Diarmuid Gavin: Get your garden party ready
My Ten easy ways to give your garden a BBQ season makeover
Growing up in a somewhat grey Dublin in the 1970s, I was intrigued to see the folks living at Southfork in Dallas gather on the patio every morning for breakfast. In the 1980s and 1990s it was Kylie and Jason barbecuing on Ramsay Street that made me yearn for an outdoor lifestyle. These days, everyone can entertain outside - just follow these simple steps to get your garden in shape.
1 Add some colour
Add pots and containers packed with colour to give instant impact and enhance the al fresco feeling. Try geraniums (pelargoniums) bunched together in clay pots or wow your guests with a lemon-scented one on the table. Blue salvias, with their wonderful spikes of blue flowers and grey foliage, planted in a terracotta pot look wonderful and will act like a beacon for butterflies and bees. And the baby blue scabious 'blue jeans' will flower all summer long if you continually deadhead.
2 Grown your own flavour
Make sure that you have plants which add flavour to food and drink in the garden to impress your guests. My top picks are all easily grown:
● Rosemary is the easiest of shrubs to grow in OK soil, and a sunny situation will be enough for it to thrive. When harvesting sprigs for use in cooking, pick evenly from all around the shrub to retain a good shape. On the barbecue, use it chopped and sprinkled on a variety of foods during cooking.
● Thyme is a gorgeous low-growing plant that's Mediterranean in origin so happy with some sun. Sprinkle the tiny leaves over anything that's barbecued, including burgers and fish.
● Parsley is the perfect patio plant. It can easily be grown from seed and thrives in containers or pots. When eating outdoors, it makes for a fine garnish or a great addition to salads. It also works well when added to roasted pepper and courgette.
● Chives provide that distinctive onion flavour and are the epitome of lovely summer dining. They are easy and fast to grow, and can be purchased as young plants in the veg section from your local supermarket. Chop up the foliage and mix with olive oil or butter before basting all your roasting veg. Sprinkle the edible pink flowers on top of the finished dish.
● Mint is a must in any plot but can be very invasive, so take care to restrict it to a pot or keep the roots firmly imprisoned by sinking a pot in the ground. When that's done you can enjoy its refreshing flavour in drinks or as a sauce without fear.
3 Introduce some evening scent
Many plants come into their own at night in an attempt to attract moths and other nocturnal creatures as pollinators. So plant an abundance of night-scented stock which produce lilac flowers on low delicate stems. Another plant famed for its evening perfume is flowering tobacco (nicotiana alata). Reaching a height of 3ft, this handy sun or dappled shade lover will be covered in white or pale green flowers.
4 Feed your lawn
If you want to induce envy from your guests, it's best to warn you that people love to chat about grass! The qualities of lawns are much discussed by those attending outdoor gatherings so spruce up yours a week in advance by watering on liquid feed to provide an instant greening tonic.
5 Tidy up your borders
Tidy up your borders by providing a mulch or blanket which will cover, feed and help to retain water. Look for fine grades of bark mulch, or - if you don't have cats or dogs - try the intriguing choice of cocoa (chocolate) shell. You can find suppliers easily on the web, it's lightweight and therefore easy to carry and spread and the first couple weeks after use it emits a pleasant aroma of chocolate. The cocoa scent is as attractive to animals as it is to us but chewing on it is poisonous for them. This is not a BBQ-day fix though, as you'll need to remove weeds first, then lay the material down.
6 Use some elbow grease
Your garden will look instantly better when its fixtures have had a clean. Whether it be on a patio or a deck, a satisfying result can be achieved with a powerhose. Domestic versions of these machines can be purchased or hired, or you can exercise your muscles with a good yard brush and some non-plant poisonous cleaning liquid. In damp Ireland, algae grows on stone, concrete or wood surfaces and can be cleaned using a weak solution of household bleach in a watering can (which must be thoroughly rinsed after use). Add the bleach gently to avoid splashing, at a ratio of one part bleach to two parts water. Keep away from lawns or planting.
7 Let there be light
Lengthen the evening by installing a lighting scheme. There are two distinct styles in vogue just now at either end of the scale - sleek contemporary Moroccan-style lanterns or outdoor party lights (traditional bulbs set at regular spacing along a cable).
You can also try candles set in jam jars (below), floating on water or in paper lanterns on tables. All these options add to the al fresco atmosphere, however, remember to extinguish all flames after an evening's revelry. As day turns to night, it's important that the area is lit safely, especially if there are hot barbecues, garden ponds, pools or steps that can be bumped into by guests relaxed by liquor.
8 Cover up
Planning for the often inevitable summer shower can be a wise move. Invest in an awning or canopy to cover cooking and dining spots.
9 Entertain us
Consider outdoor entertainment, whether that's background music or projected outdoor movies.
Use plastic and paper where possible - you don't want barbecue breakages in your lawn or borders.