Outdoor table decorating ideas: 16 pretty looks for entertaining in the garden
Choose from these bright and breezy outdoor table decorating ideas to set the scene for garden get-togethers
Our favorite outdoor table decorating ideas will have you craving an outdoor celebration so much you'll want to fix a date right now. With summer party planning so close now, it's definitely time to dust off your candelabra.
To help you take your outdoor entertaining to the next level, we've got everything from upscale designs and opulent settings to fun ideas and more relaxed looks that work a laidback boho vibe. So whether you like the notion of inviting a few friends round to get creative with cocktails or want to host a more grand affair that sees you bringing out your best china and linen, find out how to set the scene for a perfect outdoor celebration.
Our scoop on what's trending for alfresco table set-ups will boost your patio furniture ideas in a flash and help you to style up your backyard for a special occasion.
16 outdoor table decorating ideas you'll love
Whether you're entertaining in a big or small space these outdoor table decorating ideas will work for every backyard. Find out how to style up your best garden furniture and make your outdoor table centerstage in your designs for the most stylish outdoor living ever.
1. Choose a color theme for your table decorations
The first thing to decide is what colors you want to use as the starting point for your outdoor table decorating ideas. This is the foundation that will bring together your theme.
Crisp white is a classic choice for garden color schemes and it works perfectly for elegant alfresco celebrations. It's simple to layer up a co-ordinated look with white too and there's lots of varieties to choose from when it comes to adding flowers.
White flowers such as these pelargoniums look instantly stylish and small plants can be used to personalize each individual place setting, which looks especially effective if you add a decorative wrap around the pot.
'Add a breath of fresh air to a summer table,' says Dr Suzanne Lux, spokesperson for Pelargonium for Europe. 'A homemade collar of branches of different lengths turns a simple planter into an attractive place setting or centerpiece with little effort and gives the flowering white geranium a beautiful, natural look.'
2. Transform your outdoor table for a special occasion
Hosting a more formal event means bringing out your best tableware and linen, and adding flamboyant flower arrangements to tabletops.
Whether it’s a special celebration or simply a gathering of friends for a summer lunch, making the effort to pull together an elegant look will be appreciated by all and help to make the occasion memorable.
Aim for a more formal table setting with crisp white china and stylish glassware. Create a centerpiece by bedecking the garden table with a generous selection of roses or other seasonal blooms hand-picked from the garden.
Even better, of course, if your outdoor table is arranged beneath a patio cover such as a plant-covered pergola or trellis to throw dappled light on to your guests.
3. Add a living centerpiece
The best outdoor table decorating ideas should always include a stunning centerpiece. Flowers look lovely in an alfresco garden table setting, but plants also work well as the focal point.
If you love landscaping with lavender in the garden, you'll love this idea too. It seems lavender is a tablescaping super star on Instagram and Pinterest too, and it's easy to see why. A planter filled with fragrant lavender is a natural choice that looks stunning and you can extend the theme with sprigs of lavender for each individual place setting to bring the whole look together.
4. Decorate a table for two for a weekend brunch
It might be a quiet alfresco breakfast moment for two but the table setting still deserves those extra special little details.
This purple and yellow scheme shows how easy it is to pick up colors in garden planting and carry through the theme with your outdoor table decorating ideas. A simple arrangement of the same flowers in a small vase creates a simple but eye-catching centerpiece for one of the best bistro sets.
5. Luxe up with an opulent tablecloth
What better setting for fabric with an ornamental botanical theme and boldly scaled florals than the garden. Just as you would choose the best materials for outdoor furniture, you should also go for high performance fabric materials designed especially for outdoor use if you want looks that last. This eye-catching design is printed on heavyweight cotton drill cloth which is machine washable so ideal for alfresco entertaining.
‘Don’t be afraid to mix patterns or contrast colors,' says Mark Turner of We Love Cushions. 'Using a bold table cloth as your base level sets the scene, meaning that all other accessories can complement colors within it.
'A metallic touch, such as gold cutlery, adds another element to the scape,' adds Mark. 'Choose a floral display with lots of greenery such as lime green alchemilla mollis (lady's mantle) to emphasise the connection with the outdoors. Choose one central display then add lots of posies in jam jars to layer up the look.'
6. Style up an outdoor table with masses of blooms
If you’ve caught the bug and learned how to grow dahlias you have the perfect material in your garden to create showstopping displays for your deck furniture ideas. If not, dahlias are widely available from florists and farmers markets too. They look great crammed into jugs to make a stunning display.
