How to Throw an English Garden Party

Barbecues are a given when it comes to summer entertaining, but if you’re looking for something different with a little more glam, why not throw an English garden party? If you’re not sure what the difference is, let’s just say that the only things a barbecue and a garden party have in common are people and the outdoors. A garden party theme is appropriate for birthdays, bridal showers, baby showers, weddings, or as a change of pace from the common barbecue.

Barbecues focus on the grill, meat, beer, paper plates and napkins, and tank tops and flip-flops. Garden parties, on the other hand, are a little more refined, with just the right touch of elegance. For example, backyard barbecue fare is replaced with gorgeous flowers and floral decorations, wine and/or festive drinks, simple yet artisanal food, real plates, fabric napkins, and tablecloths. China plates and teacups often make an appearance.

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Garden Party Decorations

I find that many people think it’s the food that sets the tone for any party, but in the case of a garden party, it’s truly more about the environment and the decorations. English garden parties have a delicious feel about them that comes from décor that marries formal, floral, and the outdoors. That said, don’t shoot for perfection – go for a relaxed and unkempt elegance.

Here are some great ways to create the right ambiance for a garden party:

  • The number one place to host an English garden party is in a backyard or garden that’s loaded with blossoming plants. I encourage you not to be picky about the flowers, but you’ll get garden party bonus points if there are roses of any type.
  • Pastels are typically the colors of choice. However, brighter, deeper tones can also be used to great effect.
  • If it’s a late afternoon or evening affair, drape string lights throughout the dining area to create a lovely and elegant atmosphere. Votive candles are also a nice touch, as long as they are kept in a safe place where they won’t be accidentally knocked over.
  • Serving and dining tables should have as many flowers in vases and pitchers as possible. Blooming flowers that are actively growing in containers are also welcome.
  • Greenery is just as important as flowers. Cut greens or trailing vines such as ivy work well.
  • Bring some of the indoors to the outdoors. Hang a chandelier in a tree over a dining table; bring a small sofa onto the porch; break out the beautiful linens.
  • Buntings and cloth or paper banners can be strung from tree to tree or on the wall of your house to add more pops of color.

Special Touches

Adding special touches can make all the difference in a one-of-a-kind garden party. How about skipping the online evite messages and snail-mailing invitations printed on paper with a classic English floral background? Consider using paper straws for festive cold beverages. You’ll find paper straws in floral, polka dot, and quatrefoil patterns. Gather as many cake stands as you can find or borrow some (ideally, you’ll have varying heights). These can be used as a display for cakes, cookies, cupcakes, appetizers, or sandwiches. You can even stack plates on them.

Indoor Garden Party Tips

If disaster strikes and mother nature downpours, there’s no reason to cancel your garden party! Simply make some adjustments to give the indoors a garden feel. Long-stemmed flowers hanging upside down with ribbons in a window, doorframe, etc., can represent an indoor garden.

Bistro lights can be strung across an indoor ceiling the same way they would be outdoors. Greenery woven through a hanging chandelier, a mantel, or doorframes will help bring the garden inside. Cut flowers in vases are a must for an indoor garden party, and including flowers with a strong fragrance will help convince your guests to imagine that they are truly in the garden.

Easy Tea Sandwiches - How to Throw an English Garden Party

Plates, Utensils, and Napkins

For the perfect English garden party setting, one would use only authentic plates (china, if possible), cloth napkins, and bona fide silverware. You can cheat on this part if you must, but I promise that the authentic feel makes all the difference.

There aren’t any hard and fast rules when it comes to the setting of utensils, plates, and napkins. But there are a few ways to create a cohesive table setting. If you’re looking for a formal garden party feel, use utensils that are from a matching collection. Your good silver would be appropriate for a formal setting. The same goes for the plates and napkins – the style and patterns should all either match perfectly or perhaps have a blend of two patterns that complement each other.

No Sew Cloth Napkins - How to Throw an English Garden Party

Garden Party Menu Ideas

English garden parties have an airy feel, since they are most often held midmorning through afternoon. Guests generally prefer to dine on appetizers and dishes that are on the lighter side. None of the food has to be complicated or gourmet, per se, but items should be as lovely to look at as they are tasty.

A nice example is cream cheese spread onto crostini bread with a (lightly) grilled peach slice placed on top. Add a light drizzle of honey and finish off with a little chopped fresh basil, and you have an elegant, colorful, and easy-to-make appetizer.

Pretty skewer bites make it simple for guests to eat while they mingle. Even your kids can handle making fruit skewers out of kiwi, strawberries, banana, papaya, cantaloupe, and mango. Cut all of the fruits into pieces of the same size and slide them onto the wood skewers, making sure to alternate the fruits. Skewer bites are refreshing, healthy, and easy.

“Finger-type” sandwiches of any kind will fit right in at a garden party. You can use croissants, petite sandwiches, pinwheels – you get the idea. Whether you serve a wide variety or just choose a couple of options, one thing is for sure: crustless tea sandwiches are a must for an English garden party. If you think that sounds too commonplace, I assure you, there’s a dazzling array of mouthwatering recipes to please every palate.

Vegetables, fruits, and salads all fit perfectly into the English garden party menu. Think about making individual servings by placing any of these into small glass footed bowls or crystal juice glasses.

Desserts might include English pudding, tartlets, trifle, and strawberry shortbread. Fruit cups topped with real whipped cream (and a ladyfinger cookie on the side) are a simple crowd pleaser. Come up with desserts that are sweet, beautiful, and refreshing.

Garden Party Beverages

While there are no strict rules for drinks served at a garden party, one good piece of advice is to offer guests a variety of choices, and keep things special by skipping the store-bought soft drinks.

Hot tea is always welcome at an English garden party, as is coffee. You’ll certainly want to have several cold beverages, such as iced tea, pink lemonade, punch (try raspberry or citrus), or even berry smoothies. A refreshing pitcher of fruit water looks gorgeous on the table

Don’t Forget the Pimm’s Cup Cocktail!

Pimm’s Cup Cocktail is a British summer beverage that’s a classic for garden parties. Like all classic drinks, you can start with the basic blend and then add your own twist to it.

Basic Pimm’s Cup Recipe:

  • 2 cups Pimm’s No. 1
  • 2 cups lemon-lime soda or seltzer water
  • 1 cup lemonade
  • Slices of lemons, cucumbers, strawberries, or oranges
  • Ice cubes
  • 4 highball glasses
  • 1 large pitcher
  • Mint leaves or borage flowers as a cocktail garnish

Fill the highball glasses with ice cubes. Add the lemon-lime soda (or seltzer water), Pimm’s, lemonade, and fruit into the pitcher and stir well. Fill the glasses with this mixture, dividing the fruit between each glass. Garnish with mint leaves and/or borage flowers, pop decorative paper straws into the cocktails, and serve.

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What to Wear to a Garden Party

Clothing at a garden party runs from casual to formal, often depending on the occasion. A wedding garden party might be formal, while a simple summer garden party might call for more casual dress. However, “party style” clothing is usually the most welcome in this setting. Crisp fabrics in bright colors, comfortable shoes, and a fun bag to complement the outfit are all perfect choices. Extra points if you look adorable in a floppy summer hat or a fedora.

If you’ve never thrown a garden party before, let this article inspire you to host one this spring or summer. It’ll be an event your guests won’t soon forget!

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