Garden design says a lot about people and the things they value most. Some people create flower-rich pollinator gardens that enable them to enjoy as many bees and butterflies, not to mention songbirds, as possible. Others grow utilitarian vegetable and container gardens, or choose to focus on plants from their own region by creating a gorgeous native garden. Some prefer manicured lawns with well-maintained hedges, while others love wild-looking cottage gardens with a romantic feel.
The list goes on — and on, and on. No matter who you are and what kind of garden you are working to create, though, you’ll likely have one thing in common with everyone else in search of the perfect garden. You’ll want to entertain guests there. Perhaps a few, or perhaps a lot. Maybe only occasionally, and maybe on practically every day you enjoy nice weather.
A garden designed to entertain guests is different than one designed purely for your personal pleasure — you’ll have to create a space all your guests will love as much as you do, after all. Because that can be challenging, we come armed with tips.
Tips to Help You Design the Perfect Entertaining Space for Your Garden
Whether you’ve recently moved into a new home — and are currently in the process of brainstorming ideas to turn the garden into your own personal chill zone — or you are simply hoping to upgrade your yard space so that you can entertain guests to your heart’s content, you’ll have a lot of different factors to consider.
Some of them include:
- Your budget. It is perfectly possible to create an outdoor space that’s going to make (most of your) guests happy on a low budget, especially if you’re also a skilled DIY enthusiast who isn’t scared to lay their own garden path or craft a romantic garden bench. Designing the perfect garden to host guests will be easier and faster if you can splurge, of course, and the final result is also likely to be a lot grander.
- Your available space. Your garden has a set size, and you’ll have to work within its confines. You can’t install a huge fire pit and seating area ready to accommodate dozens of guests if you have a tiny garden. Be realistic here, especially if you don’t just want your garden to turn into an outdoor “guest warehouse” — and scale your hosting area to the size of your garden, while deciding what kinds of features you absolutely want to have in your outdoor space.
- The number of guests you can realistically expect. People who prefer to host one friend at a time, or one or two other families, are best off creating more intimate outdoor areas to entertain their guests. Those who want to invite all their neighbors, or intend to have all their colleagues over, will need larger and more open areas.
- The types of guests you expect to receive. People who are going to be hosting children or people with dogs need to ensure that the plants they have in their gardens are not toxic, as well as keeping a close eye on safety — rocky ponds may, for instance, be absolutely gorgeous, but small children could fall in, making your garden parties stressful, as you’ll have to be on guard all the time. Similarly, elderly or disabled people will need accessible spaces.
- The types of events you’re going to host in your garden. Barbecues? Dinners? Coffee dates? Play dates for kids? That’ll determine the kinds of designated spaces you’ll want to create.
- Privacy. If you want to host gatherings in your garden, chances are that you won’t want the entire neighborhood to be able to peek in. You’ll want to create living hedges, privacy screens, or other barriers that make sure that only people on your guest list can have fun.
- Finally, the look of your home. A well-designed garden will have a look and feel that matches the architecture of your property, or your guests will be left with a messy impression.
With that in mind, all successful garden designs for entertaining will have a few things in common. Your guests will at least want to have a drink, which you’ll have to bring them, and are very likely to want a bite to eat, too. That means that placing designated entertainment spaces near your kitchen, with easy access, is a great idea. Your guests will also want to use the restroom sooner or later, so they’ll need to be able to reach it.
The best garden parties take place in summer, after the sun goes down. That means you’ll want lighting, which can greatly influence the ambiance in your garden.
You’ll likely want to impress your guests with showy flowering plants, shrubs, and trees — and if you’re expecting diverse guests, they should be non-toxic and ideally also thorn-free, because you don’t want people getting injured in your garden.
Keep in mind that, if you’re planning to entertain large groups, people tend to break up into much smaller groups to have intimate conversations. In this case, your guests will appreciate plenty of private little nooks and crannies, which you’ll also be able to enjoy yourself.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some ideas you may be able to put to good use in your own garden!
1. Creating Outdoor Cooking Spaces
An outdoor kitchen — which can have a mountainous, cottage-like, or beachy feel, to name just a few general design ideas — can save you a lot of time and effort if you’re planning to spend a lot of time in the garden. An outdoor kitchen will serve you well whether you’re intending to entertain guests often, or would mainly use the space within the confines of your own family. Outdoor kitchens can be equipped with all the amenities indoor kitchens have, from ovens and dishwashers to sinks. If you have a larger garden, an outdoor kitchen allows you to serve your guests more quickly if you’re planning to place your main entertainment area further from your home.
A barbecue area is another must-have for many people who are looking to serve food in their gardens. Although they can be very informal, depending on your style, it’s easy to wow your guests with an outdoor bar, lounge, or buffet.
