Planning an outdoor dinner party, family reunion, summer pool bash, or other event comes with a lot of work! There are invitations to send, lists to make, groceries to buy, games to choose. But while you’re busy juggling calendars and deciding on h’ors d’oeuvres, are you neglecting key elements of your landscape design?
We’re not talking about just making it look pretty, either. We’re talking about getting your outdoor space ready for whatever you have planned – whether that’s a big bunch of fun, or a cozy dinner for two.
There are plenty of options for creating an entertaining-worthy back yard depending on the type of event you plan to host. But there are a few things that will derail the best of plans sooner than you can say “barbecue chicken”.
These are some landscaping and design mistakes to avoid if you want your party to be the talk of the town – in a good way!
1. Assuming That Everyone Will Be Doing The Same Thing
If you’re planning a dinner party, you’re probably focused on seating arrangements and appetizers. Or if you’re planning a pool party, you’re likely grabbing the foam noodles and laying out a few loungers.
It’s easy to pay so much attention to the central party theme that you forget everyone enjoys different things. And guests may not want to do exactly what you have planned!
Consider that while the kids are in the pool, the grown ups may want a space to sit and watch, away from the screaming, but still in eyesight. And what happens after dessert is served? Your guests may tire of sitting at a table and enjoy an evening walk through your gardens instead.
When creating an outdoor entertaining space, think about how you can help guests move though your space by incorporating different areas for different activities – some for group gatherings, some for quiet time, some for playing, some for relaxing.
You can achieve separation through smart use of patios, strategic seating options, privacy barriers, pathways, tall plantings and more.
2. Omitting The Right Kind Of Lighting
Notice we didn’t say “omit lighting” – most people who do any evening entertaining have some sort of outdoor lighting, but that doesn’t make it the right kind of lighting.
It’s not enough to add a few lanterns to your patio or some lights along a pathway. Good lighting takes into account how a space will be used.
Remember all those useable areas you created by thinking about how your guests might want to move through your space? It would be a shame if that only applied to the daytime. If you’ve created gardens for walking, be sure that lighting is embedded there for nighttime use. If you’re planning a pool party, underwater lighting goes a long way to creating a safer environment and punching up the ambiance.
Good lighting doesn’t stop there. Yes, your guests need to be able to see where they’re walking and pick up a forkful of salad without squinting, but the party hosts need lighting, too!
If you have an outdoor kitchen and plan to use it after dark (and you should!) then task lighting is just as important as those beautiful string lights you hung above the dining table.
Plan lighting to serve its various purposes – safety, atmosphere, and function – and you’ll never be left in the dark again.
3. Failing The Butt Test
Seating is arguably one of the most important components of outdoor entertaining. You’d be hard pressed to think of a scenario where seating is optional!
But simply having seating is not good enough, either. Seating needs to be appropriate to the task, and perhaps more importantly, it needs to be a place where people will want to… well, sit.
Mistakes happen when form comes before function. There’s a lot of great looking seating out there, but if it isn’t going to invite your guests to stay for a while, you may find your party quickly dwindle to only the most stalwart souls.
Be sure that seating makes sense for where it is being used. Nobody wants to hunch over a plate of creamed corn from even the most comfortable sofa, any more than they want to spend an afternoon sitting straight upright in a chair.
Choose dining chairs for dining, lounging chairs for lounging, and cushioned seating for those cozy conversations with a few friends. Hard wood benches and stone pedestals may have a certain natural charm, but does anyone really want to get comfortable there?
On the other hand, those benches and stone pedestals can be great additions for hidden resting spots in your garden or beside a pond. Guests who take off for a stroll may enjoy a few minutes of respite there before moving on.
Consider how your guests will be using seating and be sure that for extended periods of dining, talking, and gathering, you’ve provided comfortable options.
4. Underestimating The Weather
Even the luckiest folks find themselves hosting in less-than-ideal conditions sometimes. You may hope for the best, but we’ve all experienced cold snaps in July and blazing hot days in October.
Even in less extreme conditions, your plans can be thwarted by too much sun, pouring rain, or even an enthusiastic wind. Unless you plan for these scenarios though smart landscape design, you could find yourself cancelling a lot of parties.
Take weather into account by creating spaces that can work in various conditions. Simple solutions, like a fire pit or an outdoor heater for cold days and nights will go a long way to improving your odds of having a successful event.
Awnings and overhangs, whether attached to your home or freestanding, can mitigate rainy days. They can also be a win on hot, sunny ones, offering much-needed shade and a place to mount a cooling ceiling fan.
