Take the Party Outside


Garden Party History and Planning

If you’re looking to get outside and entertain, you’re not alone. Spring has sprung and it’s the perfect time to take advantage of the sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful season. And, of all the great ways to have fun outside, it’s possible that none say “class” more than the garden party.

Garden parties began in England from the afternoon tea tradition. Anna Maria Russell, one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting is credited as the originator of afternoon tea time during the 1800s. Russell is said to have suffered from “a sinking feeling” around four o’clock in the afternoon, and, at first, had her servants sneak tea and breadstuffs to her.

Before long, though, she adopted the European tea service format and began inviting friends to her rooms at Belvoir Castle at five o’clock. This summer practice of Russell’s became so popular that she continued when she returned to London, inviting friends for “tea and a walking the fields.” By the end of the 1850s, afternoon tea was picked up by other hostesses as a perfect occasion for socialising.

By the Edwardian period, garden parties had come to be seen as a duty of the lord and lady of the county, and the grounds of the manor would be opened to guests at least once a year, generally in August or September. Guests were free to roam the grounds, gardens and conservatories, games of tennis or croquet were played and, for large parties, the band of the regiment quartered in the vicinity was often borrowed for the event.

Buckingham Palace has held garden parties since the 1860s, and the Queen currently hosts three parties there every summer. Attended by people from all walks of life, the events have evolved as a way to recognise and reward public service. Over 30,000 people attend these parties, with a typical party seeing around 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 slices of cake consumed.

Lucky for you, hosting your own garden party is a much simpler (and cheaper) affair! Here are some tips to get you on the road to having the perfect garden party.

  1. Prep your setting: Be sure to mow the lawn, catch up on any weeding and water your plant beds a day or two in advance. You can arrange planters around the perimeter of your deck or use them to define areas for lounging, food and drink service, game playing and even dancing. A large indoor/outdoor mat under a table and chairs is great for the dining area, while blankets, cushions and pillows work well in areas made for relaxing.
  2. Use what you have: If you’re worried that your deck or outdoor furniture isn’t elegant enough for the event, punching things up a bit doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Simple white sheets can be used to cover plastic tables, chairs and backyard canopies. It’s a good idea to tie the fabric to legs or corners to make sure it stays on. Add even more style with hanging paper lanterns or fairy lights.
  3. Service should be easy: A long table placed up against a wall or sturdy fence makes for a simple, buffet-like service area. Aside from the standard plates, knives, forks, spoons and napkins needed for any party that can be found at a variety of party or discount stores, you should also head to local thrift stores, antique shops or flea markets for tea service items. Find a variety of teapots, teacups, saucers, loose-leaf tea steepers, dish covers to keep bugs away from food and a couple of sugar pots and creamers. Feel free to mix and match patterns and designs.
  4. Games for all: Make sure you provide a variety of amusements for your guests. Badminton, mini golf, croquet, bag toss, horseshoes and shuffleboard are all good options and sets are easy to come by.
  5. Simple refreshments: To stick with tradition, be sure to have a large supply of loose-leaf tea on hand as well as some tea bags. Popular varieties are Earl Grey, Darjeeling, English breakfast, jasmine, orange pekoe, chai, green and peppermint. You can also offer Champagne, Prosecco, sparkling grape juice and filtered water flavored with fruit.
  6. Serve finger foods: Keep the food easy with finger sandwiches and other items that can be consumed in one or two bites. French pastries, scones with Devonshire cream and small finger sandwiches, like cucumber, chicken salad and smoked salmon work well. Prepare sandwiches by buying different breads, removing the crusts, filling and then cutting them into small rectangles. Or, try pinwheel-style sandwiches by removing the crusts, flattening the bread with a rolling pin, adding filling, then rolling and slicing off sandwiches as if you were making icebox cookies.

With a little bit of planning, you garden party is sure to be quite the hit!

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