Fire pits are popular in gardens for many reasons — they can add warmth on a chilly night, provide ambiance, and illuminate the garden. If you’ve already decided that a fire pit is a must-have in your outdoor entertaining space, why not install a cooking bar or grate that will additionally allow you to create anything from elaborate curry dishes to simple corn-on-the-cob treats?
No matter what you end up deciding, your outdoor cooking space(s) will look amazing if you create a uniform theme. Your cooking area can match the rest of your garden, the architecture of your home, or both. You can also go for an intentionally disheveled or shabby chic look, especially if you’re hoping to create a cozy intimate atmosphere in your garden.
2. Creating Garden ‘Rooms’
Regardless of how many people you’re going to entertain in your garden, you’ll likely benefit from at least several distinct spaces that have different purposes. You may want a huge outdoor dining table for more formal or fun summer dinners, for instance, as well as a cozy seating area for long chats. You’ll probably also want that intimate little space to enjoy a coffee or an iced tea with one or two friends (or just your partner). If you’re going to be inviting families with kids, the little ones will want their own space to have fun and safely explore, too.
Take inspiration from open-plan home layouts to create distinct areas that all serve their own purpose in your garden. You can use trees, large shrubs, trellises, and wooden privacy screens to instantly create the impression of a unique, separate, area.
If you have a sloped garden, it is even easier to do this! Use fencing and foliage to mark the individual areas within your garden, and where possible, see if you can create a “secret garden” that your guests will have fun finding and spending time in.
3. Outdoor Play Areas for Children
Do you have kids? You can expect plenty of little ones to be running around your garden — and if you design your outdoor play area right, the odds are good that your kids and their friends will build some of their fondest childhood memories there!
Depending on your budget and the space you have available, you could:
- Add a tree house — because which child doesn’t love that? The best trees for tree houses are sturdy, tall, deciduous trees that are especially sturdy. Red oaks and ash trees are good choices, for instance.
- A sandpit — ideally one that can be covered, as you want the sand to stay clean.
- A small edible garden that features common herbs such as rosemary, parsley, mint, and basil will always be a hit with kids, especially if they can also participate in caring for these herbs.
- A tree swing.
- A slide.
- An open lawn area that’s great for ball games.
4. Lighting Ideas for Garden Parties
The lighting you choose for your garden will set much of the tone — so it’s important to get it right. You have plenty of different options, but if you’re looking to entertain guests, a festive atmosphere always helps.
Consider adding festoon lights — which, of course, come in countless colors and shapes — to your garden, especially around seating and cooking areas. These shimmering rows of little lights will instantly create an informal and incredibly festive look that will be a hit with almost anyone. To further illuminate your seating areas, add candles (placed in glass vases for added ambiance and fire protection) or warm rustic LED lanterns.
You’ll want to light up walkways to keep your guests safe in the dark, which can be done with LED pathway lights, which now come in many styles, colors, and brightness levels, and some of which are solar-powered. These lights can also draw attention to special areas in your garden, such as zen gardens or rocky areas.
If you have a water feature, consider adding underwater lights that create a moonlight-like feel, and think about incorporating lights into your foliage, as well.
Garden lighting is crucial for multiple different reasons — the right kind of lighting will allow your guests to find their way around your garden in the dark, but also plays a crucial role in the atmosphere. Natural fire, in the form of a fire pit, can act as a centerpiece. Adding plants with red, crimson, or orange foliage can further add to this ambiance.
5. Adding Smaller Decorative Elements to Your Garden to Wow Your Guests
Just like in your home, minor decorative elements turn your garden into a homely space that represents your personality. They can include:
- Colorful fabrics, in the form of cushions (on outdoor lounge furniture as well as directly on your deck!), curtain “walls” around seating areas (no candles in that case!), parasols, tablecloths, or cotton canopies to keep neighbors overlooking your garden from peeking in. Fabrics add warmth and color to your outdoor hosting areas, and can be coordinated with the shades in your garden.
- Plants growing on trellises instantly create a romantic look, and are much valued in outdoor entertaining spaces. Eccentric planters in wheelbarrows, on chairs, or in repurposed wooden furniture can add to the atmosphere, too.
- Artful use of mirrors and picture frames can help you reflect light, so long as you’re careful that you don’t accidentally start a fire.
- Bird baths, bird houses, squirrel nooks, and similar wildlife-friendly spots add appeal.
6. Adding Water Features to Your Garden
Water is mesmerizing. If you’re hoping to host guests for long summer parties in hot weather and enjoy swimming yourself, you may consider investing in an outdoor pool. Even if that’s not an option for you, you can definitely add a small water feature. Water features in your garden can come in the form of:
- (Small) duck or fish ponds, which are bound to draw attention!
