2. Gardening

Alfresco Garden Design – Ideas And Plants For Your Outdoor Dining

If you have a garden, then you must have heard the term alfresco garden before. It’s like a buzzword that homeowners like to throw around a lot. But contrary to what you might think, you don’t have to be living in an upscale part of the city or own an expensive property in the suburbs to enjoy an alfresco garden.

Alfresco Garden

Anybody with a garden or a reasonably sized-yard can create their own alfresco garden and utilize whatever space they have. Even a small garden space will still work out well if you are creative enough. Then you can invite your friends and have a nice get-together. But what exactly is an alfresco garden? And how do you go about designing one? Do you need special furniture? And how about plants? Which plants look best in alfresco gardens? Read on to get answers to these questions and find creative tips to get you started.

What is an Alfresco Garden?

The word alfresco garden comes from the words ‘al fresco’, which means outdoor dining or having a meal in the fresh air. The origins of that word come from the Italian word fresco, which means fresh and used to refer to a style of painting done on fresh plaster. But in the modern context, an alfresco garden simply means dining outdoors.

That might seem like a simple idea with a fancy name. And that’s exactly what it is. You can spread a blanket on the garden floor and place a few cinder blocks at the corners to weigh it down, then enjoy a good meal in the fresh air picnic-style. That’s still an alfresco garden, even a very basic one.

As you might expect, your friends and family won’t settle for something this modest and would insist that you add some style and personal flair to the whole experience. And that’s where the individual taste comes in. If you browse alfresco gardens, chances are you will not find two gardens looking the same.

Even if inspired by the same design or style, your personal touch will make your alfresco garden unique. And it doesn’t really take much to turn your front yard, backyard, or smallish garden into a stylish spot where the blandest meal turns into a sumptuous feast. All you have to do is start with some simple design, throw in a few air plants for good measure, et voila, you have an alfresco garden that is the envy of the whole neighborhood.

Alfresco Garden Design Ideas

Alfresco Garden

So let’s start with some design ideas that vary in complexity. The best part about creating an alfresco garden is that you can combine a few styles or design ideas to come up with something totally unique and totally yours. And don’t worry about making mistakes. There’s no right and wrong when it comes to being creative.

Safari Style

We all love a safari and the calming effect of the open air. So why not bring that same style to your alfresco garden? All you need to achieve the same effect are a few rattan chairs and a dark wood table. Scatter some earthy-toned cushions on the chairs for comfort. If you want to go all out, you can add an outdoor shower area just for show.

Go Basic

If you don’t have the time nor inclination to create an elaborate alfresco garden, a basic one will do just fine. For this designing idea, you’ll need a few deck chairs which are always comfy as much as they are casual. Choose the printed ones that go with the plants in the garden. Arrange the deckchairs in a circle if you like and place a table or even a firepit in the middle. You wouldn’t want your friends to feel chilly when it gets dark.

Rustic is Best

The countryside still carries undertones of simpler times and being close to nature. So why not embrace the rustic style and take your friends back in time with your authentic alfresco garden? Again you don’t have to go all out with this one. A large dining table, preferably made of oak or some other hardwood, will do. Keep the original wood tones and designs for more authenticity. Add a few antique-looking vases and some matching chairs to complete the setting. Fill the vases with wildflowers and finish up with a charcoal grill.

Coastal Chic

If you love the beach as much as I do, you’d probably wish you could live by the sea all year round. That’s actually easy to achieve and at a fraction of the cost of a beachfront property with your very own coastal-style alfresco garden. To create that beachside atmosphere, you’ll need to focus on the color choices. Pick items of furniture with bright orange as the dominating color. Storm lanterns, striped towels, and a bare wood table, preferably one worn out by the elements, are all good ideas to get you started.

Forest Fun

This design concept would require that you have some tall trees growing in your garden. Pines, oaks, or ash trees will do. Pick a spot where the trees act as the backdrop and get to work. Instead of chairs, you could go with long benches. Cover the table with matching linens that don’t look out of place and add two potted ferns to balance the whole scene.

Air Plants for your Alfresco Garden

Alfresco Garden

As you might have noticed, plants feature prominently in most alfresco gardens. There’s no surprise there. It’s why it’s called an alfresco garden, not an alfresco open area. Vegetation in all of its forms will always be the backbone of your garden. So when you decide to design your alfresco garden, don’t forget to include plants to complete the picture.

For the most part, you’d be better off going with air plants as opposed to soil plants. Think of the space limitations, the messy soil-filled pots, and the narrow corners that could otherwise be utilized in a better way. That’s where air plants come in as a better and more elegant solution. Here are some plant families to consider as accessories when creating your alfresco garden.


Ferns are vines that grow and climb up the trunks of trees, walls, and fences of all sizes. They create a great landscape if you’re going for a forest-style alfresco garden. You can use them in any creative design you like. Plant them near wooden posts or alongside the patio and let them paint the background lush green. Ferns come in different species, sizes, and shapes. But overall, they are easy to grow and maintain. And since they grow vertically, they won’t take up much of your garden real estate.


Every gardener has had a brush with orchids at some point. Orchids don’t need soil to grow and thrive. They just attach their bulbous roots to a growing tree, a moss-covered rock, or even a fallen tree trunk. And you can use that to your advantage. Whether you’re creating an outdoor lounge as the theme for your alfresco garden or you want to go all green, orchids planted firmly on a vertical surface can be the source for many creative or outlandish designs.


Another epiphytic plant that grows practically anywhere that it can find organic debris to break down and feed on. Plant a few bromeliads in the background of your rustic-themed alfresco garden to cut down your designing work by half. You can also grow them in hanging baskets where they will enrich any theme you like. Even a coastal design will benefit from these colorful and cheery flowering perennials.


Speaking of hanging baskets. Do you know what else looks good with flowers overflowing the sides of a basket? Hoyas, with their aerial roots and clusters of exotic flowers, are a great addition to any landscape. Rustic or urban, your alfresco garden will look more authentic when you have a bunch of hoyas casting their delightful shadow on the dining area. And since they are practically immune to common pests and diseases, they won’t give you trouble in terms of care and maintenance.


Tillandsias are distant cousins of bromeliads, but many people prefer them because they are easy to grow and are not particular about their surroundings. All you have to do is plug this plant on a wooden post in your garden and watch it grow and flower. It also acts as a good companion to orchids and has the ability to grow in a vertical position.

Tips for Designing the Ultimate Alfresco Garden

Remember that your alfresco garden design is not set in stone. All the concepts and ideas you have read so far are just ideas. They are not set in stone. You can change your mind any time or mix and match some design ideas from different themes. In a way, the alfresco garden always remains fluid and evolving, just like the plants you grow in or around it. Here are a few tips to guide you along the way.

  • Try to stick to natural wood as much as possible. An untreated oak table will look great in any theme or setting. Avoid painted pieces of furniture or those made of synthetic material.
  • Bamboo furniture is versatile and open for interpretation as far as designing an alfresco garden is concerned. Use bamboo for a rustic theme, a beachside design, or a forest concept. It doesn’t go out of style, and the older it gets, the better.
  • An outdoor kitchen can become the focal point in your alfresco garden. Cook your meals and serve them to your friends hot out of the oven.
  • Turn your deck into a place of harmony and peace. You could go with variations of white and pick pieces of furniture that have austere designs but still comfortable. A minimal look fits this theme well, and you can add a few potted lilies or jasmines for their fragrance.
  • Colors and textures are the cornerstones of every design or theme. So always strive to place together elements that match in color or texture or both.

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