Holding an al fresco soirée is a great idea – in theory. Everyone loves to imagine themselves gracefully mingling with guests as they top up glasses of Pimm’s. However, in reality, parties need careful planning. With the light evenings lasting until 10pm, you’ll want to make the most of your event, so make sure it’s perfect by getting ahead of the game.
You’ve created your guest list, bought the drinks and written your menu, but you also need to borrow those extra outdoor chairs, cutlery and glasses before the big day. Make a list and stick to it, it’ll make you confident and feel in control. Hosting a garden party or BBQ means a few of the guests might be a little merry by the end of the night, so think about what you want to serve the meals in, and which glasses to use. Don’t bring out your best crockery if you want it to stay intact!
Why not keep with the garden theme and use clean flower pots and saucers as rustic servings plates and dishes?
Lorraine says 'If you're planning a garden get together, be prepared for the British weather! Have some sort of plan B and a shelter of sorts. '
What will your meat options be? Beef, lamb and pork can all be successfully barbecued, either as steaks, chops or kebabs. Fish and seafood are great alternatives to meat – big, succulent tiger prawns are ideal. Consider fresh tuna or swordfish steaks and sardines or salmon – they’re healthy and taste good seasoned with lemon and herbs and tossed on the coals.
Don’t forget the vegetarians! Peppers, onions, aubergines, courgettes and mushrooms all grill beautifully either as kebabs on their own or mixed with other ingredients. But they need to be brushed with olive oil to keep them from drying out. You can make vegetables even tastier by marinating them, just like you would meat. Remember to ask your guests about allergies, too.
Dining al fresco can be as sophisticated as eating indoors. Draw inspiration from nature when it comes to table décor and you’re bound to wow your guests. Think neutral colour schemes with accents of green and pink – and use flowers and foliage as centrepieces and to give personality to place settings.
If you’re having an afternoon party, go quintessentially English and hang out the bunting. The kids can have little flags to wave and garden games to play with, even the adults can get involved.
Light the way
Add to the chilled atmosphere by having candle lanterns strategically placed. They create an intimate atmosphere and gentle glow when the sun goes down. Keep them out of reach of children though, high up on a wall or on a table. A garland of fairy lights looks fantastic too – you can get solar-powered lights on bamboo posts to add a bit of character to your garden when they light up.
While bright sunshine is very welcome, it’s important to provide shade at your party, too. Think canopies and large parasols. And if you can’t find any suited to your garden décor, make your own. Choose some fabric from your local haberdashery and hardware stores.
You can also hire a gazebo to keep your party shaded – or dry if rain rears its ugly head.
If you have rattan chairs or outdoor furniture for your guests to sit on, mix and match the cosy cushions with ones made from inexpensive vinyl tablecloths. They make great covers for garden parties as they’re easy to wipe clean – perfect for sticky fingers!
When it comes to keeping friends and family hydrated, experiment a little. There are so many different fruits you can use to whizz up a purée. Or choose different flavour sparkling drinks and combine them with fizz to create your own bellini, or add gin or vodka.
Exotic fruits such as dragon and star are vibrant, but don’t provide much flavour, so use berries and orange or apple juice for a sweet hit.
To make a herbal lemonade using herbs from your own garden, simply infuse basil, mint, thyme or tarragon with soda water. Or garnish your cocktails with homegrown mint leaves. Don’t forget about little ones, they will love to seem grown up with mocktails and fancy straws.