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Every garden needs a pretty, comfortable spot where the backyard barbecue team (and the cheering section) can concentrate on taking it easy outside. When you surround your grilling area with pots of flowers and herbs, and furnish it with a couple of chairs, you’re doing what professional garden designers do — creating an inviting outdoor room.
“You don’t have to sink a whole lot of money into doing it,” says Dean Hill, a landscape designer and Chicago Bears fan whose own backyard grilling area in Indianapolis is furnished with, among other things, a pair of stadium seats salvaged from Soldier Field in Chicago.
“Everyone has a kitchen, and the kitchen reflects their personality,” Hill says. “I try to infuse a little personality outside, too.”
Your own idea of cozy garden furnishings might not include orange stadium seats — but the possibilities are otherwise endless. The essentials, besides the grill, are a small table, a chair for the grill-chef, and an extra chair for a friend. The space should be truly relaxing, says J’Nell Bryson, a landscape architect in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Bryson’s background includes a culinary arts degree from the California Culinary Academy and an internship with the renowned chef Alice Waters in Berkeley. Cooking and gardening go hand in hand, she says, so she likes the idea of pots of herbs, tomatoes, salad greens, or even a whole kitchen garden near the grilling area. Bryson recommends using large flowerpots to help define the space. Some of these could even be planted with evergreen shrubs, which shelter the grilling area from the wind and make it an even more intimate and cozy space.
If you don’t have a spot devoted entirely to grilling, that’s all right, too. In my garden, I roll the grill out of the garage and set up my grilling station with chairs, tables, and citronella candles, and then, for special occasions, place a few pretty plants in pots strategically around the area. Old wooden boxes serve both as tables and as plant stands, and fireflies usually start to flash at about the time the grill is heating up. Every weekend, the grill garden looks a little different: I might move from one part of the yard to another, or incorporate different plants in the design.
If you use a charcoal grill, try building a fire with newspaper and kindling, instead of lighter fluid. Hardwood charcoal starts in minutes on a fire laid with kindling — you will not need lighter fluid or even a chimney-style fire starter. Split the kindling ahead of time store it in a bucket near the grill.
The vegetable garden is definitely a part of my grill garden, even though it is around on the other side of the house. This year, I’m experimenting with grilling all sorts of garden-fresh vegetables. Radicchio, kale, and peppers are some of the best, so far, and I’ll be grilling tomatoes soon. My friend Dan the Pig Man, a pitmaster in York, South Carolina, has recommended a few recipes — including grilled corn with the shucks pulled back, roasted just until the corn starts to show a few brown spots. Keep it simple and take your time, Dan advised me. I think that applies to the whole concept of summer in my grill garden.