How to throw a garden tea party: simple solutions for a fun get-together
Take summer celebrations up a level by hosting a garden tea party in the backyard for your nearest and dearest
A garden tea party presents the perfect opportunity to celebrate a special occasion outdoors over the summer months. Whether it’s for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations, a birthday bash, baby shower, anniversary, or simply an opportunity to get dressed up and spend some time with family and friends, what could be more fun on a summer’s afternoon than holding a tea party in your own back garden?
Hosting a tea party outdoors is a lovely way to make the most of the summer sunshine and because food, furniture and guests are all out in the garden (and not in the house), it can be far less hassle than organizing an event that’s indoors.
An afternoon tea party is also an easier option than more formal garden party ideas – and though not quite as casual as a family barbecue – food can be prepared in advance which makes the day itself less stressful and leaves more time to spend having fun and socializing with guests.
Organizing a garden tea party doesn’t have to be too complicated or expensive. Being resourceful with props and supplies and preparing food and drink in advance of the day will help to keep costs down. And, of course, hosting a party in your own backyard means you won’t have to pay to hire out a venue.
Expert tips on how to throw a garden tea party
Our 12 expert tips will help you organize a garden tea party to remember. From how to decorate your outdoor space to suggestions for food and drinks, we've got everything you need to plan your event.
1. Decide on a theme for your garden tea party
Set the scene for an outdoor event by choosing a garden party theme. It can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. But deciding on a color palette or narrowing down a theme early on can be a good starting point, and make it easier to pull the whole scheme together, whether it’s classic florals and chintz, or a quirky Mad Hatter style tea party.
If there is a particular reason for your tea party, such as a significant birthday or anniversary, then take this as a lead and base your theme around the number or relevant color. Or take inspiration from the garden color scheme itself and pick out table linens, crockery and outdoor decorations in colors and materials that will complement garden florals and foliage.
Decorating a table with seasonal flowers, fruits or fresh herbs is a lovely way of adding color and the table will smell delicious too. Or you could really push the boat out with an extravagant flower wall as the centerpiece of your tea party.
2. Organize the tea party invitations
Select a date well in advance and organize a guest list so that you can send out your invitations ahead of the party. Weekends are often the best time of week to host a tea party, with guests more likely to be available rather than at work.
Aim for a start time roughly mid-afternoon – somewhere between 2.30-3.30pm – which isn’t too late for guests that might not have had lunch, and not too early for those that have already eaten a lunch, to graze upon some light bites.
Invitations can vary from formal printed invites, similar to those you would use for a backyard wedding, to more casual ‘Save the Date’ markers and online e-vites. Match the invites to your theme in pretty colors, botanicals or tea pots and china themed designs. Look online and find free printable templates and invitations that you can adapt yourself and print out from a computer.
3. Source your tea party props
Adding to your garden decor ideas by sourcing party props can be great fun. Bunting and festoon lights are tea party staples that will create an instant festival or boho vibe, but adding in a few quirkier pieces, such as painted signs, vintage china cake stands and glass jam jars to fill with floral posies will take your outdoor table decorating up a level.
Gather supplies and decorations in advance so that there won’t be a last-minute panic on the day. Keep costs down by shopping around on the high street and making use of any special offers and bulk-buy deals, or you can pick up one-offs and vintage buys fairly cheaply from local charity shops, thrift stores or boot fairs.
4. Plan a classic tea party menu
Decide on a menu well in advance so that you can work out quantities needed and shop for food and supplies. Make things easier on the day by opting for easy-to-eat savoury bites and sweet treats that can be prepared ahead of time and chilled.
Tea parties are slightly more formal than a typical BBQ party. Classic finger sandwiches are always a winner – filled with cucumber, cream cheese, smoked salmon and coronation chicken – or try a few variations to spice things up, such as roasted vegetables and mozzarella, prosciutto and goats cheese or roast beef and watercress.
A good selection of sponges, tea cakes and the all-important scones served with clotted cream and jam are a must at any garden tea party. Scones are best served freshly baked, but it can be helpful to prepare batches in advance for freezing and then defrosting in a low oven on the day.
5. Pick the right spot in your garden
Make sure that the table and chairs are positioned on a stable base, where they won’t wobble too much or the legs sink into soft ground or grass. Lay a couple of wide wooden planks down over a lawn to create a temporary decked area if you need to.
‘First off, it doesn’t matter if your garden is large or small, tidy or untidy. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t have a garden – a small patio will do,’ says Jo Jeffery, Head of Brand Development at Talking Tables. ‘Choose a spot for your table that enjoys the afternoon sun. Near a beautiful tree is perfect, if you have one, especially as you can hang bunting from it. Nothing says garden tea party quite like bunting!’
6. Get the seating arrangements sorted
Ensure that you have the best garden furniture possible for your garden tea party. This should include a generously sized table and plenty of seats for your guests. A long refectory-style or trestle table is ideal, but if you don’t have one long-enough, get round it by pushing two smaller square tables together to create one large tabletop. Alternatively, two or three small tables grouped together cafe-style on a patio can work well too and create a more sociable mood.
Pull together a mismatched assortment of furniture by covering up with colorful tablecloths and linens for a stylish outdoor dining idea. Dress chairs up by decorating the backs with bright ribbons or mini swags of foliage and posies of flowers.
‘It’s always a lovely idea when eating outside, to mix in odd chairs from indoors,’ says Susie Watson, founder of Susie Watson Designs. ‘It will add color and interest, creating a jolly and welcoming look.’
7. Prep your garden tea party space
Make sure the patio is clean, lawn neat and the garden tidy with toys, tools and equipment safely stored away out of sight. Deadhead flowers, spruce up foliage and arrange pots and garden planters in pretty groupings.
