Easy garden party ideas and inspiration
These are my best garden party ideas, collected over years of giving and going to garden parties.
- Start with coloured tablecloths and glasses.
- Arrange seasonal garden flowers in jam jars, bottles or glasses.
- Make your own bunting
- Use solar lights and lanterns so you don’t need mains power
- If you don’t have the budget for a florist, set aside enough time to do flowers
- Combine garden flowers and bought flowers
- Borrow or buy trestle or folding tables
- Take indoor furniture outside
- Borrow, hire or buy a gazebo or tent
- Use vibrant colour everywhere
We’ve given quite a few garden parties over the years. Here are the garden party ideas that have worked for us, either as party-givers or party-goers.
I’ve bought some items, but others have been sent to me free for review. There are some affiliate links in the post – see disclosure. However, I’ve only included products or ideas that have really worked for me or for friends of mine.
Garden party flowers
Everything in the garden is a balance between time and money. If you have the money, get a professional florist to do the flowers as it will save you a lot of work.
If you’re on a tight budget, do the flowers yourself. But set aside a realistic amount of time. Party flowers take a long time to pick, buy and arrange, so allow at least a whole day.
For a recent party here, I combined a garden tidy-up with flower arranging. Go round the garden seeing what needs clipping or cutting back. Use the clippings in your arrangements. We had crocosmia flopping over the lawn, so I cut it back and used it in vases.
Tip: It’s important to check that paths are clear if you’re having a party in the garden. People may trip over trailing greenery or paving stones. You may be familiar with the hazards, but if people are drinking and it’s dark, there can be accidents. (There was one party where a guest ended up in hospital with concussion, but that’s another story…)
Buy some supermarket flowers or flowers from your local florist. Just £10 worth of flowers can go a long way if you mix it with flowers from the garden.
Jam jar garden party ideas
Jam jars are so useful for garden party decorating. Use them for nightlights, flowers or as holders for cutlery. We collect jam jars, but you can also buy them here. Use them in the summer for the garden, then for jam in the autumn and marmalade in spring.
I saw the best use of jam jar flowers at the recent wedding of garden designer, Charlotte Rowe. She had jam jars and kilner jars full of seasonal British flowers along windowsills at the church.
After the service, guests walked to the village hall for the reception. They were asked to carry the flower-filled jars from the church to the reception. The jars were then placed on window sills and tied to the picket fence.
The following day, there was a post-wedding barbecue at Charlotte’s home. The same jars were lined up on trestle tables at Charlotte’s home.
As we left the barbecue, Charlotte urged us all to take a couple of bunches of flowers home. So the flowers had yet another party to go – a barbecue at our house, given by our twins for their twenty-something friends.
Jam jar flowers have more of an impact if you use them everywhere. Here Charlotte has used them around the plates and cutlery and along a wall.
Trestle or folding tables for a garden party
Trestle or folding tables can be stored in cellars, attics and garages. They’re really useful for garden parties. Charlotte has wonderful old wood trestle tables.
We, however, have a less glamorous but highly practical high-density blow-moulded plastic folding table. It’s strong and serviceable. We cover it with a table-cloth. As it’s made of plastic and powder coated steel, we can store it anywhere, even in the cellar where it is rather damp. We could probably keep it at the back of a wardrobe, too, as it folds down flat.
My friend, Emma, always has excellent garden party ideas. She moves her dining table and chairs straight outside onto the terrace when she’s giving a party. And if we’re short of chairs when we eat inside, we often bring garden chairs in. Some metal garden chairs have quite sharp feet, and could make holes in the carpet. But most chairs are fine inside and out.
Solar fairy lights for garden parties
Lighting is at the top of the garden party ideas list. If you don’t have electricity in the garden, you need solar lights, battery lanterns, candles in lanterns or tea lights.
I have discovered the key to solar lights. You must read the instructions. They’re not complicated, but solar garden lights are different to ordinary electric lights. This may sound like a blinding glimpse of the obvious. The little solar panels have to be exposed to full sun. They are small and unobtrusive, but they cannot be hidden in foliage.
Solar lights need to be charged up by a few days in the sun. So get them working several days in advance. Once you have them charged up and switched on, they will automatically come on when it’s dark. Then they re-charge during the day. Once everything is set up, it’s all very easy.
