Simple solutions for a summer garden soirée

By LISA KLEIN

A garden party is the quintessential end-of-summer fete, making the most of outdoor time with friends and family.

Just like the setting, throwing one can be fun and fuss-free.

“There are so many ways to host a party outdoors,” said Seri Kertzner, chief party officer of Little Miss Party Planner in New York. “First, you’ll need to determine what the goal of your party is. Sit down lunch or dinner? Picnic? Brunch in the garden?”

The great outdoors

From there, anything goes with an outside event.

“I like to shake things up with outdoor parties,” said Mary Giuliani, founder/CEO of Mary Giuliani Catering & Events, New York. “I’ve turned garages into discos and thrown parties at the bottom of empty swimming pools.”

Disco ball or not, thinking outside the box is key when scouting locations around the garden.

“I have a stone bench which is obviously not comfortable, but a beautiful place to hang out in my garden,” Ms. Kertzner said. “To soften it up [for a gathering] I added tons of pillows and a low table with more pillows on the grass. It was perfect and a gorgeous scene.”

A stone bench becomes guest seating with a few pillows. Image courtesy of Seri Kertzner

Ensuring the comfort of guests is an important consideration for any host.

“No matter where you throw your party, make sure there are enough surfaces on which you can rest yourself, your plate or your drink,” Ms. Giuliani said.

For a sit-down dinner a table and chairs are a must, or for a more hors d’oeuvre-only atmosphere hosts can choose creative seating options such as benches, poufs, pillows and blankets.

Seating options for outdoor events are endless. Image courtesy of Mary Giuliani

If the sun is at full force, guests will need shade, and hosts should make sure umbrellas are set up over tables or other seating areas.

To take it up a notch, Ms. Giuliani passes out festive paper fans as party favors, while Ms. Kertzner likes to put up teepees for kids, or adults, to beat the heat in.

Bug control is another must, and citronella candles, oil-based bug sprays and bug wipes will do the trick.

Garden variety

When it comes to setting the mood, Ms. Giuliani goes for an eclectic look with bright pops of color for outdoor events.

“I don’t really pay attention to themes or matchy-matchy décor,” Ms. Giuliani said. “I prefer to have a more eclectic tablescape. I’ve been collecting vintage barware, antique light-up signage, old cookie jars and punchbowls.

“If there is something that you love, that you’ve been collecting for years or that makes you happy, use it,” she said.

Fun decor for an outdoor event. Image courtesy of Mary Giuliani

Ms. Kertzner often goes with a natural vibe for parties outside.  

“I love to decorate with fresh herbs,” she said. “I wash them, clip them and put them into small glass jars of water and they look and smell amazing. They also act as a natural bug repellent.

“Have a garden where you’re growing flowers? Snip some. Anything fresh built into your tablescape is a win,” she said.

A natural tablescape complements the garden easily. Image courtesy of Seri Kertzner

Both event planners prefer soft lighting for a nighttime garden party.

“If I had to give one opinion on how to decorate outdoors, I’d advise anyone to choose lighting that is atmospheric and/or dimmable,” Ms. Giuliani said. “It attracts less bugs and everyone looks gorgeous by candlelight or under softer lighting.”

Both planners also recommend easy options for dining and drinking, for the sake of both the guests and the host.

Ms. Giuliani was inspired to create her own line of frozen hors d’oeuvre to do just that for hosts of home parties.

“I’m constantly hearing from clients that they literally want to turn on their ovens, heat up some savories that are known crowd pleasers, and take the guess work out of the whole night,” she said. “The host can pour a drink and enjoy the party, not get slammed in the kitchen.”

Ms. Kertzner came up with an easy party meal for the same reason.

“I make an amazing three-minute salmon that I love to serve with a steamed asparagus doused with tons of fresh lemon zest and juice,” she said, otherwise keeps things fresh with seasonal fruits and vegetables.

“Ditto for the beverages,” Ms. Kertzner said. “A white, crisp sangria on a hot summer day is perfection. Slice up tons of fruit, add into a pitcher and fill it with your favorite white wine.”

According to Ms. Giuliani, it is a good idea to have garden-inspired beverages sans alcohol for a daytime party that can be used as mixers or enjoyed solo – tomato juice, cucumber water, green smoothies and sparkling water are great options.

“As for drinks, I have one simple bulk cocktail that I always serve at my parties, and I call it the Italian Margarita,” Ms. Giuliani said. “It’s tequila, Aperol, fresh lime juice and fresh basil.

“It looks so pretty in a drink dispenser, which I place in the center of the table as a decorative centerpiece,” she said. “A centerpiece you can drink – my favorite kind.”

Last but not least, no party would be complete without the perfect tunes.

“I like a soundtrack that veers from Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett and all those sweet crooners that encourage clinked glasses and maybe some barefoot dancing on the lawn, so as the sun goes down, I’ll shift over to other options like the latest from my pal Grace Potter or my perennial favorite, ‘The Monkees,’” Ms. Giuliani said.

Ms. Kertzner, too, starts it off low-key.

“Soft, jazzy background music is so nice, but know your crowd,” she said. “If your guests are more of a rock ‘n’ roll crowd then tailor your playlist accordingly. Music is key.”

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