While we’re on the subject of shade, don’t assume that sunny days will be ideal for your party, either! Just imagine spending all afternoon outdoors on a bright summer day. That’s a recipe for a date with an aloe bath and some long, painful nights of recovery.
Providing cover is important no matter the weather, and it can be beautifully and strategically incorporated into your landscape in the form of pergolas, gazebos, shade trees, patio umbrellas and more.
Finally, don’t neglect the particular weather patterns in your yard. Placing a grill in the breeziest spot, for example, is going to come back to haunt you. Placing a seating area facing into a sunset will aggravate your dinner guests.
By designing wisely, you can accommodate for sun patterns, shade needs, shelters, rains and even flooding.
5. Forgetting That Even Parties Need Privacy
Naturally you invited the 20 people who most enjoy each other’s company to your party. So why would anyone need privacy?
Well, even extroverts need some, sometimes. Over time, every party tends to break down into smaller groups of people. Whether to have a quiet conversation with a smaller group or individual, or to recharge after an active day, there is a good argument to be made that privacy will enhance your guests’ enjoyment.
Remember how we talked about creating a separation of space so that guests could choose the activities they enjoy most? Just having those spaces doesn’t make them useable. You’ll need to build in some privacy, if only so conversations won’t overlap and make it difficult for people to hear each other.
We’re not talking about putting up walls, but rather designing simple elements into your space to offer a bit of visual and auditory separation. Plants, tall grasses and bamboo can be used as privacy screening. A gazebo or freestanding pergola can offer a sense of coziness and separation.
Even a water feature like a fountain or bubbler can offer guests privacy, masking conversations from eavesdropping ears.
On the flip side, you probably want some privacy for all your guests – free from nosy neighbors and passersby. All of the same principles apply. Through the use of strategic plantings and other structural elements, you can offer both large group entertainment and small group intimacy.
6. Forgetting That Convenience Matters, Too
When planning your outdoor space, it can be easy to get caught up in what looks good and forget what’s practical. That doesn’t mean giving up on a gorgeous landscape, it just means being smart about your choices.
Some people don’t want to see their outdoor kitchen from the window of their indoor one. But what are the practical repercussions of moving the kitchen out way behind your house? Chances are, you’re going to find getting to and from it rather laborious, especially when you forget the pickles or need an extra spoon. In the end, you’re not going to use or enjoy your space as much as if it had been easy to do so.
You may really want that plush sofa, but if you can’t easily pull the cushions in out of a downpour, they may end up spending more time in the garage on the opposite side of the house because it’s too much trouble to keep moving them.
The good news is that your space can look great and be convenient. It just takes some planning. If you can’t live without the sofa, then consider building in some storage options. For outdoor kitchens, make sure you’ve got enough counter space to prep, as well as storage for frequently used utensils so you won’t be running them in and out of the house constantly.
Make sure it’s fun and easy to use your space, and there’s an excellent chance you will!
7. Ignoring All Four Seasons
We typically think of summer as a time for outdoor entertaining, but there are three other seasons, and together they last a whole lot longer! Why limit yourself to using your space for maybe a quarter of the year?
There are so many ways to build four-season appeal and enjoyment into your space that it would be a shame to waste the opportunities. For spring and summer, you already know you need to plan for shade and cooling (and of course rain!)
For autumn and winter, outdoor heating elements, fire pits and fireplaces can extend your enjoyment. If you’ve planned comfortable seating, just add a few cozy throw blankets and you’ll be set.
Overhangs that provide protection from sun and rain can do the same for snow. Imagine an evening outdoors watching a snowfall as your outdoor fireplace crackles in the background.
And of course, be sure your gardens are designed with four-season appeal. That can take many forms – including hardscapes that appeal no matter the season, décor that adds a bit of visual fun, water features (that may turn into ice sculptures and be just as stunning in winter as they are flowing in summer), and plantings that contribute color, texture, sound and motion all year.
8.Neglecting Curb Appeal
This last one may seem counterintuitive. Why would curb appeal matter when the party is in the back yard? You probably won’t be entertaining outside your front door!
But chances are, your front door – and yard – is exactly what someone’s first impression of your space will be. Will it ruin the party if your curb appeal is a bit blah? No, but wouldn’t you rather create a welcoming experience from first sight to last goodbye?
Just remember that your home is a total package. It’s not just what someone can see from the front, or experience from the back. It’s how you create a space that is a little bit of you in every stone. It reflects your desires, your personality, and first
and foremost brings you a joy that you’ll want to share with the world.
If you want to talk about turning your outdoor space into a place for entertaining and hosting – large or small, the whole neighborhood or just the family – contact us for a consultation. We’re here to help make your dreams a reality.