Firebowls, pits, baskets and braziers bring a “living” fire outdoors, as does an on-trend chiminea. Or there’s the less romantic, but also less time-consuming electric or gas heater.
You can light with wall, post and ground lights, and even walkover lights set into your patio/decking. Or there’s the romance of candles, lanterns (which don’t blow out) or dramatic tiki torches.
And finally there’s the barbecue. So how much do you want to spend?
Bricks and a metal grill for the smoky-haired Boy Scout approach cost almost nothing, or you can go all the way up to the Grand Hall X Series 2 infrared grill which at £8,500 costs more than some entire (indoor) kitchens.
In between there’s tabletop barbecues, kettle-style cookers, simple grills, wood-fired ovens, food smokers and char-broilers. Or there’s always the oven you’ve already got in the kitchen. Just saying...
Right; now where’s Ms Middleton (or local equivalent) with very impressed eyebrows and a giant glass of Prosecco?