Wondering how to create an outdoor space that will be easy to look after and welcoming to guests? We look at how to design a garden for entertaining.

Outdoor kitchen under narrow pergola on large patio with topiary and furniture.
The Landscape Design Studio has created plenty of space for a party in this design using Golden Stone porcelain and Coppered Oak Millboard.

Designing a garden for entertaining doesn't mean creating a space that overwhelms when you want a quiet time alone. No, we're looking at how to add touches that make it easy to have guests round. And when something's easy, it means you do it more often.

How do you like to entertain?

Asking yourself questions will help focus attention on the most important aspects of design and what you want.

  • Do you like to invite friends to a sit-down meal, a buffet or a drinks party?
  • Will there be guest children?
  • How many are likely to be in the garden?
  • Do you want to cook in the garden or have space for a long buffet table?
  • Would you like space for garden games?

All these factors affect the layout.

White  metal pergola over dining set with gas barbecue. Green fence behind.
This cosy corner has everything you need for a small gathering, from shade to barbecue. Designed by Scott Taylor for TV's Love Your Garden. Built by JP Landscapes Ltd.

Dinner outside

For dinners outside, a permanent table and chairs, or pub-style bench table, on a paved area saves you from having to get chairs out of storage and ensures rain doesn’t make the ground damp underfoot.

Buffet parties and garden games

If you prefer drinks parties and buffets, then you need space that is easy to circulate in, so a larger open area is on the cards. However, don’t think the whole area has to be paved. An over-sized patio can create a bleak feel when it’s not full of people, so proportion your paved area according to your own needs and add a little more. Balance the area of paving with the size of the house and consider breaking up paved areas with different textures, such as clay pavers or composite decking.

If you're thinking about space for games, a grassed area will have guests up and playing croquet or swingball.

Children's area

If most of your guests will be bringing children, they’ll thank you for a den where children can hang out or play with toys.

Choose the right paving

Small garden with L-shaped raised beds with bench, Golden Stone porcelain paving and water feature.
This design by Juca Landscaping invites guests to make use of the full length of the garden, with neat benches and hard-wearing stain-resistant Golden Stone porcelain paving.

A party garden needs paving materials that are stain-resistant, easy to clean and hard wearing. Porcelain paving is extremely resilient, virtually non-porous and comes in a wide variety of colours and textures. Dense natural stone such as granite is also an option.

Don’t rule out other natural stone—sawn sandstone or limestone—but do look at darker colours. Consider having the stone sealed so that those party spills can be removed more easily before your guests come again.  

Subtle seating...

Raised area terraced in Faro porcelain paving and coping runs down length of fence with hot tub and pizza oven.
This unusual design by Flitch Landscape Design and Build offers plenty of perching space on the terraced levels, within easy reach of the pizza oven.

Even folding chairs take up a fair amount of room in the garage. Built-in seating can save space in a small garden, allowing for more open space. Benches attached to raised beds can be made inviting with cushions and also serve as a useful work bench and place to kneel when you’re gardening.

Look for reasons to put in low walls—around a firepit, perhaps, or to edge the patio. With the addition of flat coping with a comfortably smooth edge profile, these then double as seating or somewhere to put drinks down.

...or sunken seating?

Large rectangular sunken seating area for entertaining with central round fire pit and white cushions
Sunken seating can provide an ideal spot for entertaining, as in this well-proportioned project by Boxtree Design, built by Langdale Landscapes.

If you prefer more intimate, sit-down parties, then sunken garden seating offers a wow-feature where your friends and family can relax in the warmth of a fire pit or barbecue, protected from breezes and, depending on its position, enjoying a sun trap.

A welcome shelter

Furniture on garden room's veranda in background, seating under pergola in foreground.
This garden by Chameleon Landscaping provides plenty of seating for guests and also shelter under our Proteus grey metal pergola.

A table in sunny position needs a parasol at the very least. Again, though, this is something that has to be taken in and stored. A metal pergola makes your garden usable as never before. Placed near the house, it invites you into the garden. Placed further away, it becomes a destination, drawing  guests from the crowded spot outside the kitchen.

Choose a pergola with a louvred roof to let the sunshine in. Then when the sun heats up, they offer UV protection, and when rain passes over, your guests can gather under the shelter whilst the good times in the garden continue.

Outdoor kitchen or barbecue area

Outdoor kitchen with small canopy and porcelain tile splashback at back of seating area with planters and black and white paving.
An easy-to-care-for design with porcelain paving. DesignClad makes an ideal splashback to a cooking station. Here Gardens of the Future used large sheets of Steel Corten DesignClad.

Outdoor entertaining and outdoor cooking have gone hand in hand since barbecues arrived from Down Under. Now there’s the choice of pizza ovens and firepits, too. Not everyone has the space, and not everyone wants to abandon the convenience of their kitchen, so don’t feel you have to have one. Some people love the idea, though, and we have plenty of examples of outdoor kitchens to inspire you.

Cast a light

Placing lighting at strategic points can encourage people to move around the garden. These need not be major installations. Fairy lights are enticing when woven into trees. Solar-powered lanterns will highlight steps as twilight falls.

It’s your garden

Finally, don’t forget this garden is for you, too. Take time to plan a garden to suit the way you live. Never fear: a sunny corner where you can enjoy your morning coffee will attract evening guests who want a quiet chat. So, don’t neglect elements that you can enjoy every day. Your guests will enjoy them too.

Post updated: September 2023