The solar lights I use
I’ve been sent two kinds of solar lights to review. Both are good. The Solar Centre’s Blingstring Solar Fairy Lights are a generous 20 metres long. I strung them around our pergola, and had no trouble charging them up. I fixed the solar panel to the top of the pergola, and now hardly notice it.
The Solar Fairy Berry Lights from Festive Lights are shorter at 10 metres, so I wound them round my topiary spiral. It took me a while to work out which button to press, but it’s now working well. These lights would also look pretty as table decorations, in a large glass jar or hurricane lamp.
When buying fairy lights, make sure you know whether you are buying the blue-tinged White or the yellow-tinged Warm White bulbs.
Garden party ideas for lanterns and candles
Sort out your lanterns and candles in advance. Or if you have battery-operated candle lanterns, check the batteries. There is nothing more frantic than scurrying around looking for matches, batteries or tea-lights when the party is in full swing.
If your lanterns, jam jars and night-light holders have been outside for a while, give them a good wash. It makes all the difference. Then replace the candles and tea lights and put them outside ready for action.
Garden party decorations – add colour
Bright and strong colours work well outside. Pick a colour theme, such as red, hot pink, purple or lime green.
And when you’re choosing flowers for outside entertaining, a florist once told me to use much stronger colours than you would inside. That makes sense.
Picnic-ware and plates
You don’t have to use picnic plates for a garden party. But there are some lovely picnic plates around now, and it’s a great excuse to use them. I particularly love these tin plates.
Garden party bunting
What would a garden party be without bunting? If you only want short strings of bunting, the easiest option is to buy some. I went online to find Amazon’s best ranked vintage bunting and bought two packets. I strung one up on the pergola and another at the kitchen window to frame the garden outside.
One of the best garden party ideas was suggested by a friend of mine. She advised me to have two barbecues on the go.
She swears by her small ‘kettle’ barbecue. It was very useful for the party at our house this weekend, because there were two vegetarians. Their food was cooked separately.
It also means you can have a barbecue when there are just two or three of you, because it uses so much less charcoal than a full-size barbecue.
Do I need a garden party tent?
Here in South East England (roughly equivalent to a USA Zone 9), the weather is very variable. It might be hot. Or pouring with rain. Or both.
We have always borrowed gazebos from friends. So my first tip is ‘borrow from a friend.’ However, if something goes wrong, you don’t want to break a friend’s gazebo. And there are some very affordable models around such as this one from Deuba below at £46.95.
Roughly speaking, you have a choice between a £50 gazebo or a £120+ gazebo. You can’t expect the £50 model to last as long as the £200+ one, or for it to be as sturdy. Every time you put a gazebo up or down, you are putting some strain on it. If you leave it out in bad weather, the wind can cause damage. It may be more convenient to buy a cheaper gazebo, so that if it’s damaged, there’s less to lose.
A friend bought a larger (3mx4.5m) heavy-duty gazebo like this one from AllSeasons Gazebos. She’s had it for two years now and it’s still going strong. It’s easy to put up and take down, and it’s big enough for a party.
If it rains a lot where you live, then a permanent garden shelter may be a good investment. And if you have a kitchen that opens up into the garden, you may not need a shelter at all.
More garden party ideas:
If you’re having a big party, there are some more ideas here in Garden party decorations – big party, small budget.
And if you’re thinking of installing an outdoor kitchen for entertaining in the garden, find out how fellow blogger The Frustrated Gardener turned his charming small town garden into a luscious plant-filled garden for entertaining.
And cooking for parties…
Plus there are some very good tips on how to barbecue from top chef Heston Blumenthal.
When I’m cooking for parties, these are my favourite cookbooks: Sarah Raven’s Food for Friends and Family has wonderful seasonal recipes, which are also perfect for people who grow their own veg. And Good Housekeeping’s Cooking For Crowds is out of print, but you can usually find second-hand copies on Amazon.
Its recipes have stood the test of time. It’s the only cookery book I’ve ever found which has tables for scaling up quantities. So as an untrained domestic cook, I can cater confidently for 50 people from this book. Why doesn’t Good Housekeeping do a new version?
Shop for my favourite garden tools, books and products…
I’m often asked for recommendations, so I’ve put together some lists of the things I use myself on the Middlesized Garden Amazon store.
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Let me know your garden party ideas and tips. Have a good party!