Host the Perfect Garden Party

garden party

I am so thrilled to see the many flowers budding out on the farm! Yellows dominate the landscape in daffodils and forsythia, but there are also blue and pink hyacinths, white blossoms on pear and plum trees, and deep pinkish purples on the red buds!

Here in the south, spring seems to come upon us all of a sudden. One day,we’re looking at bare branches and gray skies, and the next, buds and blossoms are everywhere.  The abundance of flowering trees, azaleas, wisteria and daffodils come on suddenly but last just a few short weeks.  Between fluctuating temperatures, showers of rain, the possibility of frost, and the onset of March winds, it can be hard to predict a perfect day for a garden party.

irisThe one thing you cannot do is wait – because just as suddenly as they came, blossoms will give way to leaves, and the garden will turn a still beautiful but much less colorful green. Putting together a party on the spur of the moment is essential to making the most of the gorgeous spring flowers!

Here at Twin Oaks, we try to enjoy spring outdoors as much as we can, and over the years, we’ve come up with a few hard and fast rules that guide us in planning an outdoor event.

1.     Your yard does NOT have to be perfect.

table for 8I think this may be the biggest hurdle that stops many people from taking the plunge and throwing the party they dreamed of.

If you are inspired to throw a garden party, chances are that you’ve already noticed a spectacular display of color in your yard. Is it the view from the front porch? A garden spot just outside your kitchen window? It isn’t necessary to have a perfectly landscaped yard to find a spot worth sharing in the springtime!

2.     Guests need to be comfortable in the outdoor setting.

garden nookYou want your guests to be as comfortable as possible – after all, if they are hot, sticky, blinded by the glare or swatting mosquitoes, the experience may be memorable for the wrong reasons! Plan for the conditions you expect to work with, and consider these elements before finalizing your plans.

What will the temperature be? (Will a 60 degree brunch be comfortable for a guest list that includes your grandmother? Will the temperature have crept into the low 90s by late afternoon tea?) Again, these aren’t insurmountable conditions – you just want to provide guests with what they need to be comfortable. (A pretty throw for an older guest to place across her lap; or a gentle fan to hasten the breeze on a very hot day.)

shadowsWhere will the sun and shadows be? This one is trickier, because light shifts quickly during spring and fall months. Just a few days before your event, step into the spot where you plan to serve your guests. If you notice too much glare, you might re-position your table, set up a small tent, or even place a trellis in a large flower-pot with a trailing vine to provide a little shade where needed.

Will it likely be dewy and wet? This is the easiest problem to fix – just don’t overlook it on the big day! When you are outdoors, dew can be as much of a consideration as yesterday’s rainstorm. Use towels to completely wipe down tables and chairs where guests are likely to sit or place their belongings.

3.     An attractive path builds anticipation for exciting things to come.

garden entranceFocus attention where it should be – on your beautifully decorated table in its garden inspired setting. Are there parts of the yard you’d rather your guests not see? Try these tricks to give guests the best view and minimize distractions:

  • Let guests know where to go from the moment they step out of their cars. A simple sign attached to a lamppost and tied with balloons can announce to your guests that they should follow the garden path around the side of the house to the back door.
  • Place a welcoming wreath on the front door, or let door stand open, to lead guests directly through the house and out the back door, if this is the prettiest option.
  • Channel guests on the path of your choice by lining the route with white streamers attached to trees or inexpensive landscape stakes. These will keep the focus on your path, and can be embellished by random placement of a few potted plants or garden lanterns along the way.
  • If your destination is in the middle of a large but plain landscape, use large pots of flowers or shrubs, a tent, or even hay bales, to bring the eye to the desired view.

A final consideration – always remember to let your guests know where the restroom is. Before the meal, you can invite them to wash their hands, if needed – this is an easy way to let your guests know where to find the restroom without having to ask! Since you’ve invited your guests to that area of your home, be sure to have clean hand towels, plenty of soap (and toilet paper!) and perhaps a scented candle to give the room a fresh, clean look.

4.     Pretty furniture is all about the finishing touches.

garden furnitureFurniture isn’t really hard to fix – if you have serviceable but dingy outdoor furniture, you can cover the fabric and spray paint the metal or plastic for a quick redo, you can add brightly covered cushions and pillow; or you can drape furniture with soft throws.

You might also consider using your indoor furniture, if your party is in close proximity to the house.

As long as the seating (and the surfaces used for serving) are clean, dry and sturdy, you can “decorate” your outside space with any pieces you like.

5.     Your beautifully decorated table will steal the show.

The fun stuff! The table will likely be the showpiece of your party, even though your garden setting will be the talk of the day. Consider these points to make it extra special:

tableA pretty tablecloth usually helps “anchor” the table, and keeps guests attention focused where you want it – on the food, as opposed to under the table. Solid colors, especially cream, white, or pale pink, are particularly good backdrops in a garden setting.

Consider using china or glass dishes to lend a more luxurious feel to your party. You can keep a cooler filled with warm soapy water nearby, and slip used dishes here until time for cleanup afterwards. (While we are talking clean-up – remember to plan a place for trash that is both convenient and looks neat!)

Arrange food in multiple layers using a tiered plate stand; stack serving dishes on tops of bowls turned upside down; line a raised garden planter with a towel to serve rolls. Experiment with different ways to serve food at varying heights to increase interest and give a feeling of indulgence.

Final touches – depending on your setting, you may want to add a floral centerpiece (or several small vases of flowers). If the table is not overcrowded with food, consider adding candles as well – unless you are dining in full sun, candlelight adds an ambience like nothing else can!

6.     Everything tastes fresher in the garden.

There is really no end to the inspiration awaiting you for your garden party menu, but if the prospect of planning fancy dishes intimidates you, know this: any food that tastes good and is elegantly presented will be more than sufficient in a lovely garden setting. You don’t have to try menus you are not familiar with, or make dishes from trendy recipes, or even serve fancy items, unless you enjoy doing so. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • sandwichesChicken salad and crackers (or croissants), cut fruit (grapes, strawberries, kiwi, cantaloupe, melon and pineapple are always good choices), cheese crackers and desserts.
  • Soup – whether cold or hot – is easy to prepare in advance and serve. Along with finger sandwiches, mini quiche, or bread served with herbed butter, this can be a meal in itself.
  • Serve a casserole. In early spring, when the air is still a little cool, a hot, bubbly chicken casserole served with salad, rolls and iced tea will hit the spot. Keep the dish warm in the oven and place in serving dishes before taking outside.
  • Have an assortment of desserts. Miniature versions are always appropriate – bite sized portions of brownies, whole strawberries dipped in chocolate, meringues, tarts, and cheesecake bites are just a few of the many tantalizing dessert options you might try.
  • Focus on the drinks. Serve Mimosas or cocktails, accompanied by little sandwiches, cheese crackers and cookies.

Give your table a final glance before receiving guests to be all the accompaniments are there – flatware, serving utensils, napkins, salt and pepper, condiments. You want to spend time with your guests – not running back and forth to the kitchen!

Enjoy!

And there you have it! All the ingredients to assure an entertaining garden party that you can enjoy as much as your guests!

At Twin Oaks, we frequently entertain outdoors with themed events, such as picnic lunches, grill outs, tailgate parties, Memorial Day and Independence Day celebrations. See a complete list of topics in the Entertaining category.

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