We all agree that our British climate is rather unpredictable and we complain about it whatever it may be doing.  However it is not necessary for the weather to control us – our gardens can help us prolong the summery season. It is possible to make outdoor entertaining a reality whatever the weather and with a little planning you can turn anything from a large formal plot, with a pool, to a simple back yard into a fine outdoor living room.

If you have wonderful views from your garden but suffer from wind damage you might like to think about putting up some sort of wind breaks to cut down on damage. Consider reed screens that not only provide protection from the elements but also afford a degree of privacy; pergolas also give a surprising amount of protection.

Edging one or two sides of your patio with a thicket of Bamboo will give some protection from the wind whilst providing the most relaxing of sound effects as the evening breeze rustles through the canes.  Wind-chimes and trickling water features will also add an audio dimension to the already relaxing ambience.

Even the smallest of outdoor areas can serve as entertaining space with a bit of imagination. The path between two terraced houses can be transformed into a luscious glen. Place shade loving plants such as ferns and japonicas in bold terracotta or glazed blue pots. Place bright bedding plants in an array of terracotta pots and wall hangers to give splashes of dramatic colour. Mirrors mounted on the walls create an illusion of more space, whilst strings of lanterns add the finishing touches. Laying a small area of decking will ensure dryness underfoot and you will have somewhere that isn’t slippy or soggy to place tables and chairs.

Whilst you are setting the scene you must consider garden lighting – especially if you are into evening entertaining.  Outdoor lighting can make all the difference to atmosphere and mood. Permanent lighting features can be used to light up foliage, ponds or ornaments with dramatic effects.  Make sure that you follow the manufacturers instructions and if in any doubt get a qualified electrician to install the wiring for you.

One of the quickest and easiest ways to create lighting effect is to use candles, lanterns and oil lamps.  There are so many to choose from.  A popular favourite is a Japanese oil lamp which is a basically a sphere of granite, hollowed out to hold the lamp oil with a wick emerging from the centre.  It is perfect in its simplicity and adds an unusual oriental touch.  Strings of lanterns with nightlights are also a very cost effective way of producing garden party lighting. Citronella candles are also worthwhile investments for scratch free evenings.

It’s all very well setting the scene, but if you are shivering in layers of woolly jumpers and cosy fleeces you really won’t have any fun without the sun…  but don’t give up. Outdoor heaters have come down in price dramatically and many are really quite affordable nowadays. An alternative to the gas fired heater is a chimenea which can be used as a patio warmer or a barbecue.  These stylish handcrafted pottery chimneys bring a touch of rustic charm to any patio or garden.

Barbecuing can be a very serious pastime for all garden lovers.   Amazingly about 54 million barbecues were held last summer and half of all households own a barbecue set.  Research shows that men swell up with pride at the thought of their barbecue prowess whilst women sigh and resign themselves to the potential family feud. Nevertheless most of us still enjoy the barbecue and year after year debate the pros and cons of charcoal or gas.  These days there is such a huge range of barbecues, you are bound to find one that suits your needs.

The key to a successful barbecue is the length of cooking time and the temperature of the coals.  It is essential that the food is cooked thoroughly without burning on the outside. The trick is – however boring it may seem, is to cook the meat in the kitchen first and then transfer it to the barbecue to finish it off.  It may take away some of the thrill of the flames and smoke but it sure beats a bout of food poisoning!  Be bold when barbecuing and forget the burgers in buns.  Try dishes such as herrings with orange tarragon stuffing or Maryland chicken kebabs and really impress your friends and neighbours! 

Although the sumptuous smell of your barbecued food may be sufficient for some, scented plants around your entertaining area provide a wonderful touch. Grow scented plants that give off a sweet smell as they are brushed against, such as thyme or rosemary or other herbs that can also be added straight to your barbecued dish to give the freshest of flavours. 

Finally don’t forget gazebos. Whether you buy a cheap pop-up version, just for cloudy or drizzly days, or whether you elect to spend serious money on a permanent structure you can fit out for entertaining all year round you won’t be disappointed. A gazebo will give you more freedom than you can imagine. You can use it to lay out a buffet, shelter guests from a sudden rain or heat and even turn it into a tiny open air theatre.