‘Dahlias are such showy blooms and look marvellous arranged en masse,’ says dahlia expert and Floret Flowers founder Erin Benzakein. ‘In addition to holding their own in an arrangement, they play well with other varieties of flowers and can be incorporated into any mixed arrangement.’
7. Pay attention to smaller details
It's not always about the bigger picture as smaller garden tables benefit from a seasonal lift with fresh decorating ideas too. Choose on-trend accessories with a natural aesthetic to style up your look in a way that works really well in the garden.
This season, woven straw, raffia, rattan, jute and sea grass are big news for outdoor seating ideas and the smaller items in these ranges are very affordable if you're looking for cheap garden ideas for a fast update to your outdoor space for less. These durable design-friendly pieces bring an earthy texture to everyday objects like vases and candle holders.
8. Set the table with linen and flowers
Just because you're entertaining outdoors doesn't mean you can't enjoy the finer things in life like a new linen tablecloth to make the occasion feel special. It's a simple trick that will transform any wooden garden furniture into the perfect entertaining space.
Add masses of blooms to pull together an opulent look. Blush-coloured 'Café au Lait' is often referred to as the queen of dahlias, with strong stems that hold up well in arrangements, while the heavy flowers of peachy-salmon ‘Sierra Glow’ is another favorite. A few stems of spiky ‘Black Narcissus’ will add a touch of drama.
Alternatively try a centerpiece created with a few stems of our favourite white pompom-headed hydrangea ‘Annabelle’. Include more ideas for landscaping with hydrangeas to link the theme with the rest of your garden.
9. Create a modern centerpiece with succulents
Using succulents for the centerpiece in your tablescaping project looks very elegant and is a real trend at the moment. The simplest way to do this is to gather together several small pots and arrange them in a shallow container or basketware tray.
Alternatively go one step further and create a stunning succulent garden idea by planting them together in one eye-catching bowl. Modern textured concrete ones look good for this. Succulents grow well in containers that have holes in the bottom for proper drainage so you might need to stand it in a dish to catch any excess water. Succulents don't like damp soil and need a special free-draining soil mix that prevents them getting waterlogged.
It's a long lasting and low-maintenance option that looks good for months, plus you can take it indoors at the end of summer and transfer it to your indoor table. Find out how to grow succulents so you have plenty to choose from.
10. Choose jewel-bright colors for a statement table
Jewel-color gardens are a key look this year with magenta pink and garnet leading the way in planting to create bold and eye-catching displays.
Garden designer Fi Boyle is a big fan of grouping vibrant jewel colors together: 'I love to combine strong magenta reds with moody purples, deep blues, and limes.' These colours can be picked up with table accessory details too, with bold napkins, colored glass vases and flowers continuing the theme.
If you want to take your outdoor table decorating ideas up a level add some height to your display too with a mix of tall jewel-colored blooms to add impact.
11. Take an indoor look outside
'I love using big ceramic vases with oversized foliage or flower arrangements when dressing my outdoor space,' says interior designer Sophie Patterson. 'It has such an impact. We decorate with vases of flowers inside our homes for special occasions, but it isn’t something we often use outdoors. It’s a great way to add color and impact to your garden.'
If you don’t have time to go and buy flowers for your garden party, cut a few branches of foliage from the trees in your garden, suggests Sophie. 'Greenery adds so much to any space. Arrange a small sprig of foliage with each place setting too,' she says. 'I tuck it into the napkin ring. The foliage from olive trees is very effective for this.'
12. Add a boho feel to your outdoor table with pampas grass
When it comes to growing ornamental grasses in the garden, the Seventies classic pampas is back in fashion in a big way. This also means it's a good look for outdoor table decorating ideas. Like so much else, the trend for vases of big fluffy pampas grass is about taking an interior trend outside, as the look that first took over our homes last year moves into the garden.
'As last year’s obsession with pampas grass continues, it’s safe to say that the boho vibe is here to stay,' says Jess Martin, decoration expert at Ginger Ray. She suggests arranging bleached pampas grass in plain vases, arranging one centerpiece that's slightly more dramatic. Black vases are always a good choice when paired with pampas grass for added drama.
Learn how to grow pampas grass so you'll have plenty of feathery plumes of your own to fill vases with.
13. Choose accessories that switch things up
Make your entertaining space stand out by adding distinctive accessories and transferring your interior style outside for a seamless connection. Candles are a must as dusk descends.
