Garden party planning: 8 essential tips and tricks from the experts

Follow these dos and don'ts from the experts and your garden party planning will be a breeze

balloon decorations in garden
(Image credit: Ginger Ray)

Looking for expert tips on garden party planning this summer? Knowing these dos and don'ts is a must before you get started with your list, so you can make sure you throw a party to be remembered.

Planning well means you can kick back and relax so you enjoy the party. Decide on a playlist before the day and set up a DIY bar for guests to help themselves so that you have plenty of time to mingle and chat. After all, the main point of a garden party is to have a good time and enjoy the company!

Getting plenty of inspiring garden party ideas in place is always advisable if you're planning on hosting outdoors. Whether you want to elevate an entertaining zone or really ramp things up to celebrate a special event we've got all the tips and tricks that can make the whole process run much more smoothly. 

8 key garden party planning dos and don'ts

From decorations, food and drinks to creating a welcome and styling up the space, we've rounded up the key points to bear in mind when planning your garden party. Whether you need some pretty special backyard wedding ideas for the big day or more laidback BBQ party ideas we can help you get a handle on your planning. 

'The best parties tend to have well thought out plans behind them, which is even more crucial when hosting an outdoor event,' says Jess Martin, party planning and decoration expert at Ginger Ray. 'Unpredictable weather and natural surroundings make things a bit trickier but the key is all in the prep.'

Jess suggests having a clear plan in place for food, drinks, music and entertainment will make the process of hosting a party outdoors a lot easier. 'Plan for both the best and worst weather scenarios, and always have a plan B that can easily take place somewhere inside. If you don't you risk sending your guests home early.'

garden party sign

(Image credit: Leverstock/Getty Images)

1. Do choose a theme for your garden party

Deciding on a garden party theme as part of your party planning helps you work out the decorations, food and entertainment accordingly. ‘Having a theme can save you time, money and a lot of fretting over what kind of food you serve or what decorations you put up,' says Lakeland's seasonal buyer Rebecca Dudley.

'Throwing a party can be stressful if you haven’t got a clear theme or focus, so anything to keep the decision making to a minimum should be welcomed with open arms.' Just stick with something to set the mood and help make it an extra-special occasion for everyone.

Whether you're hosting a fun pool party or a more relaxed afternoon tea, it's best to avoid anything too whacky or extreme when choosing your theme. The old favorites tend to work every time. 

decorated table in garden

A traditional afternoon tea garden party is always a popular choice - no need to go easy on the cake selection

(Image credit: Future)

2. Don't skimp on tables and chairs

Creating outdoor dining options as part of your garden party planning doesn’t have to break the bank. 'When looking for outdoor furniture we always shop around at local markets and secondhand shops where you can pick up a bargain, particularly if you’re a little creative,' says Lucy Townsend of party planning company Wilds Events. 'Nothing has to be brand new. Adding a bright linen tablecloth, for example, can really brighten up a preloved wooden table.'

Scandi lifestyle expert Catharina Björkman from Swedish woodburning stove brand Contura agrees. 'Check re-sale sites and community forums in the local area for anything that might be suitable for your garden party. You would be surprised at some of the items people are happy to give away for free, and a quick sand and lick of paint can soon give furniture a completely new lease of life.'

Many of us also turn to platforms like eBay, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace to get garden furniture for parties at a better price. 

But how do you get your new finds delivered to your house in time for your garden party? Think Uber but for deliveries. 'When garden party season is upon us and we’re busy thinking up themes and ordering colorful decorations, we often forget about getting the basics in, like enough tables and chairs,' says Sharon Watts of on-demand delivery company SoonAs. 'When you’ve invited lots of guests, you need extra furniture delivered fast and now it's much easier to do this.' 

garden table and chairs arranged for party

Make sure there is plenty of seating for guests – inexpensive folding chairs are a practical choice

(Image credit: Maskot/Getty Images)

3. Do create a welcome for your garden party guests

Your guests will be excited to be joining you at your party so make sure you hit them with some wow-factor when they arrive. If it's an evening party, the easiest way to do this is with your backyard party lighting ideas

'The first impression sets the scene for your garden party so offering an inviting taste of the theme is important, and lighting is the key here,' says party planner Liz Taylor of award-winning global luxury event management company the Taylor Lynn Corporation

'If your party is rustic inspired, line your garden path or driveway with candles in storm lanterns or recycled jam jars. If it’s a more elegant vibe you're looking for, create a blanket of lit candles on the front lawn, dress trees in small twinkling lights, and add drama by lighting garden features such as fountains or large trees. It says welcome to the party with dramatic effect.' 

