12 vintage garden party ideas for a perfect summer soirée
Give alfresco gatherings a retro flair with our vintage garden party ideas. From outdoor games to themed decorations, there's plenty to inspire....
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There’s nothing like some old-fashioned fun, and vintage garden party ideas allow you all kinds of scope for creating an elegant soirée for friends, family and neighbors. Think kitsch tablelinen, granny’s tea set and as much bunting as you can whip up on a sewing machine!
A vintage-themed party is also the perfect way to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee, which takes place from 2-5 June. Even if you don't live in the UK, it's a great excuse to invite friends and family over for an elegant backyard celebration.
It can often be a good idea to send out invites early, as people get booked up quickly over the summer months. Take a punt on a weekend and pray that the sun will make an appearance!
Why not make your own invitations with recycled card and pressed flowers? Seed paper is another lovely eco-friendly option so your guests can plant wildflowers that will pop up next summer.
However big or small your budget (or space), we have plenty of rip-roaring vintage garden party ideas to try out.
Create a retro paradise with these vintage garden party ideas
Of all the garden party themes to choose from, vintage is a winner every time. Ideal for summer soirées, include floral prints and pretty bunting in your garden party planning and it will create a relaxed, elegant atmosphere for your guests.
1. Set up a welcome table on a vintage cabinet
If you’re lucky enough to be putting your vintage garden party ideas into practise on a hot and sunny day, your guests are likely to want to head straight for the refreshments.
Upcycle a beautiful preloved dresser into an elegant drinks station idea to welcome guests on arrival. Laden it with clip-top bottles of chilled homemade cordial and jugs of Pimms for the adults. A vintage frame with a blackboard painted in chalkboard paint makes the perfect welcome sign.
‘Make use of items you already have,’ says Jo Jeffery, head of brand at Talking Tables (opens in new tab). ‘A trip to a charity shop can give something once loved a new life, too. And if you do invest in a couple of new items it’s good if they are built to last – like quality fabric bunting – so you can store them away and bring them out for another day. Alternatively, for something like paper napkins or bamboo plates, look out for plastic-free, recyclable packaging.’
2. Decorate chair backs with thrift store ribbons
Prettify your garden furniture with lengths of vintage ribbons. Raid your sewing stash (or local haberdashery) for multi-colored ribbons of any width. Tie them to the back rest so that they gently blow in the breeze.
Random lengths are fine if you're evoking a festival party, but cut the ends at a point to keep them looking neat. You could even tuck a posy of daisies or other tiny blossoms into several of the knots.
3. Transform vintage bird cages into centerpieces
Bird cages have a vintage charm all of their own, but when filled with brightly colored pelargoniums, they make stand-out centerpieces for your vintage garden party. If you’re not keen on pelargoniums, any other sweet-scented flower, such as sweet peas, lavender or roses, will enchant your guests’ senses.
When dusk falls, why not use the cages as an unusual backyard party lighting idea? Simply fill them with battery or solar-powered fairy lights, then hang from a tree so they look like twinkling fireflies.
4. Have an old-fashioned bake off
Harping back to traditional country fetes, why not ask your guests to bring a cake and hold a mini bake off? It doesn’t have to be taken too seriously, and means there will be plenty of sweet treats to go around.
The kids might also like to get involved and the host could give out prizes for the star bakers. Alternatively, you could turn it into a bake sale to raise money for a charitable cause close to your heart.
Make a feature of your cake table by adding some pretty decorations overhead. 'When it comes to hosting a vintage garden party, bunting is a brilliant budget-friendly choice of decoration that will look great in any setting,’ shares Jess Martin, party planning and decoration expert at Ginger Ray (opens in new tab).
‘Strung from tree to tree or as a garden fence decoration, some brightly colored bunting will set the scene of your bash perfectly. Whether you opt for a bold color or a more subtle ditsy print, there are plenty of eco-friendly options available that you can recycle after the event but still pack a punch.’
5. Play traditional garden games
Keep kids (and adults!) entertained by making old-fashioned garden games. To make a hoopla set, wash out some empty drinks bottles then, once dry, fill them with a little colored paint. Swirl it around the sides, then pour back into the bottle so all the inside is coated. Leave to dry.
Decorate the inner rings of embroidery hoops by wrapping them with colorful yarn. To play, place the bottles in a vintage apple crate and throw the hoops with the aim of getting them over the bottlenecks. To add a scoring element, each bottle could be worth a different number of points.
