Dining - Outdoor Experiences - Garden Design (2015)

Garden Design (2015)

Outdoor Experiences


EATING AL FRESCO is one of life’s simple pleasures and with a barbecue or more sophisticated outdoor kitchen equipment, it’s easy to cook outside too.


Whatever the size of your plot, be it a tiny courtyard or sprawling country garden, you can include facilities to cook al fresco, even perhaps picking your own herbs and harvesting fresh salads and vegetables from beds within easy reach. If you love to cook, consider an outdoor kitchen area, with a gas or electrically-powered oven, hot plate or grill, complete with workspaces, sink and a refrigerator, all sheltered beneath a roofed structure.

If your budget is more limited, a barbecue offers the cheapest and most flexible way to cook outside. You can choose from small charcoal-fired units to larger, more sophisticated wheeled models powered by gas, offering greater control over cooking temperatures. Pizza ovens, which also bake bread, are becoming increasingly popular, or consider units with specialised burners for cooking paella or stir frying Chinese and Thai dishes. Alternatively, you can opt to cook indoors, with the kitchen opening onto a patio for dining. The choice is yours.

“When building a kitchen outside, remember to factor in the cost of installing services, such as gas, electricity and water. Restrictions may also apply if your property is listed, or if structures will be close to a boundary.”


Cooking outside: points to consider

Decide whether you want to cook indoors and bring food out, or require fixed facilities or flexible wheeled systems that can be moved and stored as required.

Evaluate how cooking facilities might be best arranged around the seating or dining areas outside and their proximity to the kitchen facilities indoors.

Consider covering your cooking unit with a fixed, weatherproof canopy to extend its life and allow you to use it throughout the year.

If you need a fixed power supply, such as gas or electricity, only a qualified technician can legally undertake the installation.

Carefully research all the options open to you, assessing costs and aftercare, as well as the cooking benefits.

Ensure outdoor work surfaces are weatherproof.

Check the guarantee, warranty and after-sales service of the cooking facilities you purchase.

Consider how cooking equipment and facilities may need to be stored or covered in winter.


Small livestock are a practical alternative to traditional household pets and easy to keep in the average garden. They enable children to connect with nature and better appreciate where food comes from but, like all pets, they need constant care to maintain their health. Most also thrive with companions rather than in solitary confinement. Check beforehand for regulations in your household deeds or local authority byelaws that may limit the kind of livestock you can keep. Animals are best penned to keep them under control and chickens need protection from urban foxes. Chickens, which are popular with beginners, need only the space of a guinea pig or rabbit run, especially bantam varieties. Micro-pigs, dwarf goats and sheep require more substantial accommodation and their health care will be more expensive.

Keeping livestock: points to consider

Ensure you have sufficient space for animals: chickens require 3-4m² per bird; micro pigs/goats need 20m².

Always buy healthy animals from registered breeders who can also advise on care and welfare.

Before purchasing, evaluate the cost and time involved in keeping, feeding and caring for animals.

Consider the cost of veterinary care and identify practices that can deal with your animals.

Talk to breeders, owners and specialist breed societies about keeping desired livestock.


Many people find growing their own food deeply satisfying and enjoyable. A wide range of crops are easy to grow and will provide you with a regular supply of fresh organic produce. But before you start, consider the time you have to tend your productive patch and the microclimate of your garden, as these factors will impact on your choices.

A productive garden requires a little advance planning. Most vegetables need shelter, good light, fertile soil and moisture. Although warmth is needed to ripen pods, berries and many fruits, salads and some fruit crops, such as gooseberries, currants, black cherries and pears, will grow in shadier sites. Where the soil is infertile or thin, try growing crops in raised beds, which are also useful if you cannot stoop down. If your time is limited, a herb patch, self-fertile apple trees and salads are good choices, and where space is at a premium, grow colourful leafy vegetables, such as lettuces, kale and chard, among your flowers or make an ornamental kitchen garden. This comprises a matrix of beds, often box-edged for structure, containing small fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Growing your own: points to consider

Ensure you have the requisite conditions for growing fruit, vegetables or herbs.

Design and cultivate only as much space as you are likely to be able to cope with.

Grow fruit trees that are partially or fully self-fertile.

Focus on crops you particularly like that will grow in your conditions.

Consider growing in raised beds if you have problems stooping.

Buy a greenhouse to grow tender crops, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and aubergines.

Choose disease resistant and compact vegetable varieties for small spaces.

Select fruit trees on dwarfing rootstocks and ready-trained espaliers or cordons to train along walls and fences.

If serious about growing vegetables, rotate crop types to help prevent the build-up of pests and diseases; specialist publications and websites can provide advice.


Barbecuing is the most popular method of cooking food. Units are usually powered by charcoal or propane gas, and range from small disposable and portable types to fixed, built-in barbecues that form an integral part of the hard landscaping.

Fixed barbecues are usually heated by charcoal, but gas burners are also available, offering more accurate heat control. If catering for up to six people a two-burner gas or medium-sized charcoal unit will suffice, although three- or four-burner models allow you to cook for more. A warming plate or rack and a side burner, available on larger models, are options if you frequently cook for big groups.

Gas grills are powered by propane or natural gas, either using propane gas tanks or natural gas delivered through pipes from the household supply. Some models include infrared rear burners and rotisseries for cooking a wider range of dishes. They are convenient and easy to light and control, while clean-up is minimal - simply turn off the grill and brush the grate.

Charcoal grills are cheaper to buy and run than gas units and come in a range of designs, with hoods and vents to more accurately control the heat. Fired with carbon briquettes or natural lump charcoal, they require little skill to achieve good results. Some models use different fuel types, such as wood.


An African-style hut protects a fully equipped kitchen in a garden designed by John Nash.


Traditional wood-fired pizza ovens blend easily into a garden setting and can also be used for baking bread and cakes, as well as grilling meats. Although hotter than gas ovens, they take time to reach optimum temperatures.


The social hub of your garden, a smart outdoor kitchen needs to be as carefully designed as your indoor facilities, with sufficient space for preparation, storage and seating.



This elaborate green wall surrounding an outdoor kitchen would be time-consuming to maintain, but illustrates a novel way of growing herbs and salads close to where they’re needed.



Chickens are easy to keep and modern coops will suit any style of garden. Besides producing a constant supply of eggs, chickens make amusing pets for adults and children alike.



Create a potager garden by integrating herbs, fruit and other edible plants into your design.



Pocket planters provide a versatile way of creating racks of fresh herbs on walls and fences in small gardens.