This blog post is part of a one-time blog exchange with CedarStore.com, written by Hazel Jennings. You can read the post I wrote for CedarStore.com - "Easy Perennials for Beginning Gardeners" - here.
The other day I was sitting at my outdoor dining set with a cup of coffee. Looking across the garden to how lovely my lilies were blooming, I wanted to stay there forever. But, my cell phone started ringing… another friend enticing me out of my garden. Do you ever get that feeling when you’d rather dig in the dirt than put on your heels? I get it a lot lately.
Afternoon Tea or Evening Soirée?
One of the hardest decisions will be the first one to make. What are you going for? A delightful afternoon tea with cucumber sandwiches, iced tea and lemonade, and big straw hats? Or an evening soiree with chic champagne, perhaps a few cakes, and cocktail dresses?
I have to tell you, an afternoon tea is probably the easier-and cheaper- option. Evening rendezvous are grand with a view, and if your garden isn’t a rooftop terrace, you’ll need killer outdoor lighting to make everything shine the way it really should. Plus, unless you have concrete or expertly-laid bricks and pavers, you risk losing a friend to a broken stiletto. Besides, wine is expensive! Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely not knocking a moonlit engagement. I wish I could be so posh! But, for this post, I’m going to plan an afternoon tea.
While you can stand in your garden for hours as you survey your favorite plants, your guests may not be so resilient. Though everyone will want to take a stroll through your garden, one of the most important parts of a garden party is making sure everyone has a place to sit. Whether this be a picnic table, patio chairs, or even chaise lounges, a good rule of thumb is to make sure there are enough spots for everyone you invited. The likelihood that everyone is sitting down all at the same time might be unlikely, but you certainly don’t want your garden party to turn into a game of musical chairs.
Whether you’re setting a picnic table with places for everyone to sit and eat a meal, or arranging finger foods across an outdoor buffet, you can really have fun with the table dressings. I suggest using a brightly colored table cloth to set the tone immediately. You can get flowered and fun outdoor dishes at several local retailers, and they shouldn’t cost you a fortune.
You can also have a lot of fun with the glasses! Many times you can pick up mason jars, if not out of your own cabinet, at a second hand store. Those are charmingly country, but you can also use any old glasses you have in the house and decorate them with ribbons or beads.
I would load all available space with flowers, greens, dried herbs, etc. Anything fresh, living, and colorful that you can get on that table… do it. You can also clean some of your more “rustic” looking garden tools and use them as table cloth weights in case of wind. Other than that, you’ve been working all spring on the décor—your garden! Encourage guests to take strolls and explore.
While traditional English tea is hot and herbal, embrace your patriotism. It’s already warm enough outside. Offer iced tea (sweetened and unsweetened, you never know who’s got a sweet tooth and whose diabetic!), lemonade, ice cold water, and maybe even a few soda options. If you’d like to offer alcohol, go ahead and do so. But, going “dry” at an afternoon get-together is completely acceptable and I tend to prefer it that way.
You can dress up your beverages by serving them in glass pitchers. I would suggest using brightly colored, thin-tipped sharpies to write “sweetened” and “unsweetened” in cute lettering on a plain old label and slapping it right on your iced tea options. That way no one will get confused.
The most traditional fare would include tiny tea sandwiches and sweet desserts. Thanks to the internet, recipes abound! Olive pinwheels, pimento and walnut spread, cheese and almond, and, of course, cucumber sandwiches are some of the biggest staples. But, don’t make anything you don’t like! Pick two or three varieties, depending on the number of guests, and spread them out on a platter or cutting board.
If you’re having more than a few friends over, I think it’s helpful to take some heavier paper, cut a section and fold it in half so it can stand up and be seen, then write the name of the dish and some of its major ingredients. That way, people aren’t shying away from food because they’re not sure if they’ll like it or not, and you don’t have to keep answering “What’s in this?”
Do the same with your desserts. I happen to believe that any dessert in a miniature is immediately better. Use some of your favorite cake or pie recipes and put them into cup cakes, mini bundt cakes, and those cute little hand pies. Rather be in your garden than your kitchen? Call up your local bakery.
The most important rule of all though is to just be you! It doesn’t matter if the slugs have eaten holes in your morning glories, if the bricks in your garden path are starting to come loose, or if you set out open bags of pretzels and barbecue chips and call it garden fare. It’s all perfection! Don’t spend all of your time trying to set up a scene fit for a magazine, spend all of your time having fun, entertaining those near and dear to your heart, and sharing your home and garden. That, not expert décor, is the heart of a garden party.
CedarStore.com specializes in outdoor furniture and gazebos. As experts in the field, their blog, AllOutdoorPatioFurniture.com, helps outdoor enthusiasts, landscapers, and gardeners design their gardens, yards, and porches into fabulous outdoor rooms. Their biggest passion is always making sure everyone can get the most out of their outdoor living spaces as possible!