Hosting a casual, mingle-filled outdoor party is one of the best parts about the weather getting warmer. Turn an evening in your backyard into a light-filled outdoor event with our tabletop, invitation, and food and drink ideas.
A delightful outdoor dinner party instantly invokes the words "fresh," "summer," and "mingle." Get in the spirit with our delightful alfresco fete, which includes pretty flower centerpieces, easy lemonade recipes, lighting ideas, and plenty of opportunities to chat with guests.
To create this party we partnered with Amy Neunsinger, a photographer who entertains at her Los Angeles home almost weekly. She's also the founder of Cocodot (cocodot.com), an online party site that lets hosts send stylish e-invites and track RSVPs.
String lanterns, hung in the trees, add sparkle to backyard gatherings. They work for every summer gathering, adding easy ambience that can stay outside all season. We got our 20-light strings from cableandcottonusa.com.
Hostess Tip: Amy's secret to instant party ambience? Music. Amy relies on Sonos (sonos.com), which lets her play different music in different parts of her home. The service pulls songs from your iTunes library or online music-mix sites like Rhapsody. You can control the tunes from your smartphone or tablet, so you don't miss any table talk.
A row of low candles and tall bottle vases forms a perennially pretty centerpiece; you could add any flower you like, though peonies work especially well because of their long, strong stems. See-through bottles are a must because they're not intrusive to guests' conversations. It's easy to put together a basic party formula that you revise with different food and flowers. Simply reuse the bottle centerpieces, lights, and dishes for your next outdoor affair.
A side table of light refreshments and a pretty conversation-starting art piece help the party flow. Top a small table with a square of fabric and add pour-your-own pitchers of lemonade. Above it, hang an outdoor chandelier made from photos. Snap flowers from your garden, print multiples on paper, and clip them up to create the art. The photo mobile shown here is called "Vine photo mobile" and is available at umbra.com. The next slide shows a closer view.
For this photo chandelier, a tight-in shot of a single flower works well. You also could pick a few flowers in your party's colors to showcase. Don't have a garden for your photo needs? -- visit the link, below, to head to our Garden channel filled with 100s of gorgeous flower images.
This grown-up lemonade stand, where the drinks are infused with herbs and studded with fresh fruit, looks as good as it tastes. Float lemons, herbs, or strawberries in the pitchers to add color to your outdoor table. Labels also help guests preview their selection. Get a free set of labels featuring Amy's beautiful flower photos, below.
Start here for three quick tips on entertaining outside.
A casual make-ahead dinner, such as pasta with tomatoes and fresh herbs and cold summer soup, ensures low-maintenance party prep. For dessert, deliciously easy grilled fruit is as much fun as toasting s'mores, and healthier, too. Skewer fruit chunks onto sturdy sprigs of rosemary to add flavor and flair. Then have guests grill their own in a basket over the fire pit. (A barbecue grill works, too.)
Send guests home with a little taste of summer: candied citrus peel packed in glass canning jars and tied with ribbon. Easy and inexpensive, they also make a lovely addition to your table display during the party.
Amy's Website, Cocodot (cocodot.com) is the busy host's best friend. Send a fabulous-looking, free (and ad-free) e-invite that's as unique as your party. You can also add music or a voice recording to your invite, and guests can RSVP online. They also get a reminder e-mail the day before. Cocodot also suggests recipes and offers food and decor items based on your theme.
Reader discount! Get 15 percent off printed cards and party gear at cocodot.com. Enter discount code BHG2012 at checkout. Offer expires July 1, 2012.