- Outdoor waterfalls, which can be surrounded by plants and rocks, or stand as their own feature.
- Rock gardens with suitable plants and a small fountain.
- A bird bath.
- Even consider adding an old-fashioned water pump for kids to splash themselves with on hot summer nights!
You can incorporate metal, rock, glass, and even wood into a water feature, and water features can be sleek and modern or rustic and romantic. It’s up to you, but whatever you decide to do, your guests are bound to flock to any water in your garden and admire the unique beauty of your design.
7. Guest-Friendly Plants for Your Garden
You could have the most gorgeous seating area ever, combined with a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen and a wonderfully-rustic fire pit and beautiful lights. Unless you choose your plants right, it won’t matter one bit — trees, shrubs, flowering plants, vines, and herbs are what makes the area surrounding your house a garden, rather than just a piece of land.
If you’re going to be entertaining a lot of guests, often, you won’t simply want to populate your garden with the plants that bring you joy. You’ll also want to ensure that your plants impress your guests, and that they’re safe — meaning non-toxic and thorn-free, especially important if you’ll be entertaining people with kids or pets.
The Virginia creeper, for example, is a beautiful vine you definitely don’t want in a garden designed to entertain — this plant can kill people and pets! Instead, opt for a collection of showy plants that aren’t poisonous. Viable candidates will depend on your climate, but these gorgeous plants are great examples of guest-friendly ones.
Million bells (Calibrachoa) is a herbaceous perennial flower native to South America. One of their best features their extremely long bloom that lasts from spring all the way to first frost! The funnel-shaped flowers come in all kinds of vibrant blue, gold, pink, purple, red, orange, and variegated shades. Million bells will grow to be three to nine inches tall and six inches to two feet wide.
The best part? Million bells — also named mini petunia and trailing petunia — are really easy to take care of and even beginners can take this plant home without worrying about killing it. This plant is happy with full sun or partial shade and appreciates moist and well-draining loamy soil. They also attract hummingbirds!
Million bells are sure to beautify your garden, and their flowers will impress your guests most of the year.
Stocks (Matthiola incana) are biennial or perennial herbaceous flowers native to Greece and Spain. They are low-maintenance plants and fast growers. The flowers are really fragrant (“sweet and spicy”), which guests will love. Stock flowers are also rather colorful, with blooms ranging from purple and blue to apricot and white! The stock can grow to be 12 to 36 inches tall.
Stock flowers prefer rich and well-draining soil that is occasionally wet. This plant does best in full sun to partial shade. They like cool weather and don’t do well with high humidity levels.
Fountain grass (Cenchrus setaceus) is a herbaceous grass usually grown as an annual. This grass is native to Africa, Asia, and Australia, though it is important to note that they are considered invasive in many parts of North America. Fountain grass is a charming ornamental grass with soft and fuzzy flower plumes which may have purple, pink, or red shades. It often grows to be one to six feet tall, with a spread of one to five feet. Fountain grass flowers attract pollinators and songbirds.
This beautiful grass flourishes in full sunlight, and needs at least six to eight hours of direct sun to thrive. Regularly water your fountain grass to keep it healthy, but make sure that the soil is well-draining! Fountain grasses love loamy, sandy, and clay soil.
As an ornamental plant, fountain grass is a wonderful plant to add to any garden, especially if you like the song birds and pollinators it attracts! Your guests are sure to appreciate its beauty.
Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) are deciduous trees in the Sapindaceae family, native to eastern and central North America. They are best known for their sap, which is high in sugar and can be used to make maple syrup! Sugar maples also bear samara fruits, which are edible. The sugar maple tree itself is majestic in the fall time, as their leaves turn an alluring orange-red. The tree attracts many different animals — pollinators, songbirds, butterflies, moths, and small mammals!
The sugar maple is a slow grower that will take around 30 to 40 years to mature, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t look lovely even when it’s still a young tree. This showy tree is fairly low-maintenance, and will give your guests something to talk about.
Place your sugar maple in a spot where it can receive full sunlight. Sugar maple trees love well-draining moist soil that is either loamy, sandy, or clay, rich in organic matter. It does best in acidic soil.
Trees are an absolute must-have in big gardens where you hope to host countless parties, and the sugar maple is one of your best choices, thanks to its unparalleled beauty.
Your garden is simply an extension of your home — and just like your living room, it will reflect your taste and personality. Whether you’re hoping to entertain 50 or more people in a large garden, or just want to invite a few friends over, the focal points you choose represent the foundation of your hosting space, while the details complete the look. In a garden, plants will always be the key to the visual appeal of the space, but your own human touch will make everything come together.