How to create a garden for entertaining

July 29th, 2018
Posted In: Decorations/parties

I’ve just visited a gorgeous small town garden for entertaining.

If you are thinking of building an outdoor kitchen, then Dan Cooper, the owner, has the most brilliant tips (see below).

How to create a garden for entertaining

Dan Cooper’s lush and jungly garden for entertaining. It has shelter from the seaside breezes, scented plants and an outdoor kitchen. The variegated leaf in the foreground is Coleus ‘Henna’ and it changes colour depending how much sunlight it gets.

Dan Cooper blogs about urban and coastal gardening in his blog, The Frustrated Gardener. He opens the garden once a year, in August for the NGS. He was also a top executive for a famous department store, so he travelled around the world. Coming home and entertaining in his garden is his way of relaxing.

Houseplants and writing desk

Dan Cooper’s writing desk – an inspiring area for a garden blogger to write in.

Dan also runs an online shop called Dan Cooper Garden, selling some of his favourite tools and accessories. Here is his list of the most useful garden tools.

Two gardens for entertaining

And while many of us have a front garden and a back garden, Dan’s home is unusual – it has two side gardens. He recently bought the house next door and knocked through.

Broadstairs is a charming historic town, with houses and streets growing higgeldy-piggeldy up from a beautiful sweeping beach. A quirk of architecture means that both of Dan’s gardens are tucked away around a separate entrance door on either side.

This means there are two seating areas, each different in feel. It’s wonderful to have two – or more – different places to sit. A chat in the garden with a friend  is different from dinner for six. See this post for more ideas on seating areas.

Viking Bay in Broadstairs

Viking Bay in Broadstairs – the historic houses rise up the hill in a variety of sizes and eras.

One garden has an outdoor kitchen and a large generous dining table.

Outdoor kitchen and dining table in a garden for entertaining

Overhead view of the dining table and outdoor kitchen. The tree on the top right is Phillyrea latifolia and the one on the left is a narrow-leafed bay tree (Laurus nobilis ‘Angustifolia).

The other is called ‘the Gin-and-Tonic garden’ because it has a small table and chairs for enjoying an evening drink.

A pretty terrace for entertaining

Dan’s Gin-and-tonic Garden – a perfect place to enjoy an evening drink. The red rose is ‘Dublin Bay’ and the clematis is ‘Forever Friends’. Very appropriate for a Gin-and-Tonic garden.

Both are crammed with flowers and plants, many with unusual foliage. Dan is particularly expert at planting pots, and uses pots to create a ‘border’ effect in a limited space.  How to group pots has his best tips for creating a garden full of floral colour in a small space.

How to create privacy in a garden for entertaining

Dan has made his garden private and sheltered for entertaining by using lots of tall plants. Like any seaside town, Broadstairs can be windy, so he’s chosen a few unusual evergreen trees to create a year-round windbreak and the sense of being tucked away from the town.

Use plants to make your space more sheltered

One of Dan’s evergreen trees is this ‘Phillyrea latifolia. ‘It naturally cloud-prunes itself’ says Dan, although he does tidy it up a bit too. Its open shape filters the wind and lets light through.

Choose an unusual tree with interesting bark

The Santa Cruz Ironwood tree (Lyonothamnus floribundus) has stretchy peeling bark – the blackbirds love to strip it off for their nests in spring. The airplants are attached.

Choose tall, large leafed plants for privacy

It’s a small garden and most of the plants are in pots. Dan’s tall large leafed plants make the area feel private. See here for more about trees for privacy.

His theme is broadly ‘exotic gardening’ – definitely one of today’s hot new trends. (There’s advice on creating an exotic garden in a cool climate and an unusual tropical garden, also in Kent, in previous posts.)

How to install an outdoor kitchen

Dan has a basement kitchen. Having people round meant a lot of going up and down stairs during the evening. He also works as a buyer for John Lewis, with a four hour daily commute, so entertaining needs to be as relaxing as possible. The solution was to build an ‘outdoor kitchen’ in the garden for entertaining.

He prepares food beforehand in the main house kitchen, and cooks on the built-in barbecue/hob in the garden. There is also a sink, worksurface area and some storage.

An outdoor kitchen in a garden for entertaining

Dan’s outdoor kitchen makes a big difference to entertaining. Note the small ‘splashback’ between the slate tiles and the base of the kitchen units. The dahlia on the left is called ‘Firepot.’

I’ve also interviewed chef Heston Blumenthal on barbecue-ing when entertaining friends in the garden.

