The best option for entertaining at home this summer is the garden. Not only is there another heatwave ahead but, while some of your friends and family will be vaccinated, others won’t be. So outdoor gatherings are still the best option to make sure everyone’s included.
But to make the most of your garden, you'll need more than a table and a few chairs. Here are some tech ideas to turn your garden into a perfect entertaining space.
Smart garden lights
When the sun goes down, the lights come on. And when it comes to smart outdoor lighting, there’s a wealth of choice. Depending upon whether you have outdoor sockets or existing lights that are controlled via a switch inside your home, there are different options.
For those with conveniently placed sockets, you could install the Philips Outdoor Lily Spotlight kit. It comprises three colour & white spotlights that have their own mains power supply.
They require a Hue bridge within range (around 10-20m depending on obstacles) and you can then control them from the Hue app or using Alexa or Google Assistant. Ground spikes make it easy to install the spots at ground level.
If the Hue lights are too expensive, a cheaper option is the Innr Outdoor Spot Light kit. It’s less than half the price but is very similar overall, with three LED colour and white lights, and ground spikes for easy placement.
All wiring is waterproof and you just need a Hue Bridge (or another Zigbee hub such as Innr’s own, or an Amazon Echo Show that has a smart hub built in) in order to control the lights.
If you don’t have any outdoor sockets, but do have outdoor mains-powered lights, you could look at replacing the bulbs with smart lights. Again, you could go for Zigbee-based bulbs from Philips or Innr, but if you’d rather stick with Wi-Fi – and therefore need no additional Zigbee bridge – then the options are almost endless.
We recommend LIFX, though, as these are the highest quality, brightest Wi-Fi bulbs out there. The latest addition to the range is the BR30 (currently available from Amazon for £51.72).
Like LIFX’s other colour bulbs, you can use the brilliant app for Android or iOS to choose what shade of colour or white you want and even get the lamp to turn on and off at certain times (such as dusk).
Better still, the BR30 is water resistant and has built-in infrared LEDs which will help any outdoor security cameras to ‘see’ at night when the regular LEDs are turned off.
If the BR30 is too large for your lamp, LIFX also sells the smaller, non-water-resistant A60 Nightvision (from £50.70 on Amazon), as well as the even smaller LIFX Mini (£34.48), both of which come in E27 and bayonet fittings.
Finally, don’t forget that you can combine outdoor lighting with security. It’s relatively simple to replace any outdoor mains-powered light with a security camera that also has floodlights. Those we recommend are the Ring Floodlight Cam (£161, refurbished from Amazon) and the similarly priced Netatmo Outdoor Camera (currently £212.49 from Amazon). The beauty of the Netatmo is that no subscription is required.
- Glow Warm gas patio heater - £179.99 (from Amazon)
- ElectriQ infrared patio heater - £129.97 (from Appliances Direct)
For cooler days, or to keep the party going after dark, patio heaters are a good investment. Let's face it – a British summer isn't always reliable and it'll give you the option of hosting outdoors well into autumn.
You can either buy electric or propane-fuelled outdoor heaters. The advantage of propane is that you don't need to run a cord outside and you can stand your heater wherever you like. But remember to budget for gas canisters.
A 13kg gas cylinder costs about £50 and will last you for 10 hours.
The mushroom-style Glow Warm 13kw gas patio heater is currently available from Amazon for £179.99, down from an RRP of £289.99. You can get it delivered in about a week but bear in mind that when it arrives, you'll need to assemble it yourself.
It's straightforward to do but can take an hour to put together, so prepare to build it in advance of your guests arriving. And if you buy this model, you'll also need a set of AA batteries for the ignition.
The Glow Warm heater is 224cm high and is a really powerful heater. It also has wheels, so you can easily move it around. It doesn't come with a cover, however, so you'll probably need a spot in the garage to store it in winter.
Electric heaters require less organisation in advance. You just plug them in and you're ready to go. But bear in mind that where you can place them depends on where your sockets are and that an extension lead can be a trip hazard.
If you're going to go with an electric heater, we'd suggest you invest in a weatherproof extension lead (15m, £26.99) at the same time.
