Nothing levels the playing field between the rich and poor as the experience of dining outdoors.
Everyone has the same access to the sun, the moon and the stars!
If you ask me, outdoor dining is one of the most indulgent pleasures that we can all enjoy.
Whenever my family eats in our backyard, our "ordinary" meal is transformed into an extraordinary one!
Inexpensive muffins, strawberries, pretty dishes and flowers are downright luxurious in this outdoor setting.
One of my favorite landscaping features to design is outdoor dining areas and outdoor kitchens.
I love the challenge of creating beautiful and functional dining spaces that fit within my clients budgets.
Here are some examples of outdoor dining areas that I've designed using "weird," recycled, inexpensive and non-traditional materials.
Functional design doesn't have to be expensive.
I'm also including some "optional design features" that are nice to have if you have want to spend a little more cash.
Instant Garden Dining Area Using TV Trays!
TV tray collection surrounds a container garden"centerpiece"
Some of you may remember my garden makeovers for HGTV's "Outer Spaces" show.
This was one of my favorites, "Green Thumb's Paradise."
Of course the budget was measly (as most garden TV makeover budgets are), so I hatched this crazy idea of placing TV trays around an urn to form a dining area!
A Funny Background Story About This Garden Makeover
My yard was my "live" drawing board for many years until I gave it a makeover.
When I was designing this garden makeover, my yard was a barren landscape so it became my defacto "design lab."
I used landscaping paint to draw the patio and garden bed configurations on my dead lawn.
This way I could, walk through the area and experience it before committing to the design.
Once I was happy with my "dress rehearsal" design, I'd draw up the plan!
Don't be afraid to do the same in your yard!
Garden designers, am I crazy?
Take a look at the slideshow to to see what came from that adventure.
The Perfect Setting!
Three trees offer shade for the future outdoor dining area.
The yard I was designing for the HGTV garden makeover had good bones.
Three trees enclosed an intimate grassy patch which I immediately identified as the future dining area.
Lower left is the urn planter used as centerpiece for the collection of TV trays
We created an informal patio floor using recycled concrete pieces embedded in sand to provide a level floor for the furniture.
Four TV tray tables were set around a tall urn planted with a tall ornamental grass for dramatic effect.
Instant centerpiece, instant dining area, instant happy homeowner!
Six years later, the homeowner is still using her tray table dining area.
Outdoor Dining for a Small Tract Home Yard!
One of my favorite repeat landscaping clients in Los Angeles bought a home with a small (800 square feet) yard.
Never mind the small square footage, my charming client wanted an entertainer's retreat with dining for eight, a sunbathing area, and a garden for him to tend!
The antique indoor dining table was sealed with matte marine varnish to protect from water.
He also had a GINORMOUS table he wanted to use in the outdoor dining area, so I designed the whole backyard around the table.
Take a look.
I divided the rectangular tract lot into three separate areas and used inexpensive recycled concrete for the floor.
The wood table was very heavy so we mortared the concrete pieces instead of setting them in sand.
Another important consideration was shade and accessibility to the kitchen.
You don't want to walk long distances between the kitchen and the table unless you are an experienced
The dining patio area was constructed in a strategic location behind a few shade trees, so my client saved money on a shade structure.
Now my client happily dines with his seven guests while listening to the calming trickle of the fountain, strategically placed in his garden.
He has it all!
Front Yard English Garden Tea Bistro!
An unused front lawn was removed to make room for the English bistro garden!
Landscape designer, Michael Glassman and I had a blast designing this front yard, English tea garden for our show, "Garden Police" on the Discovery Home Channel.
You may ask, "Why place a dining patio in a front yard?"
The answer is, "No backyard!"
I know some of you may relate to this problem, but it's nothing to cry about.
Privacy is the most important issue when your front yard functions as your backyard.
Here's what we did.
Ditch the Lawn!
The first step was to remove the water-thirsty lawn and in it's place, create a gravel patio.
The crunchy sound of the gravel is very European!
Brick edging surrounds the fountain and flower garden
There were some bricks from the entry planter that had to be removed because they posed a trip hazard in the new patio.
The bricks were re-used as edging for the new patio and garden beds.
No materials went to waste.
To make the dining experience more enjoyable, we added a fountain and planted the area surrounding the patio with a variety of colorful plants and roses.
Front yard English garden with gravel patio, roses and fountain
Although you can see the patio from the sidewalk, it is not completely exposed, just enough for people to see and feel a little jealous!
Outdoor Dining Elements From Shirley's Gardens!
Here are some design elements from some of my other outdoor dining rooms.
See any ideas you can use?
For those of you who are contemplating building an outdoor kitchen, here are some tips I posted on my other blog, The Foodie Gardener!
"Five Tips For Creating Functional Outdoor Kitchens."
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This post is part of a group post by the
Garden Designers Roundtable on the theme of "Alfresco Dining."
Visit some of these other blogs for more creative ideas.
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphiusâ€™ Rules : Chatham, NJ
Susan Schlenger : Landscape Design Advice : Hampton, NJ