Life & Living

Go Go Alfesco

Make the most of the weather and host better social gatherings in the garden – by Andrew Hirst

Summer is finally here, and that can mean only one thing… getting outside. And what better way to enjoy the beautiful weather outside than having a summer feast and dining alfresco. While many of us will have been braving the chilly evenings with a decidedly British stiff upper lip (albeit a shivering one), the time is now right to enjoy the back-to-basics joys of dining outdoors. However the extreme heat we all saw on the 17 June is a reminder to us all that we need to be prepared for the heat by staying hydrated and avoid being burnt to a cinder.

First up we need somewhere to sit. Whether this be a blanket on the ground or an investment in some good quality furniture, the right equipment here will make all the difference. The whimsy of a picnic blanket soon wears thin when you are over the age of 35 and the floor feels further away with every birthday. Keep an eye out for the sales and you will soon bag yourself a bargain set to keep you in the comfort you are accustomed to. The classic picnic table is the stalwart of the beer garden and, although not the design classic of the century, it is a hard wearing and cost effective option. Some of the cheaper plastic garden furniture has its benefits; it’s lightweight and usually easy to store and maintain with no painting required and a wipe-clean ability. That said… it is plastic and it feels cheap and isn’t really a great choice for the environment.

Wooden furniture also sets off a garden, it just seems right. If space allows, we would also suggest going for non-folding furniture, if you have space for such a luxury. Anyone who has sat on a folding garden chair will understand why. And if you are a family of four, definitely invest for a table for at least six people. Yes, you may end up with chairs that are seldom used but when it comes to entertaining you will always need that extra capacity. Plus, a larger table is also handy when you are dining out and have a help-yourself spread, a must of any self-respecting barbecue.

Which brings us nicely to the star of any outdoor cooking… the barbecue, and this is where things really get… heated. There, what feels like, an endless selection of barbecues to choose from, how ever they all fall into two distinct camps; coal or gas?

Gas obviously has its benefits. It is cleaner, quicker, and you have more control over cooking temperature. But there is a lot to be said for the traditional charcoal barbecue, however it is true they have a lot on cons. Firstly, it’s messy, from beginning to end. Secondly, you can end up waiting half an hour for the coals to get hot and then see them fizzle out before you’ve burnt a single burger. And thirdly, even if you do have a raging heat, to a novice it is almost impossible to tame the burning power of a belligerent barbecue and you end up with charred food that is sometimes dangerously undercooked in the middle. But, for me, that’s what it is all about. Cooking on a barbecue is all about the ancient art of cooking over fire. Heck, there are even top restaurants doing just that. The Gunton Arms for example; if you haven’t tried their rib of beef to share from the Elk Room fire you haven’t lived. If a few sausages get cremated along the way, then so be it. In my humble opinion you simply can’t beat the flavour and it is well worth all of the hassles listed above.

Regardless of your choice of fuel get the largest barbecue you feel you need. Multiple cooking levels enable the garden chef to strategically shift food around to keep it piping hot and manage cooking times. Also, if you have any family members or guests who have dietary needs, simply use a baking tray and seperate tongs to keep the regular meat away from vegetarian or vegan options.

So you have somewhere to sit and something to cook on, but is the rest of your outdoor space ready to receive your guests? Spend time weeding and trimming. It will all feel worth it when you are sat back with a nice glass of Pimms admiring all of your hard work. Is the patio up to scratch? Give it a clean. Always a job that ends up at the bottom of the list, but once again a job that is so satisfying to have ticked off.

When you have spruced up the garden summer evenings always feel that little bit more special with a little lighting. My advice is to go with a mixture of solar and wired options. Larger wired spot lights will help make the space more usable at night, whilst complimenting these with some solar powered options. Some solar fairy lights dropped over a pergola can make a space feel extra special. Be aware of the growth of the plants in the garden at this time of year as a badly placed solar panel can soon be hidden in the leaves and will not effectively charge.

With the scene set our guests also need to have a little attention. Make sure there is some shade. Gallons of sun cream is great, but we don’t want anyone getting sunstroke. Hats and hydration are key. Keep the drinks flowing; not just the alcohol, make sure you have plenty of refillable water bottle on hand. Fill them up add a little ice and allocate one per guest. You can always head inside if the heat gets too much. The main thing to remember is to have fun and enjoy the great outdoors.


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