What wood to use in an outdoor kitchen

‘Make sure that you use good quality tanalised wood for an outdoor kitchen,’ advises Dan. ‘My kitchen isn’t under cover, so it gets rained on, snowed on and is hot in the summer. However, because I used the right wood, it has lasted for ten years.’

‘But don’t let the wood touch the ground directly, or it will rot. I’ve created something like a splashback in slate at the base so that water on the ground doesn’t rot the wood.’

He also advises you to minimise the number of joins on your outdoor kitchen work surface. ‘We started off using the same slate tiles as we had on the ground, but the joins all leaked. Now I have a piece of granite with just one join and there are no leaks. A kitchen unit outside will swell and shrink as the weather changes – it’s quite different from a kitchen inside. So it’s easy for cracks to appear.’

How to create an outdoor kitchen in a garden for entertaining

A view of the outdoor kitchen from above. The worksurface is granite and there is only one join. You can just see it on the top right hand side of the picture.

Use marine-grade stainless steel

It’s also essential for any metal in outdoor kitchen equipment – the hob, barbecue and even the taps – to be of marine grade steel, so that they can survive the weather, including Broadstairs’ salt air.

Use marine grade steel in outdoor kitchens

A collection of exotic plants near the sink. Even the tap is of marine grade steel.

There are more outdoor kitchen ideas in these show gardens from RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival.

Plants in a garden for entertaining

We’ve already mentioned evergreen shrubs and trees for privacy and shelter. Dan also likes scented plants. A splendid Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) welcomes visitors at the gate, perfuming the air in summer and creating an evergreen wall the whole year round.

Choose scented plants in a garden for entertaining

Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) covers a wall at the entrance to Dan’s garden, greeting visitors with its rich scent.

Having unusual and exotic plants also creates interest.

Ginger lily (Hedychium) – Dan hopes it will still be around for the open gardens day on the 4th and 5th August

Choose interesting plants in a garden for entertaining

Guests always ask after interesting plants, such as this variegated leaf Begonia.

Furniture in a garden for entertaining

Dan has a table made of recycled oak, so it will go more silvery with age. He’s also chosen light, easy-to-wash, arm-free chairs, which tuck neatly under the table. Big garden chairs with arms would have taken up much more space. There are more ideas here in 10 practical and beautiful outdoor seating ideas.

Chairs for entertaining

Recycled oak table and light, easy to clean chairs which tuck under the table and save space.

Should you have a fridge in your outdoor kitchen?

Dan decided not to have a fridge in the outdoor kitchen, but he does have a sheltered spot on the worksurface where an ice-bucket can sit.

Keep cold drinks in the shade.

A shady spot is very useful for storing an ice bucket and cold drinks.

See more of Dan’s garden on video here.

And we’ve somewhat neglected the Gin-and-tonic garden, so here’s a shot of it:

Dublin Bay rose and Forever Friends clematis

A close-up of Rosa ‘Dublin Bay’ and the Clematis ‘Forever Friends’.

Garden designer Charlotte Rowe is an expert at transforming a small patch of lawn into a stylish garden where friends and family can relax together. She and her design director Tomoko Kawauchi share their garden design tips here.

And if you visit Broadstairs, don’t miss…

Don’t miss an ice-cream or an ice-cream sundae at Morelli’s, the traditional ice-cream parlour on the sea front.  We treated ourselves to an evening swim and then had a Salted Caramel Nut Sundae. A heavenly way to round off a delightful evening.

Ice cream sundae from Morellis, Broadstairs

You can just about justify this if you’ve had a swim in Viking Bay, Broadstairs, first.

More ideas for entertaining in your garden

If you’re giving a party, there are lots of thrifty ideas for decorating your garden in Easy Garden Party Ideas. And there are real-life practical tips for table decorating and giving a party in Garden Party Decorations – Big Parties on Small Budgets.

If you’re thinking about decorations from your garden for Christmas, then Zero Waste Christmas Decorations has some eco-friendly and festive ideas.

And there are some great tips from Heston Blumenthal in how to barbecue for a crowd.

I find that Pinterest is a great source of inspiration, and there are more garden party ideas on my Garden Party Decorations board.

Happy party-giving! And if you’d like more tips, ideas and inspiration for your garden, join us for a free weekly email from the Middlesized Garden.

Pin to remember these garden ideas:

How to create a garden for entertaining

4 comments on "How to create a garden for entertaining"

  1. Hannah says:

    Are there anymore photos or information about Dans G&T garden? I would like to create a similar look to the front of my cottage. Perfect!

    1. Dan has a very good gardening blog called The Frustrated Gardener where he gives lots of updates and details on his garden. Here is the link:

  2. Lisa Valder says:

    wonderful article!

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