A sunny day is a sufficient reason for a garden party. Get-togethers can happen with minimal planning -- just gather some friends and head for the backyard. Along the way, pick up a few patio chairs, some dishes, and posies from the garden.
Use neutral table coverings to cover the table and create a backdrop. A length of hemmed 100-percent-cotton matelasse can be dressed up to suit the occasion. Painter's canvas and off-white denim are also practical table coverings. To avoid piecing several narrow lengths when making basic tablecloths, choose wider fabrics and hem the selvage edges and the ends.
Take advantage of the unique features in your landscape to create restful scenes. Place one or more tables in shade, in flowering corners, or near a fountain or pond. If your garden lacks points of interest, create more ambience by pulling flowering patio containers, potted houseplants, statuary, or folding screens into action. Depending on the size and layout of the yard and the size of the group, you may prefer to create several cozy groupings of outdoor furniture to foster private conversations.
Blend colors and employ an "anything goes" attitude that matches the mood of the day. Color, perhaps one of the most important aspects of spur-of-the-moment entertaining, sets the tone for the celebration and ties together diverse elements. Brilliant strips of silk define the table setting at the party for eight and serve double duty as place mats. The tableware, napkins, and flowers take their color cue from the silk. Flower-filled cruets tied to the back of each chair offer each guest an individual bouquet, complete with name tag. Stemmed dessert dishes are a high-style substitute for salad bowls.
To encourage the mingling of guests, set up beverage, hors d'oeuvre, or dessert tables throughout the garden. The scattered stations will beckon guests to stretch their legs, and enjoy the view in various areas while visiting.
Casual entertaining has very few rules. The most important: relax. Remember the goal is to uplift your guests and yourself at the same time. If details don't work out quite as you planned, be flexible and smile. Here are some tips for easy-going gatherings:
- Purchase ready-made meals.
- Mix and match your tableware, experimenting with combinations.
- If your linen closet doesn't have what you need, purchase lengths of a favorite fabric to hem for table coverings.
- Choose linen and tableware colors that coordinate with the flowers that are blooming.
- If you don't have enough plates, glasses, linens, or flatware, determine what you'd like and keep a running list.
- Whenever you're shopping, look for items on your wish list. Check out tag sales and secondhand shops, which often have some real bargains on quality items.
- If you run short of patio furniture, use wicker or straight-back chairs from the dining room, living room, den, or home office.
- If necessary, construct an inexpensive table from two sawhorses and a hollow-core door.
- Select level surfaces for tables and chairs to avoid wobbles, accidents, and spills.
- Turn on the CD player; upbeat music stimulates conviviality, especially at the beginning of the party, while soft background music sets a more gentle mood and encourages deeper conversations.
- If the gathering will extend into the twilight hours and beyond, light up the darkness with candles or tree lights.
- If it rains, just move the group indoors or pull out a few pop-up tents, if you happen to have them.
- Set aside a closet or a few shelves for pressed table linens, candles, and other party items so they will be easy to access for last-minute entertaining.