5 Key Steps to Hosting a Garden Party

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Summertime is meant for chilling.  You know; the relaxing, easy breezy hanging with friends and family. Most parts of the country wait all year long for the warm weather so we can comfortably sit outdoors, entertain, sip on cocktails, nibble on good bites and laugh the warm days and nights away.

I'm here to encourage all of that. And so, in keeping with my love of entertaining and my passion for making lists, here are my tips for hosting a garden party, or anything al fresco.

1. Make the space inviting and comfortable

Our dear friends Bruce and MaryAnne hanging on our upper terrace for appetizers.

Our dear friends Bruce and MaryAnne hanging on our upper terrace for appetizers.

  • Have enough, and comfortable seating placed in various locations around your space. You want to encourage groupings to gather and mingle. This also allows your guests to wander around and take in the property, patio, whatever the space from different points of view.

People can sit, stand and mingle as they enjoy cocktails.

People can sit, stand and mingle as they enjoy cocktails.

Placing small tables allows for food, drinks to be stationed around the property.

Placing small tables allows for food, drinks to be stationed around the property.

  • If during the day, have sunscreen and bug spray available in pretty baskets

  • If at night, make sure there is proper lighting, candles etc. Not only does it help keep your guests from falling off the patio but it creates a warm and welcoming glow.

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  • If you are throwing a really big event, then you might need to place some signs pointing to the bathrooms, so you don't spend your entire time answering that question 60 times. For a small party, no big deal. They have probably been to your home and know how to relieve themselves.

  • For chilly nights, have a basket of light weight throws, shawls. I have never had this placed out, but do now because I am always running upstairs to my closet pulling out shawls for my guests. Better to have this out and available. It also makes it easier for your guests, as sometimes they don't want to bother you or burden you by asking. Instead they suffer in silence. That doesn't make for good hosting. Of course, a fire pit is also a great idea to have prepped and ready to go.

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

George and Alyssa

George and Alyssa

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2. Table setting & Flowers

Color combinations can range from earthy to floral to plain white with pops of color. Just use your imagination and what feels good. Here I used some floral leaves as a landing spot for utensils and drinks.

Color combinations can range from earthy to floral to plain white with pops of color. Just use your imagination and what feels good. Here I used some floral leaves as a landing spot for utensils and drinks.

Use the flowers you have in your garden.

Use the flowers you have in your garden.

Create different heights for drama.

Create different heights for drama.

  • You all know how I feel about table settings and flowers. It seems silly to restate, but here goes. Taking just a few extra minutes to put a tablecloth down makes the world of difference.

  • Keep to your theme of the party. Whether it's casual and easy, BBQ help yourself style, or a more formal outdoor sit down, set the table to suit the event.

White plates with cotton napkins keeps this simple while the florals takes a early evening dinner to a   dreamy blue elegant table  .

White plates with cotton napkins keeps this simple while the florals takes a early evening dinner to a dreamy blue elegant table.

  • The topic of plates and utensils is a personal one. I like real plates and utensils. That's just me. I'm not a fan of paper or plastic but certainly understand it's convenience. In this area, you choose whatever is best for you. Because a happy, relaxed host is a good host.

  • If a buffet, make sure you have an designated area where your guests can pick up plate, utensils, napkin in one easy grab. Also, have a cloth napkin with the serving utensil in front of the dish so it is clear what they should use to serve themselves.

    • Utensil holders can vary from glass vases to wicker baskets or mason jars. Be creative and use what you have around the house to fit your theme.

    • You can also preroll all the utensils in the napkin and place them in a bucket or basket.

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Use a   floral vase   as a utensil holder.

Use a floral vase as a utensil holder.

Roll up napkins   and place in decorative bucket.

Roll up napkins and place in decorative bucket.

  • Place your flowers in various locations to complement your table setting ensuring that guests can see one another, or if on a buffet table, they can reach the food without any obstruction. Who wants flower water all over their ribs?

    • Florals can be bought flowers or cut from your garden to mimic what is already in your guest view

    • You can get small potted plants or create an arrangement using small vases of varying heights

    • You can place flowers or large leaves directly on the table. You get the idea, anything goes. Be creative.

Blues and yellows   keep it bright while the burlap keeps organic.

Blues and yellows keep it bright while the burlap keeps organic.

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3. Menu - Food & Beverage

  • You always hear me talking about serving what is seasonal. So no surprises here that if you are hosting a garden party, you don't want to be cooking hot and heavy dishes in your kitchen.

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  • Grilling fish and meat, fresh salads of all varieties using vegetables, fruits and grains.

Grilled Scallops

Grilled Scallops

Grilled flank steak

Grilled flank steak

Salmon with yogurt dill sauce

Salmon with yogurt dill sauce

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Good, simple food = happy guests.

Good, simple food = happy guests.

Bruschetta Bar. Fill a board with crusty bread and toppings and let your guests make their own.

Bruschetta Bar. Fill a board with crusty bread and toppings and let your guests make their own.

Have a spot where guests can grab their own glasses.

Have a spot where guests can grab their own glasses.

Always have a bar out and available for easy access.

Always have a bar out and available for easy access.

