There's nothing we love more than a garden party. Good food and drinks in the sunshine just seem to bring out the best in everyone, and because guests usually expect an outdoor party to feel relaxed and casual, it's easier on the host as well. As with any party, a lot of the preparations for a garden gathering can and even should be done the day before. Here are some tips for making your outdoor space as pretty and comfortable as you can before party time arrives...
The day before your garden party...
• Deadhead your plants and clean up scraggly foliage. Remove withered blooms and dead leaves. This is a great time to cut blooms for centerpieces and bouquets as well. Consider pruning back low-hanging branches in areas where guests might like to mingle.
• Add 4-inch color. If your garden isn't looking its best, or even if you just want to spruce it up a bit, head to your local nursery and pick out some blooming 4-inch annuals or brightly colored foliage. It's easy and fun to tuck these into holes in your garden beds; alternatively you can simply wrap their plastic pots in fabric or burlap and scatter them around the garden.
• Hose everything down. Give your plants a good long drink, and wash off deck areas and especially outdoor furniture, including cushions. It's important to do this the day before, of course, so it all has time to dry. (We frequently forget and find ourselves wiping down our folding chairs with rags an hour before the party.)
• Arrange some shade. If it looks like it'll be warm out and you don't already have an umbrella or canopy, it might be a good idea to try and rig one up. A simple canvas drop cloth is all you really need, although a pretty patterned sheet or bedspread can also work. Martha Stewart has a good how-to.
• Hang your lights. What's a great garden party without some twinkling lights or lanterns hanging from the trees or railings? We like to do this the day before because it always seems to take longer than we expect, although if you're worried about wind, doing it the day of the party might be wiser. For an outdoor party last year, we fashioned a string of candle lanterns using twine and jelly jars (inspired, once again, by Martha). We tied some copper wire around the lips of the jars, bending a length of wire over the top to use as a handle, then tied each wire handle to the length of twine at even intervals. The quilted glass of the jars really made the candlelight sparkle, and the whole project didn't cost more than $20.
The day of the party...
• Bring out your indoor furniture. We love to employ our dining room chairs for seating at an outdoor party, but we prefer they spend as little time outside as possible, so they always come out on the day of.
What are your pre-party rituals for outdoor entertaining?