There it is, in your garden, the big beast, sometimes hulking under a shroud. You probably used it on the recent warm days. It is the barbecue, also known as a grill, a modern-day essential. What is a gardener to do to make it fit in?
The best approach is to accept it as we do with our kitchen appliances. We don’t try to cover up our stoves and refrigerators, and there is no need to hide a barbecue; we want them handy for cooking.
But we do arrange our kitchen appliances so that they fit in to the workflow, and we can do the same for a barbecue: design it into the garden where it will fulfill its function of cooking food outside.
The first decision is the type of grill. The standard for years was the round charcoal grill, but now many people choose a gas grill with a self-contained propane tank. Available in a range of sizes and with a wide selection of features (including side burners for stovetop cooking), they can be movable or built-in.
Another decision is location. If you have a deck or patio adjacent to the house, the best place is close to the indoor kitchen and near a door on a patio or deck. Be aware of prevailing wind so the cooking smoke does not blow into the house through a window or door.
An outdoor kitchen area
If you have more space, you may choose to make a separate outdoor kitchen and entertainment area removed from the house. The trend in outdoor kitchens is part of the general move toward outdoor rooms. The aim is to re-create the comfort and style that we find inside the home and transport that into our outdoor living spaces. Not just a space for cooking outdoors, the emphasis is on creating a gathering space.
Just as an indoor kitchen can be the center of family and friends when designed to accommodate a crowd or be part of the family room, we can create the same feeling in the outdoor kitchen by providing space for seating, dining and activities nearby.
An outdoor kitchen can be as elaborate as the budget allows. Built-in grills, granite countertops, sinks and cabinets can cost many thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. You will want to enlist an experienced contractor for a large installation.
For designing on a budget, simplify your plans. Place a table adjacent to the grill for holding food that will go on the grill and for a place to serve food after cooking. Add some benches and a table and chairs and your outdoor entertaining area will take shape.
In any outdoor cooking area, you may want to consider shelter from the rain, especially if you like to grill year-round. An overhead arbor with a clear, plastic cover or a solid, shingled roof, perhaps with a skylight, will protect the cook and the barbecue.
Leave open spaces in the side of the structure so smoke can escape.
Think about lighting in the cooking area. Lights can attach to the house if the barbecue is adjacent, or tuck them into an arbor or on poles to allow light to shine onto the grill surface. Path lights placed near ground level can illuminate the paving underfoot.
Candles in windproof containers may be all you need for table lighting.
Consider screening your outdoor kitchen for privacy from neighbors or for protection from wind. The screening can be a solid fence or a hedge of plants.
Don’t forget the herbs
Your barbecue can create a center of activity in your garden, but don’t forget about what your garden can do for your barbecue.
Grow rosemary and other fresh herbs nearby to provide flavor to food you are grilling. Grow your own banana leaves for making packets of meat or vegetables for the grill. Plant edible flowers, such as nasturtiums and chive blossoms, and add them to salads.
If you don’t have room for planting in the ground, grow edible plants in containers on the patio or deck.
Let’s hope for a long, hot summer of cooking outdoors — we deserve it after out rainy winter.
PHIL WOOD is the owner of Phil Wood Garden Design in Seattle.