This summer, it’s all about relishing the little pleasures that the season brings, whether that’s making the most of the sunshine in the garden or putting little touches into that much-anticipated family gathering to make it extra special. So, as part of QVC’s Joyful Living campaign, we got chatting to our Joyful Living experts, Anouska Lancaster, Amy Burrows and Gill Gauntlett, to hear their inspiring ways to enjoy our outdoor spaces to the fullest and create the perfect al fresco area, whatever you have to work with!
As the sun rises
Summer mornings outside are one of the greatest joys of the season, and if you’re an early riser, Amy Burrows recommends that there’s no better time or place to take a few moments for yourself. ‘One of my cherished things to do in the summer is take a coffee outside first thing in the morning, before the hustle and bustle of the day kicks in. I leave my phone indoors and just take fifteen minutes to sit quietly by myself, with a frothy coffee in my favourite glass mug. I’m convinced that all my best ideas, thoughts and dreams come to me in those morning moments, while the birds are chirping and before the emails have started!’
Taking some ‘me time’ in the garden or on the balcony doesn’t have to be reserved for the occasional lazy afternoon. In fact, a bright summer morning can be the perfect opportunity to have some peace and quiet to yourself, especially if you lead a busy life. Anouska Lancaster agrees. ‘When I’m home, I’m always working, doing jobs around the house, or driving the children around. That’s why it’s so important to create a relaxing space outdoors – somewhere where you can switch off and, on sunny days, pretend you’re on holiday! I have recently bought a swing chair for the garden. Not only does it look stylish, but it’s a great place for curling up with a book when I get five minutes to myself.’
Reading in the morning can be an ideal way to settle your mind and do something just for you, and when it comes to enjoying a book outdoors, Gill Gauntlett also has the reading bug! ‘I love everything about the summer and being outside – I read all the time and love being in my hanging swing chair with my book.’
It’s not hard to see why both Gill and Anouska love their swing chairs as a reading nook. The movement allows you to relax into a rhythm that’s comfortable for you, so you can really feel transported to another world on those gorgeous summer mornings before the weather gets too hot.
The al fresco lunch
Al fresco lunches call for sharing platters, casual gatherings with loved ones and a relaxed, help-yourself vibe. Although, just because they’re a laid-back affair doesn’t mean they can’t be special too!
A great way to up your al fresco game is to give your usual go-to lunch a bit of revamp by trying a new recipe or cooking something a bit different. Gill suggests straying away from your usual barbecue meat and going for something a little lighter to shake things up. ‘My favourite summer food is fish on the barbecue, served with a delicious salad that has everything thrown in, including fresh mozzarella, strawberries and a balsamic dressing. You also can’t go wrong with new potatoes and melted butter!’
It’s a fabulous summery twist on the classic barbecue, but if you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to sizzling outside, Anouska tells us that her favourite summer dishes ‘revolve around burgers, sausages and meaty kababs on the Great British barbecue’. Like Gill, she goes for ‘fresh, colourful salads and pasta salads’ as an essential to accompany them, so if you fancy making one with a bit of an upgrade, why not try making our delicious orzo salad?
It’s packed full of mouth-watering orzo (a rice-shaped Italian pasta – you can find it in plenty of your usual supermarkets), alongside plump cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, delicious beans and crunchy cucumber, all topped with a tasty dressing which will definitely have your loved ones wanting seconds!
Growing your own
A great way to make the most of eating al fresco is to grow your own herbs to add extra flavour to your meals. Even if you’re not exactly green fingered, you can easily grow some of your favourites to tear off fresh when you want them.
‘I must admit, I am a terrible gardener,’ Anouska laughs, ‘but the one thing I manage to grow in my garden is mint, as it’s hardy and requires little maintenance. Having fresh mint in the garden is great, as I love fresh mint tea and I’m also partial to a cheeky mojito on a Friday night!’
If you’re a bit of a gardener, on the other hand, you can go all-out transforming your outdoor space into a herb garden. Gill loves to grow sage, mint, rosemary and thyme, and tells us that ‘along with using it in cooking, I also put the rosemary and mint in drinks!’
Setting the table
To make an al fresco lunch or dinner extra special, it’s the little things that go a long way.
