Garden Design: Dining Outdoors

Award-winning landscape designer Alexandra Noble shares her expertise on how to design the perfect outdoor dining space.

The simple act of enjoying an alfresco meal with friends and family can be a cherished occasion if the surroundings are planned well. London-based designer Alexandra Noble believes we should be making better use of our external spaces and has transformed gardens across London and the rest of the UK into functional yet beautiful outdoor living areas. She shared her top tips and expertise on designing the perfect space for dining outdoors with us. 

Image Credit: Alexandra Noble

Before becoming a garden designer Alexandra studied architecture; a training which is reflected through her precise and considered landscape designs. After university, Alexandra spent time working for landscape architecture practices Grant Associates and Scape Design Associates. She subsequently worked at the studio of Luciano Giubbilei and afterwards freelanced for designer Jo Thompson before establishing her own landscape firm.

Image credit: ANNA SKORUPSKA for Alexandra Noble

‘Many clients wish to use their garden as an extension of their interior space therefore functionality is high on the agenda,’ explains Alexandra. ‘Often I’ll start with a garden either devoid of plants with tired hard landscaping or a space that is very overgrown. It’s possible to create a haven that feels akin to an outdoor room by combining minimalist hard landscaping, relaxed planting and trees or a pergola for height’

Finding the perfect location

The positioning of your outdoor dining space should depend on your preference when it comes to light and shade. As the sun moves around your garden, the light in each area will change significantly, so this should be the first thing to consider. 

‘I’ll assess where the sun is coming from as this will influence the eventual position for the outdoor dining. It is imperative to find out if the client imagines the space flowing directly from the kitchen, or if they would rather feel tucked away from the main house at the other end of the garden,’ explains Alexandra. ‘From a practical sense, it’s ideal to be near the kitchen, so you can wheel bar carts outside for serving drinks and keep a close eye on food cooking.’

Creating a defined zone

A successful garden design will often be composed of clearly defined zones. This is a concept we frequently explore in our articles, as it’s also essential when styling an open-plan orangery or garden room.

‘I love to use hard landscaping as a means of defining separate zones in a garden,’ says Alexandra. ‘A brick coursing or paving pattern running in an alternate direction than elsewhere works well, or you could also think about using a change in stone colour to help identify an area. I’ll often take hard landscaping cues from the architecture of the property when selecting colours and textures; this can help achieve a unified aesthetic’ 

Image credit: Alexandra Noble

Playing with planting schemes

‘When it comes to dining areas, planters filled with beautiful flowers arranged around the space can be a stylish focal point’ says Alexandra. ‘Introducing a selection of spring, summer and autumn bulbs amongst evergreen shrubs will provide year-round interest. Recently I’ve introduced evergreen agapanthus into some patio planting schemes as these do well in containers and their structural blooms are breath-taking.’

Image credit: Alexandra Noble

‘When planning a garden, I try to design for all the senses. Scent is naturally a significant focus; it’s the equivalent of having scented candles or reed diffusers around the house! In my mind, nothing beats sitting in the garden with a glass of wine whilst enjoying the fragrance of jasmine, or even a nearby rose. I’d recommend choosing a repeat flowering rose; Princess Alexandra of Kent and Olivia Rose Austin both smell heavenly. The David Austin Roses website has a great search filter which can be invaluable for selecting a rose with the colour and scent strength to suit your garden.’ 

‘Herbs are also an ideal addition to planting beds near dining areas as they can be picked fresh and added straight to dishes. Also consider edible flowers which can be added to puddings, salads and cocktails; a current favourite is Borage whose flowers taste of cucumber and have the added bonus of being adored by honeybees.’

Year-round functionality

Due to the temperamental British weather, it’s a good move to consider how the season of usage for an outdoor dining area can be extended. ‘Invest in good quality outdoor heating for colder evenings, as well as pergolas for shade. Feature walls, loggias and hedgerows can offer shelter on blustery days, and lighting can add atmosphere in the evenings.’

‘When you are researching furniture options, be sure to consider whether you see yourself regularly hosting dinner parties or if a smaller set would suffice for usage by immediate family. Ensure adequate spacing is allowed around dining furniture so it is easily accessible and keep it in proportion to the space you have designated.’

‘I have recently discovered the Better Things website which has a well curated selection of furniture as well as garden equipment and accessories In addition to antique markets, such as Kempton Park, the outdoor furniture section of 1stdibs website is a further source of unique and rare vintage pieces.’ 

Lastly, consider storage for outdoor fabrics and sofa cushions; while the textiles should be weather-proof, I find that all last considerably longer if they are stored away during the winter.’

Embrace creativity with tablescaping

An outdoor dining space allows ample opportunity for creativity and personalisation. Tablescaping is a flexible way to update or temporarily change the vibe of the garden without committing to any construction work. Search for ‘tablescaping ideas’ on Pinterest or follow @tablescapestyle and @cabanamagazine on Instagram for inspiration. 


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Al Fresco tablescape inspiration 🌿 . . Courtesy of the marvellous @mrsalice See her page for more beautiful tablescapes 🌼

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‘Play with different coloured glassware, placemats and consider a tablecloth to complement interior textiles. A vase of flowers cut from the garden coupled with longer branches of trees or shrubs can make for an elegant centrepiece.’ 

Established in 2017, Alexandra Noble Design specialises in delivering beautiful, high-end residential gardens and landscapes. Alexandra’s gardens are typified by their sensitivity to the surrounding environment, with colourful planting and texture. 

A bespoke orangery or garden room creates the perfect connection between your property and your outside space. Your garden becomes an extension of your home, turning into the perfect place for entertaining guests outdoors when the weather permits. As the weather begins to cool, you can still enjoy your beautiful garden from the comfort of a warm and opulent dining area inside the home. Contact us today to discuss our designs in more detail or book an appointment to visit one of our showrooms.