6. Hang old-school paper decorations
Vintage paper decorations have definitely become trendy again in recent years and they’re perfect for adding a burst of color to your garden decor. Party brands like Talking Tables and Ginger Ray offer readymade honeycomb spheres, fans and pompoms in almost every size and color you can imagine, or you could even try making your own. Once assembled, use string or clear fishing wire to suspend them from tree branches.
‘If you’re hosting a garden tea party, you can’t go wrong with a long trestle table for all of your loved ones to gather around,’ explains Laura Rich, Product Development Lead at Furniturebox (opens in new tab). ‘A nice long table is the perfect focal point and encourages everyone to come together and enjoy the celebrations as one.’
7. Incorporate a theme from times gone by
Giving your vintage garden party ideas a theme will help inspire your food, drink, outdoor table decorating ideas and more. It doesn’t have to mean a costume party, unless you want it to! Alice in Wonderland is a firm favorite for tea parties or you could make it more grown up with a 1950s diner vibe.
Think milkshakes and rock ‘n’ roll on the jukebox, and all-American hamburgers for a vintage BBQ party vibe. Downton Abbey or Bridgerton are also perfect vintage themes, using your finest china, finger sandwiches and croquet on the lawn.
Ellie Moore, owner of Dress For Dinner (opens in new tab) recommends, ‘Sipping your fizz from a cup and saucer will transport your guests back to the roaring twenties. Etched, cut-glass and gold-rimmed crystal coupes are a perfect way to give your party vintage glamor.’
8. Create relaxed seating zones for guests
Whether the sun has begun to set or the weather has cast a cloud over your celebrations, having a supply of blankets and cushions is always a good plan. If you have hard seating, guests may like to grab a cushion to perch on and a cozy throw is just the ticket for draping over chilly legs. If kids are at the party, they may want to curl up on a comfy pillow in a quiet corner.
Kate Salmon, Head of Buying for Homeware at Oliver Bonas (opens in new tab) says, ‘Arrange a comfy lounge area by lining the ground with an outdoor rug or picnic blanket, dotted with tufted cushions. Your outdoor space might require a little cozying up, especially when the sun goes down. To combat the chill, curate a basket of light cotton throws for your guests to dig into when they need an extra layer.’
9. Set up a vintage-style lemonade stand
Whip up a batch of traditional homemade lemonade to serve to thirsty guests throughout the afternoon. Glass drinks dispensers can be picked up fairly cheaply and are an ideal way for guests to help themselves without you having to keep running to the fridge. Fill a crate with little glass milk bottles ready to go with a paper straw and slices of lemon.
10. Signpost the essentials
If you’re lucky enough to have a large outside space or there are guests coming who have never visited, some cute vintage signs are a great way to ensure nobody loses their way.
Signposting the powder rooms are a key one, as well as where to find drinks or even put cards and gifts if it’s a special occasion like a backyard wedding. You could make your own from scraps of timber or plywood, and use a Sharpie or brush pen to add lettering. Drill holes in the top corners to thread a length of string through and knot ready for hanging.
‘Prepare your garden space and spruce things up ahead of time so there’s no need to stress on the day,’ implores Laura Rich.
11. Create a polaroid photo booth
Making your own photo booth will give your vintage garden party ideas a memorable twist. To give it a vintage feel, why not raid second-hand shops for accessories like glasses, hats and jewellery? Set up a backdrop by hanging unused frames (without the glass or backing) from trees using pretty ribbons and lace.
Polaroid cameras are perfect for capturing candid snaps with a retro feel. They won’t get lost on someone’s iCloud for all eternity, and nobody can moan they want a filter added!
12. Don’t forget after-dark lighting
A successful garden party can often go on until after sundown. Be prepared by hanging nostalgic solar or battery-powered festoon lights with a magical funfair vibe.
Dinner candles are an elegant option or fill jam jars with little tea lights. Pick citronella scents to keep mosquitos and other flying nasties at bay, as nobody wants to leave with itchy ankles.
‘If you plan for your vintage garden party to carry on into the evening, solar lanterns or lights and candles create a lovely ambience,’ confirms Jo Jeffery.
Stephanie Durrant is the Deputy Editor of Style at Home magazine. She's is an experienced journalist with more than 12 years under her belt working across the UK’s leading home magazines. She enjoys gardening and enthusiastically stroll around garden centers. She usually sticks to potted alpine varieties in her own small garden, such as sea thrift and succulents that can deal with some neglect! However, one day she dreams of having a large outdoor space with colorful wild flowers, billowing cherry blossoms and sweet-scented honeysuckle and jasmine filling the air.
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