Don't forget to include a handy drink station somewhere near the entrance too, so guests can be greeted by a drink of their choice on arrival. 'Choose drinks that are in keeping with the season' adds Liz. 'A Pimm's drink or iced-lolly, for example, is the perfect afternoon refreshment for a British-inspired garden picnic party.’ 

garden party with awning and lights at night

Set the party scene with atmospheric lighting

(Image credit: Lights4Fun)

4. Don't forget to establish a dress code

If your get-together has a theme like a hot tub party, barbecue get-together or pizza party, it's easy for guests to assume the dress code is casual and laidback. But if your invitation simply states 'garden party' you might need to spell things out, so don’t forget to make it clear to your guests what the dress code is, particularly if you're planning a more formal event for a special occasion. 

Nothing is more awkward for guests than feeling uncomfortable if they've dressed up more for a Buckingham Palace-style garden party while everyone else is working a beach-ready look. For some, if the invitation to a garden party doesn't specify a dress code it will suggest they need to dress up while others might assume it's more of a shorts and slides affair. 

In general, however, the best advice is to keep things easy on the what to wear front. Make it nice and simple, like asking guests to dress in 'bright colors', or 'florals' so you take the pressure off. What's more, they'll even look co-ordinated for the all-important Instagram pics!

two girls sitting on grass at garden party

Guests will find it helpful to know if there's a relaxed dress code or if you're expecting something more formal for a special occasion

(Image credit: Future)

5. Do plan for every weather eventuality

It’s important to have a contingency plan in place if the weather is chillier than anticipated, you find yourself in a heatwave or a summer storm breaks.

'Prepare for every eventuality when it comes to garden party planning,' says Jess Martin. 'Ensure you have shelter in case it rains, like a gazebo or even a marquee, which must be secured properly in case it's windy. Or, if you get lucky and are hosting your party during a heatwave, make sure there is always shade and plenty of refreshments available.' 

If you don't have a permanent patio cover, think about including some temporary measures. There are plenty of stylish (and affordable) gazebos ideas to choose from, or you could even hire a small marquee with open sides if your house isn’t big enough to cater for large numbers if things have to move indoors. 

You should also consider how chilly it might get in the evening, especially if you're hosting a winter outdoor party. Natural textures add a gorgeous boho feel to a garden party. 'Layering up some extra warm blankets or throws for guests to use is a must. Arrange these on your outdoor furniture or store in woven baskets for everyone to use as they need,' suggests Catharina Björkman.

Think about including one of the best fire pits or patio heaters in your setup too. They'll make guests far more comfortable outdoors as the warmth from the sun begins to fade. 

fabric gazebo in garden

Pretty gazebos are perfect for sheltering from the sun or even the occasional rain shower

(Image credit: Future)

6. Don’t let your guests be troubled by bugs

Bugs can be a big problem during warmer weather, so factor this into your garden party planning as nobody wants to get bitten or end up with a fly in their drink. Try serving drinks in quirky jam jars instead of glasses. Push straws through holes in the lids, and match them to your color theme. 

Alternatively use insect repellents. 'Discreetly place citronella candles around your garden to deter any midges and have some repellent readily available for any guests who may be suffering unwelcome insect attention,’ says Liz Taylor. 

Surrounding your main seating area with several of the best mosquito repellent plants can help reduce the problem in a natural way, or try a sleek and compact patio mosquito and midge repelling device to ward off irksome insects.

Our tips on how to get rid of wasps could also come in handy if you want to deter these pests from ruining your summer party. 

summer drinks in jars in garden

Serving drinks in quirky jam jar-style glasses can stop flies and bugs getting into liquid refreshments

(Image credit: Lenakorzh/Getty Images)

7. Do spend time on garden party decorations

‘When it comes to decoration, it’s all about the details,' says Rebecca Dudley. 'Try festoon lights for when the sun goes down, floor cushions to help make everyone comfy, and an ice bucket to keep the drinks cool. You don’t need to go overboard with crazy displays. Instead just be a little creative with the things that matter as your guests will be sure to notice and appreciate it.’

