Alfresco Dining With Dan Cooper, aka The Frustrated Gardener

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If I can’t stand the heat, I know it’s time to make use of our outdoor kitchen! I created a space in our garden for cooking and entertaining almost fifteen years ago and although the garden has matured around it the kitchen has stood the test of time. We’ve had countless parties, family barbecues and glasses of cold rosé in this sheltered spot, enjoying the cool shade on hot days. An outdoor sink is a terrific asset, perfect for reviving dry pot plants, chilling a bottle of fizz or even washing sand from the dogs when they come back from the beach - every garden should have one!

We surround the kitchen with useful herbs - rosemary for seasoning our favourite lamb steaks, oregano for garnishing pizzas and nasturtiums for spicing up salads. Edible flowers bring so much joy to a plate, so we keep a few pots of cheery violas and flavourful chives close to hand for those moments when a little culinary flair is demanded. (And did you know that dahlias, very much the flower of the moment, are edible in all parts? They make fabulous floral confetti and look splendid in a bud vase.) In a small garden, plants have to look good all year round so we’ve introduced plenty of evergreens with pops of colour provided by long-flowering plants such as begonias and fuchsias. Twining star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is a must for any outdoor seating area, filling the air with scent from its white blossom throughout July and into August (this is the white flower in the bud vase). One breath of its perfume and you’re transported to the Mediterranean.

On the day these photographs were taken, we were preparing a lunchtime barbecue for friends. My partner and I both love bold colours and with the garden being dominated by greens, Talking Tables’ Citrus & Boho collections gave us all the bright accents we needed to create a warm welcome. Boho bunting was the first element to go up, instantly lending the garden a festival feel. There’s always a lively breeze here by the coast and it was lovely how the hand-printed fabric danced overhead. Our slate terrace can get very warm on hot days so the paisley print rug was an absolute revelation: it’s so soft to walk on and our dogs soon discovered that it was just the spot for an afternoon siesta. The rug is reversible too: one side is a zingy lemon yellow and the other a soft coral pink. It’s so light that it can be taken anywhere, even to the beach.

I like to mix and match my garden furniture and tableware - long gone are the days when everything needed to be the same colour or pattern. Having travelled to India on many happy occasions, I felt completely at home using Talking Tables’ stainless steel plates and bowls. I instantly knew that I had to partner them with my grandma’s vintage water set, decorated with silver stripes. They’re from completely different eras but they just work together. Indoors I will use them for serving curries, pickles and salty snacks.

The secret with summer accessories, whether they’re bunting, rugs, cushions, lanterns or candles, is not to stash them away in the depths of a cupboard - you won’t find the energy to retrieve them and they’ll gather dust. Keep a bag packed by the front door so that you can get a colourful table laid in five minutes or less - ask your guests to help out and the job will be even quicker. And if the weather turns, it won’t take long to gather everything up and bring the alfresco vibe inside.

Tablemats, coasters, plant pots and similar bistro sets from dancoopergarden.com

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