‘Setting the table when friends or family are coming over is genuinely one of my favourite things to do,’ Amy says, ‘I think it’s such a simple way to show people that you care; just taking that little bit of extra time to add finishing touches that people aren’t expecting. Some of my go-to ideas for this are personalised place settings, placing a scratch card on the plates, pretty trails of fairy lights, fresh flowers, hurricane jar candles (which stay alight even when it’s windy!) and hiding little jokes or dares underneath the coasters to inject some mischief into the proceedings!’
It’s all about giving your guests that little touch of excitement and making the most of them being there, especially now we’re all allowed to meet up again. Incorporating the natural elements of the garden into your table setting can be a beautiful way to remind your loved ones of the joys of eating al fresco, and Gill offers some easy but very effective ways to do it. ‘I really love to eat outside and whether it’s just me and my husband or friends and family, I always try to make it special. Adding fruit or edible flowers to ice cube trays to serve in drinks is a great way to bring colour to the table, and as I always use napkins, I love to add a cut flower to them.’
If the tableware itself is looking a bit tired, Anouska recommends investing in some special serving bowls to add to the festivities. ‘I love to entertain and always use my Culinary Concepts pieces for serving up my dishes to add ‘wow factor’ to any event that I host. Culinary Concepts pieces are such great talking points and always elevate home entertaining to another level.’
When the sun goes down
It doesn’t get more blissful than an intimate gathering with close friends and family on a hot summer evening, but it’s important to get your outdoor space set up so you don’t have to retire indoors prematurely if the temperature takes a turn!
Amy stresses that the key thing is comfort for your guests, especially when it comes to staying cosy. ‘The number one thing for me is warmth – if I’m cold, I know I just won’t stay outside! There are so many amazing options now for keeping your al fresco space warm and my personal favourite is a fire pit – not only does it give off heat but there’s something mesmerising about watching the flickering of the flames. The glow of the logs creates ambiance, the crackling is comforting and somehow just looking at a fire makes me feel instantly warmer! Suddenly you can enjoy the garden for longer, because summer evenings spent outdoors are immediately extended when you feel warm and cosy enough to settle in for the night.’
There’ll be no going home early for your loved ones! Anouska agrees that a fire pit makes a fabulous focal point for your outdoor space as it gets dusky. ‘We have recently invested in one, and we love nothing more than sitting around as a family, toasting marshmallows under blankets as the sun goes down. I always have a collection of throws in baskets to hand as the evening cools off.’
Rugs that can be used indoors and outside are also a fabulous way to create that cosy feel. ‘For me, they’re a brilliant and very affordable way to create a room outside,’ Anouska says, ‘An indoor/outdoor rug will instantly anchor an area of a garden that’s soft underfoot to create the illusion that the garden is an extension of the home, flowing outside seamlessly into the garden.’ They’re also great for hiding a multitude of sins if your patio is looking a bit grubby!
Another key element to any evening outdoors is lighting, and Gill recommends ‘just enough light to create ambience’, either by using lanterns or fairy lights, and Anouska agrees. ‘For me, creating a magical evening outside is all about the lighting. You could place lanterns around for a soft and welcoming glow, or even hang lights in the trees to create a festival feel.’
‘Fairy lights are always a favourite and they instantly create a sense of sparkle, which looks whimsical and pretty,’ Amy says, ‘Personally, I would always opt for the warm white options. Warm white casts more of a candlelight glow; they’re slightly softer, less stark, easy on the eye and more sophisticated. I also stick to the ‘still’ settings, as opposed to flashing or flickering lights, which can end up becoming an unwanted distraction!’
There are so many ways to use them, but Anouska encourages us to get creative when it comes to those versatile twinkly lights we love so much. She suggests pinning them along fencing for a subtle sparkle that lines the garden or coiling them up in jars on the table for a pretty centrepiece. The choices are endless!
And of course, don’t forget to cue the music – preferably with a good speaker to get everyone in the swing of summer! ‘Cocktails and music are a partnership made in heaven,’ Anouska says, ‘And the combination is a winning formula when it comes to relaxing and enjoying your garden space.’
Ready to enjoy all that al fresco has to offer? If you’re feeling inspired, why not check out our summery Joyful Living edit, packed with more ideas to help you enjoy your home and garden this season?