Go grand with candelabra for a Regencycore look that will add a touch of class to your evening summer entertaining. Choose bold candelabra designs featuring sculptural shapes, and interesting textures or colors to make a style statement that looks just as good during the day.
Paired with colourful garden furniture ideas this creates a quirky and individual look. If you don't have bold and vibrant tables or chairs like this, painting garden furniture is easier than you might think, and can be an inexpensive way to give dated and weathered wooden tables and chairs a smart new look.
14. Introduce a botanical theme with bud vases
When entertaining in the garden if you want to choose a botanical theme for your garden decor ideas, make the most of the foliage that's on offer. A little goes a long way and a few stems will look great arranged in bud vases.
'Look for leafy foliage you can gather in your garden or nearby, then arrange in small glass vases to dot around the table,' suggests Jess Martin, decoration expert at Ginger Ray.
'Bud vases are a great option,' agrees Lucy Whiddett of The Table Stylist. 'They look stunning arranged along the center of a table to create a meadow look. Almost any flower works in a bud vase. Some of my favorites are tulips, roses, snap dragons and anemones. I suggest looking around the garden and using what you have to hand. I often add mint to my arrangements too in summer for a beautiful scent.'
15. Line up a design in simple glass bottles
A few flower stems and some grass fronds combine to create a simple table decoration that's super easy to do and can be done in seconds.
'This charming outdoor table decorating idea looks like a fresh breeze, with grasses and bright white cut geraniums combining to create a summery feel,' says Dr Suzanne Lux, spokesperson for Pelargonium for Europe. 'To create this arrangement, all you need besides the florals is a simple, oblong wooden box and several glass bottles.'
Lots of flowers would work for this look especially floaty types of cosmos and delicate sweet peas, but for max impact stick with one type and color.
16. Use color carefully for your table place settings
'When picking a theme and color for your table I suggest choosing three colors that fall into the primary, secondary and accent groupings,' says tablescaping expert Lucy Whiddett of The Table Stylist. 'This Amalfi tablescape has blue placemats as the primary color, crisp white napkins as the secondary color and the accent color yellow introduced by using fresh lemons.'
Foliage is an easy way to add drama to your tablescape too. Look for large branches with leaves to put into a vase to create a wild and fluid arrangement or try placing some simple foliage along the center of the table for a beautiful natural look.
How do you dress an outdoor table?
We asked table linen expert and Piglet In Bed founder Jessica Hanley for her top tips on adding flair and individual style to your outdoor table decorating ideas:
- Lay out your finest glassware. Don’t be afraid to use your best wine glasses to help your tablescape look elegant.
- A natural linen tablecloth is the perfect choice for summer and the beauty of linen is that it's easily washed and the crumpled texture means no ironing.
- Use quirky sets of gold or ornate vintage cutlery to add character to your tablescape.
- Use decorative china in bright colors or patterns to bring your tablescape to life. Use these to inspire the rest of your color scheme. Get creative and don't be afraid to mix and match contrasting shades.
- If you prefer classic, neutral shades, stick to light colors like white and cream.
- Invest in some pretty food covers made of bamboo and mesh that will add to the beauty of your tablescape.
- Linen napkins are a great way to tie your place settings together. For an extra special touch, use some twine or string to tie the napkins together with some seasonal flowers like lavender.
- Create a space for sharing boards and dipping sets.
- Place a drinks trolley nearby. An ice bucket is another practical edition to keep your drinks cool.
- Get creative with your centerpiece making good use of the cutting garden flowers and foliage in your plot. Assemble blooms with plenty of leaves and branches to create a wild-looking design. Alternatively, cut stems short and opt for multiple smaller bud vases.
How do you decorate an outdoor table at night?
Illuminate your garden table with some sparkle to add night-time magic. The trick is to plan your outdoor lighting ideas on lots of different levels around the space. Wind fairy lights around tree trunks nearby, use solar uplighters to illuminate plants and trees at ground level, and hang festoon or string lights above the table.
Candles add a particular type of ambience that’s hard to beat. They throw out a soft glow and look great grouped together to make an outdoor table centerpiece. A collection of lanterns with tall church candles works particularly well, while tall storm lanterns are ideal for protecting candle flames from breezes.
Alternatively try flameless battery-operated solar lights that offer an authentic glow. Some even come with remote timers too so you can time your illuminated outdoor table decorating ideas to come on as your guests arrive.
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. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.
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