Friday, May 8, 2009

Garden Party

Daylilies in the yard
I don't know why I enjoy "Garden Parties" so much. Like all parties, a garden party isn't for the faint of heart or the weak of back. I'm not talking about a cook-out, pool party or potluck. This is the old fashioned Victorian, invite a hundred of your best friends and come in your best straw hat type of thing.

I think every thing I do in the yard is suspiciously orchestrated with the picture of a party going on around that space. Here are some of my thoughts on a successful garden party.

1. You will need help. Because an outdoor space is continually evolving and changing, you can't just clean and be ready by the weekend. Here are some possibilities, not that you will need to hire all of them, but even family or friends who can help with some of these makes a big difference.

2.  Cleaning people: Having someone clean inside your home the day before the party allows you to do "party things". People will wander through your house and it needs to be spotless for guests and for food.
3.  Caterers: I like to make things for several months ahead of time and freeze or store. I strongly recommend that you either have someone do all your food, deliver, serve and clean up or hire a few college age kids to assist that day. If you are preparing, plating and serving food plus gathering dirty plates and glasses, you are not going to be doing anything else at your party.

4.  Bartenders: If you serve alcohol, you need a responsible person to monitor, mix and serve. Even at "gala events", there will be some people who do not drink responsibly. You will use less liquor if you have someone in charge all evening. If you just serve punch, coffee and tea, it is still a big help to have someone making batches, serving and cleaning. Always, have non alcoholic drinks available. Some people find it easier to make one alcoholic drink such as champagne punch, Bloody Mary, or some other festive option and then have a "virgin" version available, also.

5.  Yard people: Having someone mow, trim, weed eat, clean driveways and walks, clean porches, decks and patios the day before will allow you to proceed with your decorating and arranging. Never mow the day of the party because loose grass will stick to shoes. Yard work that day will keep you from getting things in place the morning of the party .

Doing it all yourself insures you will be too tired and stressed to enjoy your company.

6.  Summer weather can change on a dime. Have alternate plans just in case. The number of times we have planned large events out of doors and had it rain is family legend. See rental equipment.

7.  Warn your guests in the invitation if high heels (sod or uneven walks) would be dangerous - if you have bees who love perfume - or other safety considerations.

8.   Investigate rental equipment.

9.  Tents are always a good idea (think rain and wind) and can add a sense of intimacy and luxury.

10.  Port-a-potties. Placed discretely, help if you have loads of people (at least the men have no issues using them.) We rented one for a party and it came with a window box with flowers (yes, this vendor was into marketing to women.)

11.  Tables and Chairs. Picnic tables hold eight people but look informal and are rather difficult to sit on for people wearing a skirt. Card tables and chairs can be placed in little groups but are fragile in heavy wind. Banquet tables also work. What ever you use, I would make sure you and your help can move them to shelter in the event of last minute weather changes. If you rent, they will usually deliver and pick up.

12.  Serving Pieces: I like to buy old brightly printed cotton table cloths and store them for parties. Do use some kind of table covering as plain wood just isn't very party.

13.  Only use real china, crystal and silverware if you are hiring someone to do everything. It is no longer informal to use paper and plastic and it makes clean-up MUCH easier. Plus, no one breaks a dish or glass and no one throws away a piece of silverware.

14.  Rental companies have: steam tables, roasters, trays, tablecloths, coffepots and a whole host of serving specific pieces.

15.  Animals and Children: There are parties for both but neither work well at garden parties. Dogs will almost always get into the food, bother guests, tear up something and bark. Cats may hide but they usually scare at least one person who hates cats and occasionally will take a walk on the serving table.

If you do not want children at the party, you must state this in your invitation. It can be done nicely but realize some people will not go anywhere without their kids; expect them not to attend. Children will act like children and we wouldn't want them any other way. Children acting like children at an adult garden party is bound to cause "issues."

16.  RSVP: If you understand what this means, you are probably not a young person. People either don't understand what it is asking or they simply don't care. I never ask for reservations for a big party because it will not be accurate. I estimate a good number and go with the flow.

17.  If I invite singles, I mention in the invitation they are welcome to bring a guest.

18.  Bugs: I don't recommend "fogging" your yard with insecticide - it's has too many long term effects and the residue stays on things. For this kind of party, it might work best if you do not hold it in the hottest, more humid and buggy season.

Bug repellents: Citronella candles and oil may help. I always leave several bottles of heavy duty bug repellent cream laying about in obvious places.

19.  Lighting: I suggest using lights even if your party starts during the daylight hours. It looks good, can be bug repellents, and they will be already on as dusk and night approaches. If you have kitchen help, ask them to light candles at a certain time.

My motto is you can never have too many candles at an outdoor party. Candles usually burn better if they are protected from wind. Any number of things can help with wind deflection. Small glasses (a mixture of votive, juice, vases, canning jars and misc.) with a little sand for weight, looks good. Hang them from trees with wire, place on tables, put in flower gardens, along paths, anyplace you can set a glass with a candle. If they are in a glass container, the chance of fire is slim.

I have a lot of inexpensive oil lamps and we usually put a couple on each long table. We have shepard's hooks with hanging oil lamps along paths.

Twinkle lights in trees or on bushes can be pretty but a summer party shouldn't look like left over Christmas decorations.

There are solar lights that are pretty and large paper Chinese globes. The options for lighting are many. Make sure extension cords are inconspicuous and won't cause anyone to trip.

20.  Parking: If you have plenty of room, you are among the few. We once hired a young person to pick-up and deliver people from their cars in a pulled cart. It got everyone talking and laughing and did wonders for those that find walking a long and uneven distance difficult. Having help parking vehicles will help especially if your event goes into the evening hours.

21.  Having flowers everywhere is important for a garden party. They don't need to be florist bought but can be picked from your garden or from friends.

My husband and I are direct opposites (aren't all married couples) when it comes to parties. He is "Red Green" and I am "Hyacinth Bucket". Not sure if you're a PBS fan, but the Red Green Show features Possum Lodge and duct tape. Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances is a neurotic perfectionist that over does everything. Someplace between the above Garden Party and a moonshine and possum burger party is perhaps a happy middle ground you may find useful.

Ricky Nelson
Now if I can get the Ricky Nelson tribute band to sing. . .

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