Design for outdoor social space

Continuing our design series with Bowles & Wyer, this month we look at how we can adapt our gardens for outdoor entertaining and socialising. Entertaining friends and family in the garden is becoming ever more important with entertaining outdoors rather than indoors quickly becoming the ‘new normal’. Below, James Smith, Design Director at Bowles & Wyer looks at creating the perfect ambience for entertaining outside and explains how we can better design our gardens for outside socialising.

Style and comfort are equally important factors when choosing seating, explains James: “You want the garden to look great, but not at the expense of comfort, otherwise you are unlikely to spend much time sitting out there,” he says. “As Covid-19 is a very real concern, individual seating helps to keep people from different households at distance, but also still feel like a normal garden. By using lounge chairs, beanbags, poufs or likewise if your furniture is modular they can be easily arranged in a socially distanced yet friendly way.

(credit: Steven Wooster)

Shade and Cover

One of the benefits of Covid-19 is that it has enhanced our use of external spaces and it seems people have realised how valuable it can be to their wellbeing and comfort. However, with our increasing use of outdoor space, some protection from the elements is also something to consider.” James explains that if you have a very exposed garden, some form of shade is always welcome, this can take the form of an umbrella or awning, or a more permanent structure such as a gazebo or pergola, or perhaps a summerhouse. He advises, however, to take care when using canopies on roof terraces or in heavy rain, as they can get blown away or sag under the weight of water.


Fire is a great asset to have in the garden – helping to extend the day into the cooler hours of the evening and allowing you to sit outside for longer,” he explains. “A fire also provides a good central focal point for a gathered group of friends or family. Gazing into a chiminea, fire bowl or fireplace is always mesmerising and calming as you watch the crackle of the flames dancing around. There is also something very primitive about fire that we all can relate to.”


(credit Steven Wooster)

Just like when entertaining indoors, the ambience has to be right outdoors too – it’s important to help set the mood and scene for the garden. This can be achieved with careful lighting, using different scenarios for different uses – for example lighting for a party; or to relax outside in the evening; or to see your garden when looking out from the house would all use different lighting set-ups and so this element requires some careful planning.
Water movement can also help to enhance the sensory experience, and can encourage a calm and reflective atmosphere. Water features can take all shapes and sizes – but it’s the sound of gently trickling water that will make the difference.”

(credit: Steven Wooster)

James recommends scented plants to help evoke memories and relaxation – Lavender, Rosemary, Jasmine, Sweet Box and Honeysuckle. All can be planted close to footpaths or around seating areas to spread their fragrance as you brush past them.

Texture, movement and touch, have big roles to play in your planting and James suggests thinking of grasses swaying in the wind, leaves rustling on trees and calming green textures: “Plants such as Melica uniflora, Alchemilla, Ferns, Fatsia and Hosta are all good for adding texture to the garden,” he says. Mixing plants with different green foliage helps create interest and when it comes to movement, grasss such as Calamagrostis, Miscanthus or Briza work well.

(credit: Bowles & Wyer)

These elements are key to creating a garden adapted to outside socialising. No matter how big or small your garden is, there’s tips and tricks for every space to make it the perfect spot for entertaining,” says James.

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Picture credits: Banner credit Alan Johnson, (all other credits appear under photograph, all strictly ©)