Ah, summer. The days are long, the air is sweet and it's wonderful to be outdoors. Make the most of this short, precious season by planning pleasant get-togethers for family and friends on the back deck or in the garden. They needn't be labour-intensive. Here you'll find plenty of good ideas for throwing a dramatic dinner party at dusk or a formal, English high tea, but these suggestions can easily be applied to any type of entertaining you choose to do. Why keep a great-looking garden to yourself? Share the joy!
Choosing a theme is simply a way to define the style of the party and will help give you focus for food and décor. We chose a Moroccan theme—a “Lawrence of Arabia comes to suburbia” feel—for our party.
You can ask your guests to dress in theme-appropriate clothing to add to the mood.
Use backyard entertaining as an excuse to show off your beautiful garden. A day or two in advance, mow the lawn, catch up on the weeding and water your plant beds.
Arrange plant containers around the perimeter of the deck. If starting from scratch, you could plant them up with a hot combination of red petunias and orange marigolds for an easy Moroccan look, or go for a more tropical feel with birds of paradise, cannas, oleander and bougainvillea. You can also use plant containers to define dining areas and control the flow of traffic.
Defining the space
Once you've decided what sort of event you're going to hold, take a long, hard look at your garden. You'll need areas for dining, preferably a separate area for lounging, plus food and beverage serving areas. Choose the best locations for each, then start defining them.
Create the feel of an outdoor living room by bringing out the elements that make for a cozy space. Lay down a large sisal mat to define your main dining area. When selecting colours, think of an orange setting sun, a blue Moroccan sky and fuchsia-coloured tropical flowers. We set up the furniture informally in this space and added extra seating with plush pillows borrowed from inside.
To create our oasis, we draped simple, white sheers on an outdoor backyard canopy, gathering the fabric at the corners. Any furniture can easily be disguised with a white cloth or sheet, including the plastic patio furniture that many of us have. Layer decorative fabrics on top for more impact. Look for bolt ends and precut pieces at fabric stores; they're cheap and usually available in the brightest colours.
You'll need one long table as the main food station. A kitchen table (or even a sofa table if you're short on space) will work fine. Position it against a wall, choosing an area away from major traffic, and cover it with fabric. Store extra supplies, such as napkins and paper towel for spills, in baskets kept hidden underneath.
Use plant labels as tags on serving dishes to describe the contents; keep in mind possible food allergies when selecting a menu. Grilled lamb and couscous, with plates of dates and figs for dessert would reflect the Moroccan theme perfectly.