Summertime is here again and as Brits it’s our national duty to get out and try and make the most of it for as long as possible (because who knows how long it’ll last?).
As the nights go from cold and dark to balmy and dusky, a garden party is the perfect way to enjoy the amber-coloured interstice between a summer afternoon and a summer evening with friends and family.
Great food, fine tipple, fun and frivolity in the company of your nearest and dearest sounds like the recipe for a perfect summer evening, but things can become stressful and overwhelming if it’s not planned to perfection.
Sure, the prospect of hosting a garden party can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never hosted one before, but the potential pitfalls pale in comparison to the amount of fun there is to be had in preparing and hosting a successful garden gathering.
Here are some handy hints to make sure your evening goes with a bang, not a crash!
Start your planning early
Not only is early planning the best way to prevent an unexpected snafu, it’ll also create a wonderful sense of anticipation for yourself and your guests.
Get those invites out as early as possible. If you’re feeling crafty and creative you can even create your own to create that perfect first impression.
Add a sense of theatre to the proceedings by choosing a theme. Blogs, magazines and tools like Pinterest are great resources for planning a theme that will make your party look and feel unique. If you’d really like to commit to a theme, then my not make it fancy dress? It’ll add to the sense of theatre and ensure that everyone brings a little extra joviality to proceedings.
Of course, however much you plan, the only element that’ll be completely out of control is the weather, so don’t forget to plan for any inclement climate. Have some plastic glasses and paper cups ready, and you might even want to consider renting or buying a gazebo.
If paper party plates give you the hives, then mismatched china is a charmingly kitsch way to cater to all your guests’ eating and drinking needs and the variety will add a dash of visual flavour to proceedings. Source your china from charity shops and car boot sales, so nothing precious will be ruined in the event of an accidental spill.
Manage your guests before they arrive
The last thing you want is to waste time and money crafting delicious treats for people who aren’t going to show so make sure your guest list is accurate and up to date to mitigate food waste. Creating a facebook event is a terrific way of keeping track of your attendees. Post a count down as the days draw near and be sure to include some snaps of the food you’re preparing or the decorations you’re using to help build that anticipation.
If you’re something of a social chemist, you might want to draw up a seating plan to make sure that the conversation has the right amount of crackle and pop to lay the foundations of a great atmosphere. If you have friends whom you adore but don’t necessarily get along with each other, this is your opportunity to mitigate the chance of them bumping into each other and bringing unwanted discord into your summer soiree.
If you’re of a crafty disposition, you can go for that extra layer of personalisation by making your own bunting and decorations. If you have kids, why not get them involved too? It’s a great way of giving them some ownership of the event and lays the foundation for good behaviour when the day arrives.
It’s also a great idea to ask your guests in advance if there are any food allergies that you should be aware of. Vegetarians and especially vegans will appreciate your efforts to accommodate them too.
Don’t be flummoxed by food
Many a conscientious host has found themselves dashing about frantically in the kitchen when they should be mingling. Make sure you prepare as much as possible in advance (this is where the freezer becomes your new best friend).
You may feel tempted to bring some eye-poppingly exotic nibbles to the table to wow your guests. It’s true that there are some jaw-droppingly gorgeous canapes that can be prepared quickly and easily (look no further than our friend Jamie Oliver for these), but if you’re something of a white belt in the kitchen, there’s no shame in playing it safe.
Keeping things simple but making sure they’re done well is a sure-fire path to success. It’s also a safe way of appealing to your guests’ range of palettes. A few simple party favourites that no garden party should be without include;
On that note, bring and share parties are an increasingly popular way of taking some of the culinary pressure off of busy hosts and hostesses. While this is a great idea in principle, make sure that you have good communications with your guests beforehand to make sure everyone knows who’s bringing what.
Otherwise, you might find yourself dining on leftover vol au vents and sherry trifle for days to come.
Whatever culinary approach you choose, try to enjoy preparing and serving your food, and don’t let yourself become overwhelmed by it all.
Sure, food and drink are important, but your guests are here to see you!
Transform your garden into a wonderland
A sense of theatricality and adventure can be the difference between a good garden party and a great one. Transforming your garden may seem like a huge undertaking but it needn’t be. You’d be amazed at the difference some fairy lights, bunting, flowers, candles and soft music can make to a balmy summer’s evening in your garden.
If you’re green fingered by nature then you may want to draw attention to some of your horticultural achievements with some special lighting, such as LED rope lights.
Even dull or drab areas like fences or sheds can be rendered dazzling with some LED curtain lights.
As the night draws colder, pop some kiln dried logs in a brazier or fire pit for that extra wow factor! Gathering round the fire is a great way to bring people together and ensure that the night ends in happy memories for all.
Once again, your guests are here to see you, not an irritable, overtaxed scullery maid. Don’t let yourself be so caught up striving for perfection in every tiny detail that you let the evening pass you by. If something goes wrong, laugh it off! Nobody’s going to be handing in a scorecard with marks out of ten at the end of the night.
Create happy memories for your guests, but for yourself as well. Relax and be yourself and you’ll breeze through the party, schmoozing and ensuring that drink, food, fun and merriment flow through the evening.
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