Dining Out: How To Create An Outdoor Space You’ll Want To Eat In At Every Meal

Two landscape designers share their secrets to creating outdoor spaces you’ll want to linger in.

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Create Outdoor Space You Loe feature image of a backyard with couches and string lights

Photo: Design by MWLA Landscape Architects, photography by Tom Arban.

To turn your outdoor space into a spot you’ll want to spend all your time, think about it as though it were a family room. What textures, colours, lighting and layout make you happy and relaxed? When Caitlin Black of the Vancouver-based landscape design company Aloe Designs starts creating a backyard layout, she asks clients: “How do we appeal to your senses so that you’re sitting in a space that feels totally natural and comfortable?”

Start from the ground up

In shoe-optional weather, what’s underfoot is crucial to creating a space that feels right. Grass, pebbles, paving stones, decking—each creates a different experience. Try combining contrasting elements, such as soft moss alongside crunchy gravel or colourful wild grasses next to stone pavers. And consider how that “flooring” will wear over time; for example, cedar decking is better in a sunny spot, instead of in the shade.

Think long-term

Quality furniture is worth the investment. “I like wood because it’s softer and warmer on the body than glass or metal,” says Black. She’s partial to wood, like teak, which can last when cared for properly. “But be practical about how you store your table come winter—invest in a cover,” she says.

Pick a colour scheme


Create a bold effect by planting flowers of similar hues throughout the garden. Keep that look consistent by buying patio furniture that complements the mood of your garden, whether it’s pops of colour or soothing neutrals.

Go with the flow

If you don’t have enough space for a full dining set, create an area where you can both lounge and dine. For small balconies, Martin Wade, a partner at MWLA Landscape Architects in Toronto, recommends pieces that complement your interior furniture so you can bring them inside for larger dinner parties, and vice versa.

Extend the night

Uplighting a tree or shrub and adding pathway lights along a walkway are great for added safety and also create fantastic shadows, casting a magical mood worth staying up for. If you don’t have a power source, movable and rechargeable lanterns are a good option. “Think about what you want to highlight,” says Black. Try a lamp by a chair or fairy lights above a lounge, and add layers of lighting.

Control the guest list

Keep mosquitoes and flies at bay by plugging in a fan during mealtimes. In addition to cooling you down, a brisk breeze can deter bugs because they’re simply not strong enough to fly in the wind. And be sure to wipe outdoor tables after eating and mop up spills so the food doesn’t attract ants, flies or wasps.