Summer is fast approaching, meaning our evenings and weekends will soon be spent relaxing with friends and enjoying the sun, possibly with a beer or two. As the temperature rises, most Brits tend to sway towards a “cheeky barbeque” or two, with the bulk of the food consisting of cheap burgers and nachos. If you want your summer weekends to have a certain je ne sais quoi, why not consider throwing a garden party for you and your friends instead? You’ll have all the components of a barbecue – food, friends, and alcohol – but with a much more tasteful twist.
How to throw the perfect garden party
The key to throwing the perfect garden party is in the detail. Rather than serving sub-standard barbeque burgers and sausages, use the barbeque to grill up some seafood or quality cuts of meat and serve it with fresh salad. Decorate your garden so that there is an overall theme tying everything together; candles, lights and soft furnishing provide a chilled out ambience that will help your guests to relax and enjoy the evening. Serve beer and wine on ice and have a choice of colour coordinated cocktails for your guests to choose from.
Decorating for your garden party can be both easy, affordable and gorgeous. Homemade bunting, made by simply cutting out triangles from patterned paper or fabric and sewing or gluing to twine, can be hung up on your walls or strung between trees for a pretty look which costs pennies. Tea lights can be bought in bulk and placed in empty and cleaned out glass jars for an affordable lantern, and a cleaned out wheelbarrow can be filled with ice to make a large ice bucket for drinks.
Use candles dotted around the garden at key points, such as along the path, up any garden stairs and around the seating area, to help guide your guests when the sun sets. To make sure your candles aren’t a fire hazard, place them in candle holders or lanterns and if using on grass, put down a flat hard surface such as a brick to prevent them toppling over.
Fairy lights strung over tree branches and entwined around chairs and tables is both a practical and pretty as they provide light and act as a guide for destination points around the garden.
Rather than serving kiddish paper plates at your party, serve food in nice china plates. Not only does it avoid the inevitable paper and plastic plates left to blow around the garden, it brings a more mature feel to dinner and encourages guests to sit and enjoy the food.
If possible, bring out your dining room table and set with a cloth as this allows a focal point of interest for your guests to gather and get food and drinks. Individual cutlery sets can be tied up with ribbon to prevent stray forks and knives going missing, and glasses can be placed upside down to prevent insects from finding their way inside.
Unless you have enough seats to cater for your guests, placing cushions and blankets around the garden will help to keep your guests comfortable and their clothes clean. Cushions placed along the garden wall provide a soft place to perch while everyone eats, whereas a large blanket lined with floor cushions makes a comfortable chill out zone for drinks afterwards.
Food and drink
Food at a garden party should focus on flavours rather than fat and stodge. Season and marinade the fish and meat the night before – not only does this allow the food to absorb the flavours much better, it means you will have more time to relax and enjoy the evening! Salads and vegetables can be cut and prepped in the morning of your garden party, but leave any sauces until later to avoid the leaves going limp.
On the night, serve up big jugs of cocktails so guests can help themselves, alongside a bucket of ice. Edible flowers, such as pansies, fuschia, and rose can all safely be used to garnish cocktails and really add to the ‘garden party’ theme. Beers and wine should be kept on ice. If you don’t have an ice bucket, fill up a wheelbarrow or large flower pot with ice and use this instead.
Cold food, such as salad and garnishes, should be served in bowls in the centre of the table. To keep them fresh, cover with large glass or plastic domes – this looks much nicer than using cling film and is also more likely to be replaced! To keep salads looking interesting, using a potato peeler to cut thin ribbons of vegetables like cucumber and garnish the dishes with fresh herbs and edible flowers straight from your garden.
For dessert, fruit based dishes are a much lighter option and won’t leave your guests feeling bloated and lethargic.
When the sun starts to go down and the food has all gone, it’s time to whip out a few party games to keep your guests entertained. By this point, the wine and cocktails should be flowing so you should find everyone is up for a laugh without feeling self conscious.
Garden darts are played on your lawn and have a much wider scope for aiming, making it a lot more suitable and lot less dangerous than regular darts. Even so, there’s bound to be plenty of failed shots to laugh at during this evening game.
The traditional game where one acts and another guesses can be turned into teams, making it a suitable and competitive game to play at your garden party.
If games aren’t your thing, create your own outdoor cinema by hanging a white sheet up and projecting a film on to it. All you need is some floor cushions, throws for when the temperature drops and plenty of popcorn to pass around.
Having a firework display is a fun and vibrant way to end the night. Just be sure to plan it so there’s plenty of space to avoid anyone getting hurt.
With a little planning, your garden party can be the perfect balance between a tasteful dinner party and fun barbecue. Good food, drinks and company are all you need for the perfect evening.