Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Garden Party the Stress Free Way.

Floating candles and bountiful containers welcome guests

Planning a special summer celebration this year? Whether it’s just a few friends over for a BBQ or you’re hosting a wedding for 100, parties seem much easier when they’re held outside. Elaborate time consuming menus are replaced by simpler fare thanks to plenty of wonderful fresh produce available at Farmers Markets or from your own garden. Have your guests pick the salad and harvest the berries for dessert!

While planning the menu, don’t miss out on the opportunity to add special touches to your garden party. Here are some easy ideas to transform your everyday patio into an elegant destination.

The planting style and color palette were
selected to complement the country feel
of this garden celebration.
My design and photo

Marking the way. Do all your guests know where you live? It can be frustrating looking for a house number while driving on a busy road. Make it easy by tying balloons to your mail box or gate post. Choose colors which either complement your garden scheme or tie in to the theme of the occasion. For example a baby shower might suggest a bouquet of pastel colored balloons whereas a wedding reception could call for pearl white with silver accents.

Would a sign be helpful? Country lanes may not provide an opportunity to tie balloons without causing a traffic hazard. Instead fill a container with colorful flowers and foliage and add an attractive sign to indicate the way to your home and guest parking.

Fragrant 'Blue Zephyr' Brachyscome add a subtle perfume
in the background

Using fragrance

Many different flowers can be used to scent the air; perhaps the best known of these are lilies and gardenias. However the scent from these can be overpowering so a little goes a long way. You don’t want your guests choking or to be put off their food! I prefer to add just one or two fragrant blooms at the entrance to the garden or perhaps near a seating area but set back somewhat rather than at nose level. Flowers which can easily be combined into the garden, containers or a vase include roses, heliotrope, peonies and phlox. For evening events remember that some flowers only release their perfume at dusk such as the 5' tall annual flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris), angel's trumpet (Datura sp.) and night phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis).

Mood lighting
Lighting plays a special role in the evening. Task lighting for the BBQ and good lighting for steps are essential of course but a pathway lined with large hurricane lamps holding chunky candles, votives as table place settings or tiny lights strung from a tree or arbor all add delicate layers of sparkle. Remember that many of your guests will enjoy an evening stroll around your garden so placing luminaries or lanterns at strategic points will draw their attention to areas of special interest and beauty such as a fountain or a special tree.

'Dainty delight' Supertunia and 'Emerald lace' Ipomoea
planted in a simple white vessel dress up the 
buffet table.
Flower and foliage
As dusk turns to dark the party will linger on the patio so make that the centerpiece. Whether you are planning a sit down dinner or desert and coffee by the outdoor fireplace, this is the place to cluster container gardens for maximum color and impact – bringing the garden closer and creating a sense of intimacy rather than feeling as though you are sitting in a void. To make it quick and easy choose a monochromatic scheme such as white (and green), make a note as to whether you need plants for sun or shade and head to the nursery. A simple mass planting of white impatiens with curly willow twigs for height and variegated ivy as a trailer is inexpensive and takes minutes to plant up for the shade. In sunnier areas use white million bells (Calibrachoa) or Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ to surround green Dracaena spikes perhaps with a chartreuse variety of sweet potato vine (Ipomoea) to trail around the edges. This is all about quick, inexpensive designs and easy to find plants. Need something bigger? What about 'Limelight' hydrangea placed in an urn, nursery pot and all. You can plant it properly after the party!
A froth of Euphorbia 'Diamond frost' in a low planter would
be the perfect size for a dining table.

For the table be sure that floral arrangements are not so tall as to obscure the view of your guests. Low dishes or baskets filled with sedums or herbs are quick and easy to do and don’t even need to be planted. Just hide the pot rims with Spanish moss. Or use decorative terracotta pots, often found at craft stores filled with tiny herb topiaries, finished with a bow of raffia for a Mediterranean feel. Single open blooms floating in a sundae dish are pretty as place settings or lined up down the center of the table.

To me the theme of any summer garden party should be simplicity. I’m more relaxed, I fret less over the dog fur that might be lurking under the sofa ready to drift out the moment someone sits down, and I can focus on friends and making the most of a special time. Create some special memories in your garden this summer.

All photos courtesy of Proven Winners unless otherwise marked

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