When spring is in the air, there's no better way to celebrate than to throw a fabulous fete in the garden. Whether your desire is to host a spectacular soiree or you would rather opt for a no-frills affair, a gathering of friends in the great outdoors is the perfect way to welcome in the lamb and bid adieu to the lion. But before you usher in the season of seeds, sun and showers, there are plans to be made and shopping to be done.
Your invitation sets the tone for the party, and spring is all about color. There are many readymade options available at stationery stores that you can personalize by including dried flowers or herbs inside the card. Create a custom invite by pasting up magazine tear outs of colorful flowers and foliage, or print a small label with all the info and affix it to a packet of seeds. If you're particularly crafty, create a keepsake by painting the low-down on a terra-cotta pot. Then pop in a plant and hand-deliver to the doorsteps of your cherished guests.
Make it a night to remember by sending your guests home with a fun favor. If you grow fruits or veggies in your garden, present your partygoers a bushel basket packed with freshly picked treats. Packets of seeds -- zone appropriate of course -- will yield a summer full of delight. Candles scented with delicate lilac or decadent gardenias will keep the spring indoors during the rainy season, and watering cans are useful and can be acquired on the cheap. Trip to the dollar store, anyone?
It's a no-brainer that spring foliage creates a lavish backdrop for your garden get together. Inexpensive flowering plants are a great way to stretch your decorating budget and work in tandem with those bulbs you planted at the end of the fall that should be rewarding you with blooms right about now. Simple white lights strung in the trees work for both dressy and casual fetes, and a fire pit makes for great nighttime lighting. If this is a white tablecloth affair, fear not to break out the crystal and china. But if shorts and flip-flops are the suggested attire, paper and plastic will do in a pinch. Just be sure to get those recycle bins ready.
Never underestimate the importance of a party's drink menu. If you want to blow it out, hire a bartender to serve up mixed drinks galore. But, if you'd rather be more budget-minded, create a themed cocktail to serve in lieu of a fully stocked bar. Refreshing drinks like mint juleps or gin and tonics are good standards to have on hand. You can also tap the keg and ice up some mugs for ale lovers, and have a small selection of white and red wines on hand for the vino drinkers. Be sure to keep some of the soft stuff on hand for the teetotalers and tots. Freshly squeezed lemonade or big pitchers of sweet tea are both guaranteed palate pleasers.
If you're planning a casual afternoon bash, picnic style is a great way to go. Finger sandwiches are easy to grab while on the mingle, and sides can include enticing bowls of freshly cut fruit or a colorful summer salad. You can fire up the barbecue and seduce guests with the aroma of ribs on slow and low, served with a tangy pasta salad. If a sit-down dinner is on the agenda, gazpacho is an elegant starter followed up by a light entrée of chicken or fish. Be sure to have a sweet treat on hand, no matter what time of day. A platter of freshly baked cookies is always a crowd pleaser, or a decadent chocolate mousse served in a delicate glass nicely tops off a formal affair.
Games are always a great way to get the party started. If your location offers up an expansive lawn, do it up South Hampton style and set up the croquet court or badminton net. Flying birdies are a given, but loafers are optional. If space is an issue, horseshoes and bocce ball can easily accommodate smaller yards. Remember that it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt, so if you're limited to a patio sized area, cornhole is a fun alternative to horse shoes, and flying bean bags aren't likely to take anyone out. If you're looking for a more leisurely activity, have some freshly cut flowers and inexpensive vases on hand for a little flower arranging, or have everyone BYO and do a plant swap.
Location, Location, Location
Not everyone has a lush garden at their disposal, so feel free to mix it up and host your garden party in a setting that you have access to. Backyards are ideal for their privacy, but if your front yard has a little more space or better curb appeal, then go for it. If you're one of the lucky few that boast the beach as your backyard, it's doubtful you'll be challenged about the lack of actual garden. Decks are great alternatives, and sometimes better suited to hosting a party during the rainy springtime. And if you're an apartment dweller, don't fret -- you can invite guests to a local park. Just be sure to get there early and reserve the necessary number of picnic spots.
Appropriate garden party attire is closely linked to location, so it's best to plan one with consideration to the other. Most guests love an occasion to break out the party garb, so don't hesitate to plan something dressy. But if you're serving burgers, guests may be more comfortable in shorts and tanks. If it's warm enough for a dip in the pool, be sure to tell guests to bring their suits. Theme parties are always fun, and togas perfectly complement a Mediterranean setting. Or, if you want to host a shindig circa Jackie O, make a wardrobe call for summer dresses and floppy hats. No Kennedys required.
The right music is essential to creating the atmosphere of any gathering, and a garden party is no exception. Spring equals lively, and there are great music choices in every genre. If you're hosting a classic party in a formal setting, you might want to compile a collection of light and airy classical selections. If it's an upscale, modern affair, consider a mix of upbeat ambient grooves a la art gallery opening. If barbecue and beer are the theme, dust off your classic rock. But if dancing is on the docket, pump up the volume with some tried and true dance tunes. You can never go wrong with disco.
When planning a garden party a few weeks out, it's always wise to have a backup plan on hand in case Mother Nature RSVPs. Keeping in mind that slickers don't make attractive party attire, the ideal location will have some shelter nearby so that the festivities can be easily moved. A covered or screened-in porch is ideal, and it never hurts to have a canopy or two on hand. Moving indoors is always an acceptable option if space permits, but if the party must be held outside, be prepared to make an executive decision based on the weather forecast in the days before. It never hurts to have a proposed rain date in mind.
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- "Average Frost Dates." Farmersalmanac.com, 2010. http://www.farmersalmanac.com/weather/a/average_frost_dates
- Dakss, Brian. "Throw A Garden Party." Cbsnews.com, April 23, 2005.http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/04/23/earlyshow/saturday/main690339.shtml
- "Gazpacho." Cliffordawright.com, 2010. http://www.cliffordawright.com/caw/food/entries/display.php/id/64/
- "Summer Garden Party." Countryliving.com, 2010. http://www.countryliving.com/outdoor/decorating/garden-party-0808
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