A bank holiday weekend is upon us, which, for many, means three glorious days off work. After months without seeing friends and family, a garden gathering or two is very much in order.
To make it extra special, we’ve asked three top party planners how to make an intimate, six-person event go well. From food to decor, entertainment to heating, here’s all the tips you need.
Create Pinterest-worthy lighting
A balcony or the smallest of gardens can be transformed with good lighting, says Debbie Marks, founder of Qube Decor Group. She recommends festoon lighting that can be hung across your space, whatever the size, and attached to garden fences or railings.
“As the light levels outside dim your garden will really come to life and will create the ultimate Pinterest-worthy look,” she says. “Another favourite of mine is to use lanterns to style your space. Rustic wooden lanterns look really great placed on decking areas or used to line a driveway as guests enter.”
Dress (your table) to impress
Tablescaping, or styling your table lay, is a big trend right now and can bring a little luxury to proceedings.
Nalini Raman, founder of Party Genie, says it’s done relatively easily. “You don’t have to make it look like a formal dinner, but just a couple of floral centrepieces and candles can create a massive impact and add to the fun,” she says. “If you don’t own a flower vase, just a couple of jam jars or beer bottles would do the trick.”
Or for those who have the time (and budget) to go all out, Marks recommends taking inspiration from three summer trends:
Moroccan Nights “Think vibrant colours to brighten up your space twinned with elegant gold Moroccan table lanterns, brightly coloured placemats, striking tangerine coloured candles and for the ultimate look use a charger plate on your tables, such as a vibrant turquoise charger plate,” she says.
Pretty in Pink “Blush and natural elements are huge this summer. Think dusky pink twinned with bunny or pampass grass, statement pink and gold cutlery, peonies and pink taper candles. This set up on a wooden table or pallet-style table, or sitting on the grass with cushions all around, is a super cute look.”
Tropical Luxe “To create this look, I’d recommend serving your food on black slate plates, use tropical leaves in stylish vases, black cutlery and gold candle holders. This will create a luxe garden party vibe.”
Consider a personalised theme
If the gathering marks a special occasion, choosing a theme for your decorations (and even your food) can make the day feel special, says Eileen Donaghey, aka The Afternoon Tea Expert.
“If you are hosting a special occasion like a birthday party then pick the favourite colours of the person’s birthday or if they are really interested in a certain hobby then you could theme it to that,” she says. “For example, if they like art you could use paintbrushes or art boxes as part of the decorating, or maybe if they like horses, you could use a cute grass runner for the table and have rosettes as name cards.”
Balloons are a great way to cover a bare wall, adds Donaghey – just remember to make sure you have some weights in case it gets windy.
Plan your entertainment
Make a chilled playlist for when your guests arrive, says Marks. Something that works well in the background will also ensure you can have a proper catch-up.
And for later in the afternoon/evening, a few lawn games never go amiss. Marks recommends “croquet, quoits, giant connect 4, giant Jenga and for the more adventurous limbo, or stylish fun fair games, like a quirky styled coconut shy.”
Just remember to angle it away from the windows.
Serve hassle-free food
Choose a menu you can prepare in advance or in the garden itself, so you’re not separated from your guests for too long.
Donaghey (unsurprisingly) favours afternoon tea for a daytime do, starting with a classic cucumber sandwich. “I recommend making the sandwiches earlier in the morning and keeping them covered with a piece of clingfilm and damp tea towel so they don’t harden,” she says.
“Scones can also be made in advance, but if you prefer to serve them warm, wait to bake them just before your guests are finished with the sandwiches. It also gives you the perfect conversation topic so you can debate whether or not they should be eaten cream or jam first!”
For or late afternoon or early evening event, Raman says a barbecue is the obvious choice – you’ll find some recipe ideas here.
Alternatively, Marks likes a grazing board. “I would avoid lots of hot food that would stay out for long periods of time or cheeses that might go sweaty in the heat,” she adds. “If you’re sat at a table, colourful salads look gorgeous and I think its great to have a balance of a vibrant fruit platter and something for those with a sweet tooth.”
Don’t forget the drinks
You can’t have a garden gathering without a bar, says Raman. “It’s one of the main reason you go to a party,” she jokes. “All you need is a choice of alcohol, the glassware, a couple of serviettes, the ingredients to go along with your cocktails, and a table or even a wooden pallet to place all these on. This is one of the most simple areas to create and draw attention to.”
Alternatively, Marks recommends keeping it simple, with a giant copper bucket or wheel barrow filled with beers and ice. Or, if you’re tempted by the “pretty in pink” theme above, stock up on pink Prosecco to match.
Prepare for all weather
Decorated bell tents and igloos have gained popularity over the last couple of months as the lockdown has eased, says Raman. Investing in one could help provide protection from the elements. You could also consider a patio heater and blankets for all your guests to keep off a chill.
Unless you are guaranteed sunshine, don’t risk soaking your best soft furnishings and tablecloths, says Donaghey.
“If there is a chance of rain, I would usually swap and use a plastic table cloth as you won’t be able to move all the crockery quickly if it rains and can focus on lifting your cushions quickly until the rain passes,” she says.
And remember: getting the Covid basics right like spacing chairs apart and having sanitiser available is the best way to keep your guests safe, relaxed and guarantee a happy gathering.