It’s that time of year again. The famously horrid, soggy, cold British winter is on the way out at long last, spring is bursting out all over the place and I don’t know about you, but we’re raring to go on the alfresco entertainment front.
This time of year is perfect for having fun in the garden. Here’s how to make the most of the opportunity, our best tips for creating the ultimate outdoor entertainment experience for your friends, family and even your colleagues.
First, get your equipment in order
If you’re anything like most people you’ll have stashed your garden furniture and equipment in the shed or garage for the winter, which probably means it could stand a good check-over before using it. If you simply threw it into an outbuilding without doing your annual maintenance, you might have some work to do before it’s fit for people to use.
Splintery, faded wooden garden furniture can be revived thanks to a huge choice of different exterior wood finishes, everything from waxes and sealants to dyes, stains, oils, paints and varnishes. Find out, if you can, what the wood is so you can identify the right products. If you haven’t a clue, ask the experts. Wood Finishes Direct are based in Sussex and are well known and loved for their exceptional customer service. You can call the team and they’ll pull out all the stops to help you. Their blog is also packed with brilliant information about how to keep wood looking good, and they deliver the goods super-fast to your doorstep.
Much the same goes for your chiminea, firebowl, pizza oven or BBQ. Plenty of people simply shove theirs in a shed at the end of the autumn and don’t look at it again until spring. If its made of cast iron, you might find it has gone all rusty and orange. Our Chim Cleaner does a splendid job of removing soot and stains, and all you do is spray it on then wipe it off with a cloth or sponge. We also stock special heat resistent chiminea paint in black and bronze finishes, perfect for metal chims and firebowls.
If you have a clay chiminea, is it cracking? Our brilliant Chimalin AFC chiminieas don’t suffer from heat cracks thanks to their unique formulation, but others can crack over time with wear and tear. All you do is use Chim Filler to repair small cracks and seal the joints, then apply Chim Protect to protect it against rain and frost throughout the year.
How about the surface you plan to stand your chiminea, BBQ or whatever on? Have your paving slabs lifted a little over the winter, or have the cracks in between them filled up with weeds and muck? Has your decking warped? Has your crazy paving gone far too crazy? You need a firm, solid, flat surface for safety, so get it sorted before inviting everyone round for an outdoor bash.
If the prevailing wind sends smoke directly into your neighbour’s garden, and their washing, you might like to invest in a chiminea chimney extension pipe, a clever yet simple item that sends smoke and fumes up and away so they don’t bother other people.
Precious plants? Because plants grow, the space where you entertained in perfect comfort last year might be a bit overgrown by now. For safety, as well as to keep the plants away from damaging heat, it’s a good idea to trim them back before setting up your chiminea.
Did you choose the perfect spot last time, or did your guests automatically gravitate to a different area in the garden? Did they all end up in that really sheltered spot behind the shed? Think back and make changes based on what happened last time.
28 top tips to make outdoor entertaining go beautifully
Here are some practical tips about creating the perfect entertainment space, somewhere safe and comfortable, well equipped, well designed and flexible, a place where you have everything you need at your fingertips and have time to chat with your guests.
- Not sure the weather’s going to play ball? If there’s an outside chance of rain, make plans in advance so you can easily, quickly move the party indoors if it pours down. Maybe you can make an attractive space in the garage? Or just provide lots of big golf umbrellas for people to shelter under? You can even create an indoor-outdoor space that encompasses your living room and garden thanks to patio doors or bifold doors
- Make sure you have plenty of fuel to keep the fires burning as long as you want. There’s nothing more frustrating than running out of wood, charcoal or whatever just when the party is heating up nicely
- Rubbish lawn? The latest in faux grass is gorgeous to look at and can be really good value. Afterwards just give it a shake, roll it up and store it for next time
- Keep plenty of space around the chiminea or fire pit, enough for people to move safely around it without tripping on the furniture and falling in!
- Create practical seating and eating areas around the chim, with it at centre stage where it belongs
- Write a list of all the equipment you’ll need to keep your chiminea, fire pit or BBQ going, so you can get it all ready and won’t have to run to and fro after your guests have arrived, trying to find the things you’ve forgotten: tongs, pokers, your chiminea lid, firelighters, kindling, serving spoons, skewers, the lot
- Plan the food you want to prepare in advance so you don’t have to spend all your time fiddling with it. Make salads, chop vegetables, cut and skewer meat, shell prawns and cook or part-cook anything you can before people arrive
- Think about people’s comfort and convenience. How about cushions, bean bags, floor cushions, hammocks and extra chairs? If you’re short on outdoor furniture, bring indoor furniture outdoors and protect it with throws. Sections of tree trunk make great DIY stools, and you can even use old pallets to make surprisingly attractive places to sit and eat – here’s how
- You’ll need a supply of paper napkins for spills and mess, extra-important for alfresco cooking when people might be eating with their hands
- You can use bio-degradable paper plates instead of china plates. They’re safer outdoors and you don’t have to wash them up afterwards. The same goes for paper or plastic cups. They’re much safer than glass, especially when the booze starts to flow
- Keep a decent fire extinguisher handy just in case
- Nominate someone to keep the fire burning, so it stands less chance of being neglected and going out
- Nominate someone to cook, so the food doesn’t get forgotten or neglected
- Nominate someone to handle the music, and get suitable CDs or playlists ready in advance so you can forget about it and enjoy yourself
- Stash your bottles and canned drinks somewhere away from the fire, where people can’t fall over them. You might want to keep them in an ice-filled container, even something quirky like your wheelbarrow, in which case you’ll probably need to order ice packs in advance. Off licenses sometimes sell ice, as do plenty of supermarkets. If you have a freezer, you can make your own
- Make a plan about what to do when everyone’s gone home, including getting ready a load of boxes or bags to sort recyclable rubbish from food waste and the stuff that just goes in the regular bin. It makes life so much easier when you’re prepared
- If you have sensitive pets you might want to create somewhere safe and quiet for them to hide away while you party – some pets don’t like children or loud noises, and most are wary around fire
- If the weather is set to be hot and sunny, create pools of shade where people can shelter from the rays
- Keep a stash of insect repellent handy just in case, plus some sun cream and after-sun lotion
- Citronella scented candles help keep biting insects at bay, and you can buy great big ones that stick safely in the ground
- If it’s windy, don’t bother with a tablecloth. It’ll just drive you nuts and could end up hurling all your crockery, cutlery and food onto the floor
- Smokers? Provide a bucket of sand – not a plastic bucket, a metal one – or several sand-filled metal containers to use as ash trays
- Jam jars and other empty glass food containers make perfect tea light holders to hang on tree branches and stand around the garden, much safer than tea lights alone. After dark, strings of solar-powered lights work a treat. Turn the lights off when you go indoors so they don’t prevent the local wildlife from getting a decent night’s sleep
- If children will be there, provide some traditional outdoor games for them to enjoy. Not ball games when there’s fire around, of course, but things like jigsaws and board games. Giant Jenga and Twister are classics everyone loves
- Have a stash of blankets and throws handy in case it gets chilly and people want to wrap up instead of going indoors
- If you put candles out, place them in safe containers. A decorative metal bird cage is perfect since it keeps the flames out of harm’s way
- Provide bins so people don’t throw rubbish on the floor
- If you want to bring indoor cushions outdoors but don’t want them ruined, wrap old fabric around them and tie it at the corners with string
The key is preparation. The more you prepare, the less you’ll have to do on the day and the more you’ll enjoy yourself… and the same goes for your guests. When you’ve considered their every comfort up front, the result will be an awesome garden party they won’t forget in a hurry!