This year, the rules about gatherings seem to have been changing every week. We’ve gone from not being allowed to socialise with other households, to being limited to a single social “bubble”, to being able to meet with a few people outside, to having another family over… and all the way back again.
As I’m writing this post, parties – even garden parties – aren’t allowed (again). At least, I don’t think they’re allowed. Regardless, I’m going to assume that eventually we’ll be able to throw small outdoor events in the future though, and continue writing this post for when that happy day arrives.
So, if you’re reading this because you’ve spent the last year in relative isolation and have forgotten how to host a gathering, fear not. This post is all about garden party ideas and inspiration, and hopefully you’ll find it brimming with reminders and tips for celebrating outdoors.
Garden party ideas: Where do you start?
Well, presumably you’re celebrating for a reason, whether it’s in honour of a birthday, upcoming baby, pre-wedding party or simply to enjoy the fact that we can all see each other face-to-face again. Whatever has triggered your need for garden party ideas will inform every decision you need to make in the planning process.
This post won’t get too specific with individual event ideas (but if you want a dedicated post about garden baby showers, low-key hen/stag gatherings or birthdays, let me know!)
What do you need for a successful garden party?
Can’t quite remember how to throw a party? I totally understand. Here’s a checklist of the essentials, with all the details and tips you need coming up next.
- Have a main activity for your get together
- Decide on an appropriate dress code
- Send out some invites
- Plan some fun garden decor
- Organise your food and drinks
Reckon you can handle those five steps? Of course you can.
Garden party ideas for activities
There are a whole bunch of ways you can enjoy being outdoors in a fun, sophisticated, party-appropriate way. Here are my personal favourites:
Glamping – that’s glamorous camping – is basically the comfortable, adult version of a sleepover, in the garden. Ditch the thin sleeping bags straight on the floor, and swap in some huge air mattresses, duvets and proper pillows.
Depending on what your tent situation is like, you might even want to hire a bell tent to make the occasion feel more special. Bell tents give you much more standing room than a lot of conventional tents, and let plenty of light in during the day.
Maybe your event is all about sharing a meal with friends to mark an important occasion. If so, focus on your table settings and giving each guest a comfortable place to sit. An outdoor dinner party is the perfect time to use your patio cooking area or BBQ space, if you have one.
Combine bunting, string lights and candles in bottles for a cool, bohemian garden vibe. Flowers – whether artificial or freshly cut from your garden – are the perfect centrepieces for an outdoor dining table.
Here’s another beautifully set table on a garden patio in London. When you’ve got a lush, overgrown garden like this, you can actually let your plants do most of the decorative work. Add a patio rug underneath your table and a few cosy cushions to make your dining area extra inviting.
DIY Photo “booth”
Thanks to months of social distancing, most of our photo reels are looking pretty empty. Address this by having a makeshift photo station at your event.
You can buy a fun, inexpensive backdrop online – take a look at metallic fringing, sequinned sheets or curtains of artificial leaves. String these up along your fence or between two trees, and leave an instant camera (like an Instax) nearby for people to take snaps.
Hot tub party
With so many people stuck at home this year, it seems like loads of households have invested in one of the ultimate garden luxuries: a hot tub. Not only are hot tubs a perfect place to relax at the end of a week, they’re also a sure-fire way to get people responding “yes” to your garden party invite!
Hot tubs come at a range of prices – from a few hundred pounds for an inflatable tub to several thousand for an all-singing, all-dancing in-built design. However, unlike an ordinary pool, they’re easy to maintain throughout the year and can be enjoyed even in cold weather.
If you’re hosting a hot tub party, you’ll want somewhere warm and comfortable for your guests to sit when they’re not in the hot tub (a fire pit works great). You should also offer plenty of non-alcoholic drinks to keep everyone hydrated.
If living in lockdown proved one thing, it’s that us Brits need a watering hole. So many people seemed to take pub closures personally and build their own home pub or garden bar in response.
Fortunately, a garden bar is a fantastic garden party venue when you’re having a few friends over. You can stock it with whatever drinks you like, get the best table and call last orders whenever you want.
Fire pit chillout
For an evening event, a fire pit is an ideal, low-key spot for hanging out and catching up – particularly in colder months. All you need in comfy seating and a selection of drinks.
For some extra fun, you could add some skewers and marshmallows… and even offer some digestive biscuits and chocolate to make s’mores!
This garden has it just right. A huge coffee table with an in-built fire pit to keep everyone warm, with a basket of blankets and patio heater just in case.
Wine, beer or spirits tasting
For a fancy night in, throw a tasting party! Get a selection of unusual drinks – wine is classic, but you and your friends might prefer craft beers, whisky, vodka or something else. Stock up on any classic accompaniments and garnishes, as well as a beautiful set of glasses to drink from.
Decorating with a simple colour scheme and elegant flowers sets a sophisticated tone at the start of the session… We’re not accountable for what happens once you get going!
Hosting a garden cinema party is a perfect way to transition from day to dusk. This beautiful set-up shows how you can be sociable AND socially-distanced, with pouffes, blankets and cushions to keep everyone warm. If you like the idea but this isn’t quite your style, take a look at more garden cinema ideas here.
Garden party ideas for dress codes
“Dress code” can sound a bit stuffy, but given how broad the category of “garden parties” can be, it’s a good idea to give your guests a heads up about what to wear.