If you want to add some luxe details to your garden decor or outdoor table decorating ideas, there's so much on offer to choose from. 'Just because you're hosting your party outside, doesn't mean you need to scrimp on the party decorations,' says Jess Martin. 'With a few simple adaptions, you can create a stunning venue for your garden party without spending a fortune to decorate the space.' 

Jess suggests biodegradable balloons are a great option for decorating a venue while also doing your bit for the environment. Balloon arches can be used to add a fab decorative accent in your signature party colors too. Or try flower wall ideas if you like the idea of a blooming backdrop for your garden party.

alfresco table with decorations

Dress your table and outdoor space to impress with a range of pretty accessories

(Image credit: Future)

8. Don't forget to gift your guests with party favors

As your garden party comes to a close and guests begin heading home, don’t forget to give them a small parting gift to thank them for coming. It doesn't have to blow the budget and it's a nice idea for guests to take home something that reminds them of the garden party theme.

Something original and handmade is always good, like a small box of homemade cookies, flower-themed cup cakes in pretty boxes, freshly snipped lavender sachets to scent drawers or dainty posies of flowers picked from the garden and arranged in a rustic fashion. You can also give guests packets of flower seeds they can take away to grow themselves for a living reminder of the lovely time they've had.

If your party has been more of a luxe occasion, how about filling a basket with wrapped gifts for guests to choose from on their way out.

small posies of garden flowers on garden table

Small posies of flowers used to decorate your party space can be given as gifts at the end of the evening

(Image credit: Goddard on the Go/Alamy Stock Photo)

How do you plan what food to serve at a garden party?

Choosing what food to serve can be a tricky element of garden party planning. Every occasion is sure to have a range of guests with dietary requirements, allergies and food dislikes. 

To make sure that everyone's needs are catered for do your research ahead of the event and make sure you ask guests to inform you of any special dietary requests. Label food accordingly so there's no room for error on the day.

Nut, shellfish and gluten-free allergies are pretty common so make sure you have plenty of options so everyone has something to eat. Plant-based requests are also a big trend at the moment.

More is always best when it comes to party food so make sure you don't run out. Whether your plan involves bowls of snacks, a stack of help-yourself burgers cooked on your best BBQ, or a more formal sit-down affair, planning is everything, as Robert Hunningher, founder of Humdingers, knows only too well. He plans food for events from weddings and location shoots to fashion houses and studios across London. Here he shares his suggestions for planning the perfect food for a garden party.

  • We love to cater for garden parties and find light bites and grazing platters are always best – less mess, less waste, and allows people to eat as and when. Load up wooden boards or slates for a very Instagrammable grazing platter.
  • Serve charcuterie platters with cuts of cured hams and fill in the gaps with antipasti items such as stuffed mini peppers, olives and artichoke hearts, and pair with a good Mediterranean chutney. Another alternative is platters with a good mix of different cheeses served with celery, apple, grapes, almonds and walnuts, plus a little pot of honey and oatcakes.
  • Don’t forget something sweet. We find bite-sized sweet treats go down well at garden parties like mini scones with clotted cream and jam, and brownie bites with a raspberry drizzle. Or why not build a pastel-coloured macaron tower.
  • If you have vegans in attendance, adapt timeless savoury pastries with plant-based fillings like walnut, kale and mushroom spooned into some vegan puff pastry which is lovely paired with a spicy tomato chutney. Or try a plant-based platter with a mix of falafels, grilled vegetables, peppers stuffed with vegan cheese, olives, hummus, baba ganoush and course some toasted pitta to dip.

If all else fails on the garden party planning food front, fire up your best pizza oven or gas BBQ for a traditional alfresco cookout.

pile of burgers and other food for garden party

(Image credit: Future)
Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Her first job on glossy magazines was at Elle, during which time a visit to the legendary La Colombe d'Or in St-Paul-de-Vence led to an interest in all things gardening. Later as lifestyle editor at Country Homes & Interiors magazine the real pull was the run of captivating country gardens that were featured. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design as well as a course in floristry she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.