When it comes to outdoor decorations, a little can go a long way. Concentrate on the area around and above the table, hanging strings of bunting, festoon lights, string lights, garlands and pom-poms from the branches of trees or suspended on bamboo poles.
‘Don’t worry about making your garden perfectly ‘coiffed’, but do declutter,’ says Jo Jeffery, Head of Brand Development at Talking Tables. ‘Put those empty pots and garden tools away from sight.
‘And when it comes to decorations, why not make use of items you already have? A trip to a charity shop or thrift store can give something once loved a new life too. When investing in newer items, go for things that are built to last – like quality fabric bunting – so you can store them away and bring them out for another day.’
8. Be ready for all weathers
Afternoon sun can get pretty hot, so providing some practical shade ideas for guests is a must-have if your patio is in a particularly sunny spot. A cantilevered garden parasol with a side support (rather than a central pole) won’t obstruct the view across the table and is easier for guests to manoeuvre their way around. Or shade the table area with a fabric canopy or awning idea, either attached to the house or supported by sturdy poles.
It’s always worth having a back-up plan in case of wet weather too. Check the forecast in the days leading up to your tea party and adjust the arrangements, should you need to take the party indoors at the last minute. Or consider buying or borrowing one of the best gazebos that can be set up the day before should rain suddenly be forecast.
‘A beautiful table surrounded by flowers makes an idyllic spot for afternoon tea,’ says Susie Watson.
9. Organize pretty tea party tableware
Pretty garden table ideas are the focus of any tea party, so creating a fabulous tablescape to showcase the spread of food is key. Putting down a pretty tablecloth is a super-easy way of smartening up a basic garden table and adding matching napkins, cutlery and tableware in a complementary color or chintzy floral pattern will help set the scene in an instant.
While disposables and melamine are practical for outdoors, why not go all-out for a tea party and opt for real crockery for more of an authentic feel. Cut costs by sourcing vintage china pieces from thrift shops or boot fairs, looking out for pretty tea cups and saucers, side plates and serving dishes. Don’t worry about mixing different colors and patterns, a mismatched look all adds to the charm.
10. Add wow to a tea party with a focal point
Every great table needs a showstopper piece that grabs the attention. Cake stands make an easy but fabulous centerpiece for a tea party table, layered up with fancy fondants and pastries or dressed with a lavishly decorated cake, that will add height to the arrangement and give the table a visual focal point.
In-season flowers are another easy way of dressing up a summer tea table that will work extra height into the scheme and bring a visual pop of color, not to mention a delicious fragrance too.
Fill glass bottle vases with scented types of roses and sweet peas or tall stems of dahlias and summer stock. Add smaller posies of cutting garden flowers in glass jars around the table for individual place settings.
11. Don't forget to stock up on tea!
The most essential item for any garden tea party is the tea itself. Two or three different varieties should be plentiful, including classics such as Earl Grey and Breakfast Tea, as well as a black tea such as Darjeeling, Assam or Ceylon. Fruit or herbal teas are also a nice idea for summer garden tea parties, as well as iced tea if the weather is particularly warm. You could even try learning how to grow your own herbal tea for the occasion.
Make sure you have a plentiful supply of cups and saucers, teapots and hot water to hand to take you through the afternoon – consider hiring a tea urn if you are expecting lots of guests. Don’t forget to also include milk jugs, tea strainers and small dishes to collect used tea leaves, as well as a supply of sugar, honey, lemon slices and tea spoons.
If you're also wanting to serve alcohol at your garden tea party then why not think up a separate drink station idea so that the main table doesn't get too overcrowded.
12. Keep garden pests at bay
Uninvited visitors can be a nuisance when you’re entertaining outdoors. Invest in a couple of mesh food covers to place over cakes and sandwiches if wasps and flies are buzzing around and causing a problem.
Protecting guests from the unwanted attention of gnats and mosquitoes is also worth considering if you’re tea-partying in high summer. Having mosquito repellent plants around such as aromatic herbs, like lavender, rosemary, garlic, peppermint and basil, can help deter bugs - either growing nearby or in table arrangements.
Lighting citronella-scented candles or torches and placing them around the garden will help deter bugs too, and it’s also worth having some bug spray on hand.
13. Plan for after dark
Think about including some backyard party lighting ideas for when the afternoon comes to an end and the evening draws in. Colored glass candle votives and lanterns make pretty table decorations by day and then create a magical mood when lit up after dark. And make sure that paths, steps and walkways are well-illuminated so that guests can navigate their way safely around the garden when it’s dark.
‘Light up your summer living space with an ambient and soothing glow,’ says Claire Bassett, Senior Product Manager at Lights4fun. ‘Solar lights are the perfect choice for illuminating your space this summer, their handy daylight sensor will mean that your solar lights will soak up the sun during the day and automatically switch on at dusk.
‘Create cozy corners by hanging solar lanterns above seating areas and add a touch of magic to your space by entwining outdoor micro lights throughout trees and foliage for a subtle sparkle and some added height to your summer setup.'
After dark may well be an opportunity for an impromptu hot tub party, or even a pool party if you're lucky to have one. So if this is a possibility it never hurts to invite guests to bring a swim suit, just in case.
Lisa is a freelance journalist who has written about interiors for more than 25 years and has worked on all the major homes titles, primarily Ideal Home, but also including Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors, Style at Home, Livingetc, Woman & Home, Easy Gardens and Good Homes magazines. Homes and interiors have always been a passion and she never tires of nosying around gorgeous homes and gardens, whether on TV, online, in print or in person, as well as being a serial shopper/bargain hunter. A keen (but novice) gardener and allotmenteer, a summer house project at the end of the garden is next on Lisa’s to-do list.
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