There’s no better place than outside to enjoy impromptu meals with friends and family in summer, be that on a roof terrace, balcony or even just on a blanket on the lawn. And since the window of opportunity for such happy get-togethers is limited by our unpredictable British climate, it’s worth making each and every al fresco gathering one to remember.
With that in mind, this spring, after what seemed like an interminably long winter, I resurfaced from my temporary gardening hibernation, full of enthusiasm and ideas for improving certain areas of the garden. Incidentally, this happens every year. It’s the horticultural version of an interior spring clean but so much more fun!
It was possibly a little more drastic this year. Down came the old greenhouse and two rickety sheds (that were frankly well past their sell-by dates) and up went a lovely new shed, which is currently being painted white.
I managed to disperse the contents of both sheds in various locations, but the majority of what can only be described as rubbish went into a large skip in the front garden.
As yet, the new shed is delightfully empty, but it will eventually house some comfortable garden furniture and a minimum of clutter. I am looking forward to adding some creative touches, inside and out, to give it a little character of its own.
The possibilities for its use are endless – a place to chill and watch wildlife inconspicuously, somewhere to indulge in creative writing or an area to eat when it’s too cold outside – to name but a few.
Next to the shed, I’ve made (with a lot of help from my husband) two large raised beds, high enough to sit on, from thick chunky wood. One is for vegetables and herbs, and the other will eventually be a mini cutting garden full of annuals such as cosmos, cornflowers, larkspur and a central tripod of sweet peas.
This weekend, I shall fill all my terracotta pots and hanging baskets with colourful geraniums and trailing petunias to ensure there is plenty of long-lasting colour dotted around the garden. The forecast is looking promising from now until the end of May, with no risk of frost, so it should be safe to plant them out.
I’m a huge convert to battery powered garden tools, they’re so much easier to use than electric ones. Not only are they lighter in weight than their counterpart electric models, but there are no awkward wires to snag on plants or objects as you move around and no worry about accidentally cutting the wire. When pruning the hedges, which are in need of a serious haircut, I always check there are no birds nesting inside.
Most meals eaten outside revolve around the BBQ, which makes these occasions wonderfully informal, and allows guests to wander freely around the garden, help themselves and eat as much or little as they want.
Occasionally I will invite friends or family for a traditional afternoon cream tea, served on vintage china, with little vases of freshly cut garden flowers dotted along the table. The garden takes on a different atmosphere at night time, when strings of coloured lights brighten dark corners and the light from candles radiates from their decorative holders.
Smartening up the garden at this time of year is always worth that extra effort and as much as visitors will appreciate it, it’s me that loves it the most.