For example, if you’re planning a luxurious glamping sleepover, maybe you want everyone to turn up in cosy jammies and dressing gowns? If it’s a formal alfresco dinner you’re organising, let your guests know to come in cocktail attire, not jeans.
Will you be sitting on floor cushions? Running around playing lawn games? Getting into a hot tub? Maybe you’ll need to indicate to your guests that they should bring a change of clothes, or comfortable footwear. The more you prepare your guests, the less you have to worry about on the day.
Garden party ideas for decorations
For me, decorating is the best part of party preparation. It’s where the theme really takes hold and spreads the right mood! Depending on the style of your party, different decorative elements will be important. Here are some fun ways you can set the tone when you’re hosting outside.
Plants, plants and more plants
If you’re hosting your party outside, plants are naturally going to be a huge feature in your decor. Give your lawn and flowerbeds some love a few days before the celebration so that everything is looking its best.
Adding potted plants to the seating area helps blend it into your garden more, and using flowers or succulents as table decor looks earthy and inviting.
Guest of honour seating
Make sure everyone knows where the centre of attention should be, with an extravagant seat for your guest of honour! This little balloon-clad tent is super beautiful, perfect for making the guest of honour feel special. This glamorous set up is available to hire, but you could probably DIY-it if you felt creative!
Bunting, streamers and paperchains
Bunting and paperchains are fairly easy to make, especially if you already have scraps of fabric or paper. Adding decorative letters (like those pictured) is a little more finicky, but looks gorgeous. Perfect for a cosy, boho-inspired night of glamping.
These stunning letters make a show-stopping centrepiece for any bash. If you don’t want to buy a set, you can usually find party prop suppliers to rent a set from – either offering set phrases or individual letters for you to write your own message.
We mentioned using plants as a photo backdrop earlier, but you can have a flower wall simply to enjoy it for its own beauty, too!
Use a fence, or find a large, clean panel of wood or cork (or something similar). Decide if you want a leafy base, and use artificial grass or ivy if you do. Next, add your flowers. These could be real, plastic, or made from paper – or even a combination!
Carnations, dahlias, and baby’s breath are popular choices for organic blooms, but you can add in roses, orchids, lilies, jasmine and just about anything else if you add artificial flowers too.
Garden lights have such a huge impact on the atmosphere of your outdoor space after dark. In fact, I wrote an entire post about all the different garden lighting options and how they can work together.
My absolute favourite are fairy lights, which just look totally magical. Weave them into hedges or coil them in jars to evoke the effect of pretty fireflies, or string them up in trees or along the top of a pergola to look like falling stars.
Garden Party Ideas: Food & Drinks
Food is a key part of any party, and garden events are no exception. One of my favourite things about garden parties are the ways in which plants and flowers can be incorporated into the party snacks and refreshments.
If you’re growing a herb garden or kitchen garden, now is the time for it to shine. Using home-grown fruits and vegetables as part of your recipes and presentation is an excellent way to exercise (and show off) your green thumb.
If you have a garden BBQ area or even an outdoor kitchen, now is the time to give it some love and fire up the burners. Here are some suggestions!
Glass & Plate Garnishes
Garnishes are the simplest way to use plants, flowers, fruits and herbs in your food and drinks. Add a sprig of rosemary or lemon thyme to the top of a cooked dish, or a sprinkle of fresh basil leaves over a pizza.
Fruit and edible flowers are beautiful garnishes to the rim of glasses, especially if you’re serving fresh, summery cocktails.
You can go one step further and add your home-grown fruit and flowers into drinks to infuse them with flavour. Most people are familiar with doing this with Pimms, but you can also do it with water, iced tea, lemonade, vodka and gin.
Even better – have a smoothie station where your guests can blend up a combination of fruits to their own taste.
Lots of British fruits go wonderfully in and on desserts. Whether you have time to whip up some puddings in your kitchen or would rather decorate shop-bought treats is entirely up to you – I’m not here to judge.
I have an aunt that makes an absolutely wonderful fruity pavlova, topped with strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries that she’s picked herself. It’s one of my favourite puddings in life, closely followed by cheesecake covered in a tangy, homemade berry coulis – which you can also make from garden fruit.
For something slightly easier, try pretty glasses filled with Eton Mess. That’s crushed meringue, chopped strawberries and lashings of cream (whipped and/or double).
If you couldn’t tell, I’ve got a pretty sweet tooth – but there is plenty of wonderful savoury food you can grow and serve, too.
Cucumber sticks and carrot sticks are easy to pick at if you’re having a buffet-style meal. You can also make tzatziki to dip them into, which is a simple recipe to follow, especially if you have mint and dill from your own herb garden.
Try mixing up a garden salad, too, with tomatoes, lettuce, spring onions new potatoes and any other delicious veg that’s ripe.
There’s no show-stopper like a naked cake. Whatever you’re celebrating, these gorgeous cakes are eye-catching, sophisticated and downright delicious.
Once you’ve baked your sponge base(s), you’ll need a thick buttercream icing to layer them together and cover the top – but not the sides! Jam is optional, but I recommend it. Naked cakes are all about leaving the delicious colour of the sponge exposed, and then decorating the top and part of the sides with beautiful berries and freshly-cut flowers.
Hopefully these garden party ideas will have given the nudges you need when planning your event! Have fun, stay safe – and remember to have an umbrella at the ready.