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  • Ask your guests ahead of time if they have any food allergies. It's a big deal now. Everyone is allergic to something. (Thanks Monsanto and the FDA for helping to poison our food supply. Ok, that's another blog post, Dana. Stick to the theme.) Make sure you have a variety so there is something for everyone.

4. Know your Guests

Have music… will dance!

Have music… will dance!

  • Each party, each guest list is different. So gear your party towards who you invite and vice versus. Don't throw a dance party with a bunch of senior citizens. Unless of course those seniors know Salsa! Don't throw a sit down dinner with 20 kids. Match your guest list to your event.

  • If your guest list has kids, make sure you have a couple of fun things for them to do. I used to have some garden games that I put out. Most of the kids in our circle are older now, so we don't need to entertain them in the same way. But I usually like to have balloons for water balloon tosses and marshmallows for roasting available.

Unless the seniors love to get their boogie on.

Unless the seniors love to get their boogie on.

Water balloons by the dozen. Easy to fill and no need for knots.

Water balloons by the dozen. Easy to fill and no need for knots.

Then relax with a game of Dominos

Then relax with a game of Dominos

5. Plan B

  • Always be prepared for the unexpected. Weather is uncontrollable. I am all too aware of this. So have a plan B. Ours is always to just move the party inside. For two reasons: one JuanCarlos isn't a big fan of putting up a tent or believing that it is going to rain. Two, we have the space inside to accommodate. When it briefly rained on my sister's wedding with more than 50 guests, they all ran into our living room. Happily, it was brief. But it doesn't have to be rain. It could be a heat wave or humidity. So think umbrellas or fans, etc. Plan B or even C, folks. The key to a good party is everyone is happy and comfortable.

Perfect example of having to move the dessert table indoors after the outdoor party got rained on.

Perfect example of having to move the dessert table indoors after the outdoor party got rained on.

The most important ingredient… you know it. LOVE. Have fun with the people you care about.

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It’s Party Al Fresco Time. Happy Summer Folks!

 

Any Night Meal - Al Fresco

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That's right the weather has turned... Finally.  I'm sure you have washed off the furniture, swept the patio and tidied up whatever outside area you have, whether it be a terrace, a small deck or a rolling pasture. It's time to go - al fresco.

Of course, we are all anxious to throw garden parties, BBQ's and the like after enduring a long, long winter.  And California, please spare me the "oh, we have that all year round" remark.  We know just how special you are.  The rest of the country suffers through changes.  Which is why we are outdoor party ready.  But you don't need to orchestrate a shindig in order to delight in the summer's offering. Taking in an evening breeze while savoring a meal doesn't need to equate to a big ordeal.  A simple dinner will do just fine so you can bask in the longer days, the extended light and the brisk air of a summer's eve.

You can set the table and create warm vibes, or simply put dishes on the patio table.

You can set the table and create warm vibes, or simply put dishes on the patio table.

Cocktails - Here's a few ideas:

These Aperol Spritz cocktails are easy to drink, so be careful. If it's a school night, maybe just have one.

These Aperol Spritz cocktails are easy to drink, so be careful. If it's a school night, maybe just have one.

A dry rosé is the antidote to any long day.

A dry rosé is the antidote to any long day.

If you don't want the alcohol:

  • Cranberry juice, sparkling water and lemon wedge, or even add some frozen berries

  • Watermelon juice, sparkling water, basil leaves

  • Sparkling Water with Lemon & Lime Slices

The idea is to enjoy something refreshing.  So, go ahead and shake up a cool drink of your favorite flavors.

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The Meal

  • Summer Tart , simple puff pastry topped with farm fresh vegetables of the season

  • Large salad, it can be as simple as lettuces lightly tossed with fresh lemon juice and oil. Or a nectarine salad to reinforce that summer feel

  • Roasted salmon or grilled shrimp

  • Yogurt with honey and nuts

Puff pastry tarts don't need to be complicated. Fill them with whatever is fresh and seasonal and pop them in the oven. I always add cheese!

Puff pastry tarts don't need to be complicated. Fill them with whatever is fresh and seasonal and pop them in the oven. I always add cheese!

Salad ideas

Watermelon & Feta cheese served with a crisp white wine -  La Val Albariño  from Spain.

Watermelon & Feta cheese served with a crisp white wine - La Val Albariño from Spain.

Main Dish ideas


Keep it simple and roast fish on the grill.

Roasted Salmon is perfect for outdoor entertaining.

Roasted Salmon is perfect for outdoor entertaining.

 

You can even have dessert without a fuss.  Some Greek yogurt, nuts with a drizzle of honey is the just the right amount of sweet to finish off a meal. The idea is to get outside.  Grab whatever food you have and put it on a platter, pop open a beverage and breathe in the fresh air.  And the sheer joy of dining al fresco.  

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Whole Red Snapper stuffed with lemons and parsley and grilled on the BBQ. So fresh and clean and ideal for a summer night.

Whole Red Snapper stuffed with lemons and parsley and grilled on the BBQ. So fresh and clean and ideal for a summer night.

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Yogurt drizzled with honey & nuts equals an easy, satisfying dessert

Yogurt drizzled with honey & nuts equals an easy, satisfying dessert