If the recent heatwave has got you planning your summer of barbecues then maybe it’s time to make sure your backyard or balcony is up to the challenge. Barbecues have come a long way since the days of flies, beer, chops and sausages. People’s expectations of the backyard fry-up have changed a lot over the last 20 years and backyards have had to change accordingly. Making your outdoor space suitable for entertaining can be as easy as buying a barbie and making sure everyone has somewhere to sit, but there are many other things to consider if you want your events to be more than just fried meat and discomfort.

Setting up a functional barbecue area in your courtyard can add value to your home, so it’s worth doing some planning before purchasing equipment or furniture to make sure the final setup works well. Do some research into the types of barbecues available. Do you want a built-in or freestanding model? Do you need a plate warmer, wok burner or charcoal grill plate? The options now available are so extensive that you almost don’t need an indoor kitchen in summer. A landscape architect can help you to integrate equipment into your landscaping and make the barbecue either a real design feature or barely noticeable among the plants.

Entertaining outdoors means that you are exposing your guests to potential annoyances, such as hot sun and insects. To some extent this is part of the deal and expectations will be lower than if you were having an indoor dinner. However, it’s a good idea to do a little planning to ensure discomfort is not excessive.

Firstly, for daytime entertaining, make sure that you provide enough shade for people to be comfortable. If you have overhanging trees this may suffice. If not you may need to look at providing a shade structure. A simple hardware store cabana could do the trick, but a well-designed pergola or awning is a more permanent and stylish option. Position the shade structure so that the sun is blocked where and when you need it. The sun is at its harshest from midday to mid-afternoon, but late afternoon sun can also cause glare problems which might be difficult to deal with if your views are towards the west. Adjustable louvres or canvas blinds could be a solution in this situation.

Pests at a barbecue can be extremely frustrating. It is possible to use the plants in your garden to help repel certain insects. Pyrethrum and mozzie blocker (leptospermum liversidgei), for example, have been shown to repel mosquitoes. Basil (ocimum spp.) or tansy (tanacetum vulgare) can also be grown in pots in a barbecue area to keep flies and mosquitoes away. The leaves of the tansy will also repel ants. Otherwise use mosquito coils, citronella candles or other repellents to keep bugs away from food and guests.

Accommodating your guests is the next big issue. If you have room for a large table where everyone can sit comfortably, then that’s ideal, but remember you need to provide enough clearance around it. Alternatively a more casual seating arrangement is great for outdoor entertaining. Benches, built-in seating, scattered deckchairs or a rug on the lawn are all fine for a more cocktail-style event or for when you have more guests than you can accommodate comfortably at one table. Arrange all food, napkins and cutlery on a side table, let people help themselves and find their own spots around your garden.

As we all know, a decent barbecue can go on all afternoon and into the evening. If you don’t want people hanging around forever, end your event with an obvious full-stop in the form of a dessert which will give the message that things are winding down. I always find a pavlova with fresh fruit is the ultimate summer barbecue dessert.

Finally make sure cleaning up is easy. The last thing you want to do is to spend hours clearing up messes. Provide recycling and general waste bins for your guests to dispose of their own bottles, paper plates and napkins and deal with the greasy barbecue straight away so it doesn’t sit and fester until your next event.

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See www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s328661.htm for pest-repelling plant information.

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