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EATING AL FRESCO

Summertime is all about time spent outdoors and especially during the National Barbecue Week, 27 May – 2 June, when everyone wants to enjoy one of life's simplest pleasures; dining alfresco in a beautiful garden and mingling with friends and family.


Good garden grub


The ideal spot for dining outdoors is on the patio, where there are comfy chairs and sofas, a place to set your drink and an emphasis on entertaining. Hartman offer a massive range of trendy and comfortable garden furniture made from hardwood, wicker and cast aluminium to suit all needs.


Prepare to party by decorating the dining area with colourful tubs filled with edible flowers such as roses, calendula, lavender, nasturtiums and pansies that you can pluck to add a bit of pizazz to salads and summer drinks. Make sure you do your research first, as you'll need to buy special edible varieties which haven't been treated with pesticides. Plus, if you ensure you label them clearly, you'll keep from any tummy-turning mix ups! 


Add containers filled with herbs such as bay, thyme, rosemary, coriander and tarragon that can be used fresh on the barbecue or made into essential marinades to boost the flavour of the food. Grow plenty of salad leaves and herbs such as basil and chives that, when cut, will come again ready for another party. I love mixing in fresh basil to a summer salad. It complements the greenery and adds a freshness to the other ingredients. 


All-weather wonder


So that you can enjoy eating outdoors even on any of the season's cool or drizzly days, it's a good idea to erect an all-weather canopy such as the Hartman polycarbonate gazebo, which is crafted from aluminium, so will not rust even if it's left out for most of the summer. Alternatively, use a vibrant Shanghai parasol that will not only provide some shade and shelter during a quick downpour but will also add an instant splash of brilliant colour.

 

As privacy is often a major problem in most suburban gardens, the Hartman Roma pergola will also prevent the feeling of being overlooked, especially when it's clothed with flowering curtains made from scented climbers such as wisteria, jasmine and honeysuckle. These garden additions will make way for evenings spent watching garden wildlife, as they attract beneficial insects—a source of food for wild birds.


Do-it-yourself decoration


To dress the pergola for special occasions, fix strings of outdoor fairy lights to the pergola rafters or create a romantic atmosphere for very little expense by placing night-lights in jam jars to light the area in the evening—hang them in-between baskets of pelargoniums, petunias and fuchsias to make a colourful ceiling to your outdoor room. 


For large family gatherings, consider having a set of folding trestles and detachable tops that can be stored when not in use. Folding furniture is also a good choice if you don't “eat out” too often as it will give more room for plants. If a bench might serve your needs better, Hartman offer ones made from wood and cast aluminium to suit any style. Around your bench, consider removing a few paving slabs and plant a rug of non-flowering chamomile at your feet and kick off your shoes and sink them into the soft mat of scented leaves.


Party the practical way


When cooking outdoors it's vital that you don't allow food to become contaminated or leave raw meat out for too long, as doing this increases the risk of bacteria and food poisoning.  Scrub down prep area with disinfectant, even if you're putting a tablecloth down, and don't attempt to cook unwashed food. Also keep veggies separate from raw meat by using different chopping boards and tongs to avoid cross-contamination. 


It's important to keep the cooking area safe so you can make others aware that it's a no-go area for children. In green spaces, it's easy to look to ornamental grass like Molinia Breeze as an airy semi-translucent screen but these can pose a fire risk. It's better to corner of the cooking area using brick or stone material. Take this opportunity to check for other foliage which might be cause for concern around open flames. Resin-rich conifers like pines and junipers can quickly set alight, so around the barbecue, plant fire-retardant plants. Suitable ones have a high level of moisture in their leaves like santolina, echeveria, camelia and iris. For more on garden safety, read my blog and keep free of anything spoiling your fun this summer.


To keep bugs at bay when dining al fresco, burn citronella candles. Mosquitoes especially, hate the smell and will stay away from the smoke. Catnip is also said to be a useful deterrent so plant some at arms length and grab a leaf to rub on your arms and legs to prevent the bugs biting! Other insect repellent herbs are lavender, tansy or lemon balm.


It's hard to beat the draw of a living fire so to make al fresco dining more alluring after dark, you could use a barbecue pan or invest in a fireplace, fire basket or metal fire bowl on a stand or consider making a fire pit the centrepiece of the patio, as it will throw out light as well as heat.