The ElectriQ mushroom-style infrared patio heater (£129.97, Appliances Direct) stands 205cm tall and has three settings: 900W, 1200W and 2100W. It will heat up a radius of 15sqm, so it can keep a whole group warm.
- Steel fire pit - from £26.99 (from Wayfair)
- Hoole cast iron fire pit bowl - from £69.99 (from Gardenesque)
A fire pit might be pushing the definition of tech, as it was cutting edge about 2 million years ago – but as Love Island fans will know, a it makes an excellent focal point for an outdoor gathering. Even better, you don't have to invest a lot of cash to get one.
Wayfair is selling a simple steel fire pit for only £26.99. It measures 37cm x 54cm x 51cm but if you'd like something a little larger, you can get the same design but scaled up a bit for £33.99 (42cm x 64cm x 56cm).
If you have a little more to spend, the Hoole cast iron fire pit bowl comes in three sizes: 55cm (£69.99), 75cm (£139.99) and 100cm (£259.99).
If you're bored of barbecues, a pizza oven is a great outdoor cooking alternative. And buying one may be more affordable than you think.
Ooni is one of the most trusted names in the business and its 12 inch wood pellet pizza oven is available to buy for £249. It's portable, although at 22lbs, you won't be sticking it in your bag. It's quick to cook on: it can reach a temperature of 500°C in 15 minutes, and, after that, it can cook a pizza in about one minute.
Wood pellets cost £18 for a 10kg bag and are widely available. But if you want something a bit more versatile, the Ooni Karu 12 inch multi-fuel pizza oven (£299) can be used with wood or charcoal. And, if you buy the compatible gas burner (£64.99), you can convert it to gas.
Waterproof Bluetooth speakers
It's not a party without music, and your best option for garden events is a portable Bluetooth speaker. You can place it wherever you need to, and you'll have the option of letting your guest play music from their phones.
If you plan to use it outside, something rugged and splash-proof is the best option. Our pick would be the EarFun Uboom (£59.99, Amazon). It's compact, gives 360-degree sound and has good battery life. And if you buy a pair, you can get stereo sound. You can find out more about it in our review.
If you want something even less expensive in case it gets soaked or damaged, we'd suggest going for the Creative Muvo Play, which you can pick up for just £29.99. It's not as powerful or bassy as other options, but it is great value for its price point. You can find out what it's like to use in our review.
You can see all of our top picks for cheap Bluetooth speakers in our round-up of the best we've tested.
Want to have people over for a movie night? It's more fun under the stars. Buy a projector and you can screen films and watch sporting events in your garden.
You can buy a screen to project your film on for as little as £19.99 but you can also make do by hanging up a white sheet between trees or against the side of a building.
Some projectors, such as the HOMPOW mini projector (£89.99, Amazon) even come with a screen. The HOMPOW has a brightness of 6000 Lux and a 16:9 aspect ratio and is a decent budget-friendly option.
If you want to invest in a high-quality device, we'd recommend the Optoma UHD300X (£954.23, Amazon). It's a 4K projector with great colours and sharp detail. You can find out more about it in our review.
Inflatable pools and hot tubs
If you have kids coming over to play, or you want a cool place to relax on on boiling days, an inflatable pool is a garden must-have.
Inflatable pools are now quite affordable but tearing and puncturing is a problem, especially with thinner, cheaper products. It's better to spend a bit more at the start and have something that'll last. The Duerer inflatable pool is still reasonably priced (£85.99) but is twice as thick as most on the market and comes with a repair patch. It's 300 x 182 x 56cm.
Still, we'd advise that before you set it up, you check the ground underneath and remove anything the liner might catch on, like sharp stones and twigs. You'll also want to invest in an electric pump to inflate it, but these can be bought for as little as £11.88.
If you fancy something a bit more grown-up, an inflatable spa might be a better purchase. Again, punctures can be a problem, so try to smooth the area where you're setting it up. Even better, you can buy a protective mat (£44, B&Q) to stand it on, which will also help to insulate it.
Spas are a bit more expensive than inflatable pools but thanks to their heating system, you can use them all year round. The Lay-Z Spa St Lucia (£310, B&Q) can fit three adults comfortably. It has rapid heating, a timer and an air jet massage system. It even has cup holders. It comes with an insulating lid.