Gardens are a source of pleasure and dedication, and who doesn’t like to attend a party, especially in a beautiful setting? Combining the two can make entertaining magic but takes planning and forethought.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
Spring is the best time to hold a Hilton Head garden party. Summer months are too hot and too sticky for the garden—or the host—to look their best.
Let’s address the elephant in the garden first: bugs—primarily those pesky no-see-ums. Annie Bartholomew, a professional event planner at Spencer Special Events, suggests spraying around the venue a day or two before a party. Organic granular products, promoted as non-toxic, are safe to use around children and pets. Fans — either mounted or on stands — will keep the air flowing and the bugs going.
[blockquote position=”right”]Bug out Some feel the citrus-scented leaves of the citronella plant (aka mosquito plant) keep mosquitoes away.[/blockquote]
Citronella is an option, but doesn’t always work well and its often overpowering odor may detract from the scents of the garden and food. One planner shared a trick from a groom who had been raised on a farm: Dab a bit of vanilla extract behind the ears to keep bugs away.
There are abundant plants, shrubs, and trees flourishing in the Lowcountry climate, so the trick is to time the party to the bloom cycles. You might not be able to hit peak blooming, and even if you do, herbs and hardier annuals can serve as attractive fillers around the patio and yard in pots, hanging baskets, and urns. Life-like artificial branches, greens, and flowers also create a sense of lushness.
Of course, this is the Lowcountry, so have a weather back-up plan to move the party indoors. (Note: The meteorologists at WTOC seem to offer the most accurate weather forecasts for South Carolina’s Lowcountry.)
WHAT’S YOUR STYLE?
Like any event, garden parties should be highly personal. Much is dictated by the size, the style, the occasion. Is it casual or formal? Is there a theme? A color palette? What’s the focal point – the garden, the table, the food? A garden party gives the host an exciting chance to make a statement.
Of course, no garden party is complete without flowers. Table flowers, whether bold centerpieces or an array of smaller arrangements, should tie into the theme and/or color scheme. If using vases, add clear marbles or pebbles so they don’t blow over. Consider potted plants or succulents in lieu of a traditional floral centerpiece. Fill glass containers with moss, succulents, and berries for a whimsical, yet still garden-appropriate touch point.
Be careful that the arrangements don’t detract from the food. Avoid arrangements that are too wide, large, or tall and thwart conversation. Flowers all in a single color can make an equally stunning impact, allowing the rest of the tablescape and venue to take shine. Flowers or plants can also be placed on the bar, on tables, or displayed around the venue.
CREATE A TABLESCAPE
Think of tables as works of art, with the place settings, centerpieces, and on-table lighting creating a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns.
The table can set the party’s theme or simply enhance it. If you like, go artistic if you want the table to serve as the party’s focal point. Or keep the table design simple so the food and beverages take center stage. Whichever path you take, use coordinated serving vessels, plates, and glassware, going simple or bold, whatever you prefer.
Place settings: Paper, plastic, or the good dishes? Whatever you use needs to be heavy enough to not blow away. It’s probably best not to use paper goods unless they’re very firm and heavy. Cloth napkins are always a nice touch, even next to hard plastic or melamine tableware. Many stores carry surprisingly attractive dish towels that can double as large napkins.
For larger parties, traditional round tables can feel very formal, even in a garden setting. Consider instead a single long table where guests sit side-by-side, sharing food and conversation.
For a more casual vibe, consider open seating with a variety of different-sized tables or groupings, formed by cozy couches, over-stuffed chairs, and hidden nooks. An outdoor rug can further define a space, as can canopies or umbrellas.
If holding the party on the lawn, consider using blankets and large pillows, creating a garden picnic.
Arrange cocktail tables, small folding side tables, and other props so there are ample places to set down plates and glasses.
Use a bookshelf for food displays or incorporate elements of nature (oyster shells, driftwood) to carry out a theme. Stage old crab cages, hand-woven baskets, and colorful glass bottles as conversation pieces. Old doors, windows, farm cart or a gazebo can add multi-dimensional elements to the space.
Lighting is essential for evening events and can be cleverly used in numerous locations – the pool, deck, walkways, and on tables and bars. Lights set a tone and create an ambience. Trees can be up-lit to create drama, while strings of lights across a patio or outlining an awning say festive. Accent lighting works practically anywhere. Look around (you may have to search online) for a wide variety of LED lighting–multi-color, dimmable, small, and sculptural.
Never underestimate the effect and simple beauty of artfully arranged candles. Just a few candles around the floral centerpiece create a picture-perfect set up.
Take inspiration from the season and serve fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Visit the numerous local farmers markets in this area and ask the vendors what’s good, what’s fresh, and how they like to prepare their bounty.
Don’t be shy about visibly incorporating the garden into the food, using edible flowers and seasonal herbs. Many desserts — from cupcakes to key lime pie — look even tastier when topped with fresh flowers.
Don’t forget food presentation: passed, served family style, or on a buffet display. Your theme should help you make the choice.
A signature drink can be a key element of an outdoor party. Again, bring the garden theme to the bar with garnishes, swizzle sticks, and ingredients. It’s always nice to start an event with a drink made from muddled seasonal fruit or a refreshing lemonade with fresh sprigs of mint or lavender. Include some of our area’s favorite craft beers at the bar.
Consider letting guests mix their own drinks. Put out carafes of citrus juices, simple syrups (label them!), and a variety of clear spirits and mixers. Or make a large-batch concoction, such as a sangria or adult sweet tea, to avoid individual cocktail orders. Carry out the theme by freezing edible flowers in ice cubes and using special swizzle sticks.
Guest Comfort – Make sure the restroom is easily accessible and place a small directional sign to lead the way. A scented candle or nosegay bouquet on the counter carries on the theme.
Set the Musical Mood – Consider hiring a musician to establish a mood (classical guitar, for example) or play music on an outdoor sound system, just not too loud.
Elements of Surprise – Sparklers, a personal sweetgrass fan, or sweets in the shape of flowers make a party more fun and memorable.
Take Aways – As your guests leave, present them with a garden-themed gift such as personalized seed packets or a bag of dried lavender.
Too many options? Too little time? A garden party is personal and reflects your own taste and style. We’re fortunate to have an abundance of resources and riches in Lowcountry. And, Mother Nature has done her share, too.
PROPS, EMBELLISHMENT, EXPERTISE & INSPIRATION
Branches in Wexford (branchesdesigns.com)
A Floral Affair (afloralaffairhhi.com)
Spencer Special Events (spencerspecialevents.com)
The French Eclectic (thefrencheclectic.com)
Ooh Events (oohevents.com)
Flowers by Sue (flowersbysue.com)
Jardiniere Events Extraordinaire (jardiniereevents.com)
Wimbee Creek Farm (wimbeecreekfarm.com)
Garden Gate Nursery (gardengatebluffton.com)
3 Sisters Organic Farm (843) 368-5828 or Facebook @3sistersorganicfarm)