If you are lucky enough to have outdoor space then summer is the perfect opportunity to invite some friends around for a barbecue, afternoon tea party or evening cocktails. If you are feeling really ambitious, make a day of it and combine all three! Try these cheap and cheerful outdoor decorating ideas that will instantly set the scene for your garden party.
- Make your guests a gift to take away like a pot plant from one of your own garden cuttings.
- Keep the bugs at bay with citronella incense sticks or scented candles.
- Stop the table cloth blowing away by attaching clip-on table weights.
- Recycled bottles make great single stem vases and you won’t mind too much if they get broken.
Casual buffet-style dining
For an informal buffet or barbecue, make your own bunting using pages out of magazines, newspapers or patterned wrapping paper – the more mismatched and eclectic the better. Simply measure out symmetrical diamonds of paper, cut them out and fold them in half to create double-sided triangles. Loop these over a very long ribbon or piece of coloured string and glue together the two triangles.
A traditional picnic blanket is ideal for relaxed dining, but a large tablecloth will also do the trick. Tie up bundles of individual cutlery sets for each guest with raffia or coloured ribbons. Use acrylic glasses and crockery to prevent breakages.
For a child-friendly family gathering why not go for a Mad Hatter’s tea party theme with lots of mismatched china cups, plenty of chintzy teapots and multicoloured iced cupcakes? Thread a pack of cheap playing cards together with string and attach them to branches for the full Alice-in-Wonderland experience.
Elegant al fresco entertaining
For more grown-up and sophisticated garden entertaining, stylish table dressing will give your party the edge. Whether it is a posh afternoon tea or a balmy summer’s evening supper, a stunning centrepiece comprising fresh cut flowers and candles will create a sense of occasion. You could wind long flower stems and vines into a wide glass vase or globe-shaped goldfish bowl or, alternatively, use floating candles and flower heads in a basin of water. Scattering petals, skeleton leaves or paper cut-out butterflies over the table will work well with the natural outdoor surroundings.
If you would rather a more exotic look, combine dark wood furnishings with bright coloured table linen in magenta, violet and turquoise. Adorn the table with tropical pot plants as a centrepiece. A table runner in either paper or fabric will create cohesion. For place settings that double as napkin rings, use alphabet beads threaded onto a piece of coloured wire to spell out the guests’ names.
Atmospheric lighting will give your cocktail party or evening barbecue the wow factor. Use garden flares, lanterns or fairylights to create a lit pathway for your guests so they do not stumble in the dark. Tealights in jars or candleholders are a practical way to mark out a garden staircase as well as creating a stunning tiered light display. Decorate your trees with mini lanterns attached with wire loops.
Mini sparklers and edible flowers are a beautiful way to garnish a cocktail. Pansies are ideal because they come in many colour combinations. It’s best to grow your own so you can be sure they haven’t been sprayed with any chemicals or buy them from a specialist food shop not a florist. Chop citrus fruits into wedges and freeze them for a fruity alternative to icecubes. Create an outdoor fridge to store all the beers and bottles of white wine by sealing an outdoor metal bin with bathroom sealant and filling it up with ice and water.